6 Steps to kick start your healthy lifestyle

Preventative Health – Do you know your Status?

Mark Wolff - Feb 1st, 2022

When it comes to a healthy active lifestyle, most athletes that approach me are looking for an improvement in performance however an individual’s biggest concern should always first be their health. Active people are of the mindset that exercise makes you healthy, and sure there are many health benefits to exercise. However, exercise especially large volumes of exercise such as with endurance sports place a large amount of stress on the body. The big question is, can the body cope with these additional stresses and secondly are there any underlying issues that when embarking on an exercise regime could potentially cause more harm.

Prevention is always better than cure. Any individual wanting to lead a healthy active lifestyle should first get a snapshot of their health. By this I mean a proper medical analysis with a physician of how their body is currently functioning to make sure everything is in perfect working order. The next question is what testing is required and this could be a variety of tests based on an individual’s medical history and or inherent genetic risk factors.

The more knowledge you have about your own body, its current state and risk factors the way better you can lower any future health risks. 

What kind of tests should be considered?

The following are merely suggestions and should be discussed further with a physician to understand if any additional testing should be done based on your personal medical history. I preferably like to look at not just health markers but complete metabolic profile as well. I would like to emphasize that a physician's input is not only valuable when undergoing blood tests but necessary. 

1. Blood tests

FBC – Full Blood Count

A complete blood analysis of red and white cells in the body which can reflect basic infection markers as well as anaemia, potential deficiencies, and inflammation. 

Iron Profile 

An iron profile is a measurement of a few iron markers which can also be reflective of states such as anaemia type and inflammation. 

Vitamin D

Is an excellent health marker. Many people feel they get enough sunlight but in all honesty its not just about exposure but the type of exposure (meaning quality and time) as well as the individual’s ability to produce vitamin D. More than often, we see low levels even in people that spend most of the time outdoors. 

Lipogram

Cholesterol levels provide a significant health marker which is a direct relation to cardiovascular risk. It’s important to ensure that the levels are monitored regularly over time especially if there is a potentially inherited genetic predisposition. 

HbA1c

An HbA1c is an excellent marker to look at for longer term risk of diabetes and this can drive direction as far as nutritional requirements go. 

2. Metabolic and inflammation markers

CK (Creatine Kinase)

Generally used for muscle damage, potential inflammation, and possible illness. In over trained athletes we often see elevated CK levels however it can also be reflective of heart muscle damage if CK-MB levels were elevated.  

CRP (C-Reactive Protein)

CRP is a vital test for checking for inflammation either due to injury or illness. Depending on the reason for running the test based on an individual’s current status or history a hs-CRP (High Sensitive) can be done which is more cardiac and stroke risk focused. The physician will determine which is best suited. 

3. Additional optional testing

Liver Function

The liver is a vital organ in the human body and plays a very vital role in an active individual from an energy and recovery perspective. If you are doing very intense exercise its worth waiting for a few days before getting a liver function test as it can result in elevated enzyme levels. I have commonly seen this with strength athletes. 

Albumin

It’s a good measurement to check for good liver and kidney function. Albumin levels can be elevated with dehydration as well. However, a lower-than-normal albumin is a health flag and would need to be investigated further.

Kidney Function

Always an excellent test to drop into the mix to ensure its optimal. Athletes require excellent kidney function as they play a vital role in maintaining acid-base and fluid-electrolyte balance. Along with creatinine and urea testing one can further assess proper kidney function. I prefer looking at all of them as it can influence dietary requirements such as an example elevated nitrogen due to high protein intake which puts strain on the kidneys and can trigger disorders for example such as gout.

4. Hormone testing

TSH 

Thyroid testing is probably a good idea in women who are very active or ageing and again dependent on medical history. Many physicians may also decide to check your level of free or total thyroxine (T4) to aid the diagnosis.

Testosterone

A vital test for most athletes as well as ageing males. Even young healthy males can suffer from low testosterone levels. The reasons for this would need to be determined by a physician as well as determining the correct course of action. It’s been seen to drop in endurance athletes that perform a large amount of volume exercise. Often a test like this can determine the direction of diet and training or the possible intervention of treatment.

5. Cardiology Check-Up

Depending on the age and activity level of an athlete a regular visit to the cardiologist for a thorough check-up is desirable. Stress ECG testing as well as an echocardiogram is an excellent way to ensure the heart is functioning at its optimal. Cardiology check-ups can be costly, but it is so much better having peace of mind that your most highly functioning organ is in tip top shape.

6. Lung function testing

A lung function test is an inexpensive test always good to do at least once to make sure your breathing apparatuses are functioning optimally. The lungs play a pivotal role in any type of exercise. The recommendations above are not cast in stone and not medical advice they are purely based on my many years of experience in working with blood chemistry of athletes. There are plenty of more tests that can be performed however this is to be determined by your physician based on medical history.

Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that some blood marker ranges are broad. So, you need to have in mind that a couch potato bloods, and an athlete’s bloods have the same ranges. It is important to ensure that the physician you are working with understands you are very active as even if a blood marker such as haemoglobin for example is in the normal range its possible it is too low for an athlete.

Knowing your health status is the best way to ensure you prevent and lower the risks of future health issues. I know many people hate going to visit the doctor or getting blood tests. However, a physician should play one of the most important roles in your health journey. Doctors are not just there to visit when you are sick. On the contrary they want you to be healthy and visiting them for prevention is far more important than visiting them for cure.

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