Whatever your other New Year’s resolutions for 2024 might be, make health your top priority.

– It’s a cliché because it’s true: anything you achieve will be compromised without health. That’s why the most important resolution for 2024 should be to take control of your health, argues Dr. Chido Siame, Kena Health.

“Too many of us don’t give our health a second thought until there’s a problem and we need a doctor,” she says. “By changing that mindset and learning about our health basics, we can monitor our health proactively and ensure that we enjoy our lives to the maximum.”

Dr Chido identifies the following top tips for understanding what your body is telling you and how to keep it healthy:

Know where you stand. There are certain things that doctors look at first when assessing a patient. One of these is blood pressure because it offers a way of assessing cardiovascular function. More than one in three adults in South Africa live with high blood pressure or hypertension, which is responsible for 50% of all strokes and 40% of all heart attacks.

Another important frontline check should be the warning signs of diabetes.  Type 2 diabetes is the most common manifestation of this disease in adults, and its prevalence has risen globally in the past several years, seemingly linked to unhealthy eating habits. In South Africa, its prevalence has more than doubled from 4.5% in 2010 to 12.7% in 2019. The World Health Organisation has a helpful list of symptoms.

One’s weight is also a useful gauge of overall health and should be regularly monitored. It is worth discussing your goal weight with your medical practitioner.

Prioritise your annual checkups.  Life happens, as people say, somewhat sadly. Before your diary fills up, get all those annual checkups scheduled. Appointments for routine dental checkups and pap smears.  Mammograms and prostate checks when over 50 should be included.

Small lifestyle choices, big changes.   Lifestyle choices affect our health at every level. Getting more sleep, regular exercise, eating healthily and, most importantly, setting aside some time just to be—all these are conducive to a happy, healthy, and mentally sound life. Connecting with nature is also a prime reliever of stress.

An important principle here is that you are supposed to be enjoying life. So, for example, choose an exercise that you enjoy, and generally avoid things that you don’t enjoy when you have the choice.

Regarding exercise, the latest thinking is that effectiveness does not correlate with pain and sweat. A minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week—brisk walking will do—plus the CDC recommends two days of weight training.

Seek help soon. If you do experience any symptoms or notice any deterioration in your physical or mental health, it makes much more sense to seek professional medical help rather than trying to self-medicate. In many instances, delaying treatment can lead to suboptimal outcomes.

“These are all small steps, but cumulatively, they add up to a routine that prioritises what does you good. Making it more likely you will identify problems early on, they will multiply your chances of a long life,”  Dr Chido concludes.