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Health Matters: Being healthier can save you - and NHS - money

By Dr Tim Allison

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Dr Allison admits it can be hard to decide to eat healthily.
Dr Allison admits it can be hard to decide to eat healthily.

We are well into the new year now. If you made a New Year resolution and have kept it – well done!

Some people will not have drunk alcohol for Dry January and others may have cut out animal products for Veganuary. It is not just at New Year that we can decide to make a change. We are at the start of Lent, a time when some people have traditionally given up types of food and used Shrove Tuesday to eat up those foods before the start of the season.

We can give things up, or indeed take up a new activity, at any time of year, and this is often done to seek to improve our health. It is not always easy though and that is why starting at an occasion such as New Year or a birthday can help.

As I mentioned in a previous column, I have been thinking a lot recently about prevention. Most people would agree that prevention is better than cure, but it can be hard to focus on preventing things from happening in the future when there are things we need to do now.

It can be hard to decide to eat more healthily when we are surrounded by advertising for more highly processed and less nutritious food. But there is some good news. Prevention can save us money. Even small changes can make a difference and help is available.

We don’t need to spend a lot of money to help our future health. Whether we quit smoking, leave our car at home, cut back on alcohol or cook more from scratch, we save money. Not only can these things save us money, some of them can also save the NHS money and enable us to have a swifter recovery from operation or illness.

For example, if we are going to have an operation, we will fare better the fitter we are, the healthier diet we have and if we don’t smoke. We will be more likely to be able to leave hospital early, which is best for everyone.

Looking after our future health may need help, more so if we are wanting to change the habits of a lifetime. However, it is never too late to change, help is available and small changes can make a big difference.

Even getting off the bus one stop earlier or parking further from where we are going will start to increase our fitness.

Quitting smoking often needs considerable help, but that is readily available with guidance and nicotine replacement.

Setting targets and goals can be a great help and linking up with family and friends to work together can offer a real boost.

Perhaps we will be able to look back at this year and see it as the time we started to take a real interest in our future health.

Dr Tim Allison is director of public health for NHS Highland.

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