Health Preventive Health How Are You, Really? 14 Personal Health Questions to Ask Yourself on a Regular Basis Check in with your mental and physical health often (if not every day) with these MD-approved reflections. By Kristin Granero Kristin Granero Kristin Granero is a lifestyle writer, content creator, and digital media expert residing in New York City. When she's not interviewing experts or test-driving the latest products, she can be found exploring new museum exhibits, volunteering for her local animal rescue, or scouring the five boroughs (and beyond!) in search of the best guacamole. Highlights: * 3+ years writing Style, Beauty, Health, and Home content for Real Simple * Has held positions at and/or contributed to a wide range of lifestyle and entertainment publishers, including Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, Shape, Self, Glamour, HBO, TODAY, NBC, Discovery, Yahoo, and beyond * Experience includes copywriting, web production, social media strategy, and email marketing Real Simple's Editorial Guidelines Updated on January 11, 2023 Fact checked by Isaac Winter Fact checked by Isaac Winter Isaac Winter is a fact-checker and writer for Real Simple, ensuring the accuracy of content published by rigorously researching content before publication and periodically when content needs to be updated. Highlights: Helped establish a food pantry in West Garfield Park as an AmeriCorps employee at Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center. Interviewed Heartland Alliance employees for oral history project conducted by the Lake Forest College History Department. Editorial Head of Lake Forest College's literary magazine, Tusitala, for two years. Our Fact-Checking Process Share Tweet Pin Email If you've ever had a physical, there's a good chance the doctor ran through some questions regarding your everyday practices. It may be uncomfortable to talk about your late-night snacking routine or how many glasses of wine you had last week, but just like your medical history, each of these personal facts has its purpose. "The mere act of addressing certain topics, such as diet and exercise habits or frequency of alcohol or tobacco use, often creates a deeper conversation with more focused discussion regarding approaches to improvement in overall health," says Michael Barber, MD, PhD, a board-certified internist, cardiologist, electrophysiologist, and medical director at STRATA Integrated Wellness and Spa. Similarly, addressing certain questions on a regular basis—on your own and outside of occasional doctor visits—may make you more attuned to behaviors that could be setting you back or become harmful if left unattended. "It's interesting how often a person is unaware of habits that fail to successfully align with their overall wellness goals," says Dr. Barber. Here, a range of experts speak to some key questions and respective assessments that can help serve as personal gut-checks on your physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Plus, the best tools and advice (including when to see a medical professional) for getting your happiness and health back on course. 12 Health Stats You Absolutely Should Know About Yourself 01 of 14 Am I routinely investing in my health? Why it matters: You should take an honest assessment of whether you're getting adequate rest (including regular sleep), keeping stress at manageable levels, eating a nourishing diet, and exercising regularly, says Michael McGee, MD, president of WellMind, Inc., Health Review Board member at Psycom, and author of The Joy of Recovery. "We're a dynamic living system that requires maintenance, and these are the ways we maintain our vitality, brighten our mood, and increase our energy," he says. "In addition, regular routines (such as morning meditations, a midday workout, and eating each meal at the same time [every day]) are important because they help you stick to a schedule." What to do about it: For Dr. McGee, the secret to a happy, healthy life is going to bed early and getting up early so you can have time for yourself and set healthy intentions for the day. "I also try to stick to a Mediterranean diet and would suggest exercising for at least 20 minutes three times a week or more." Dr. Barber explains that a solid morning or post-work workout session can release endorphins and provide relaxing results "with the added benefit of helping manage weight, improving cardiovascular function, and optimizing pulmonary health." While practices like mindful meditation, yoga, or pilates have all "been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, and deliver the desired result of providing a healthy release from the day's hustle and bustle." Additionally, Dr. McGee reiterates that people typically benefit from structure. "Do everything in moderation, but stick to it as much as possible. Habit-stacking research suggests that if you make one small change every two weeks, you can change the course of your life in a matter of a year." 02 of 14 Am I feeling winded? Why it matters: "There's nothing like breathing in a deep draught of cool, fresh air to fill your lungs, oxygenate your body, and fill you with an uplifting sense of well-being," says Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, a nutritionist and author of the book Radical Longevity—The Powerful Plan to Sharpen Your Brain, Strengthen Your Body, and Reverse the Symptoms of Aging. "But lung function begins to decrease after around the age of 35 as muscles like your diaphragm begin to weaken. Your airways may lose elasticity, making breathing a little more difficult." To assess lung functionality, take a full, but not really deep, breath. Set a timer and hold your breath for as long as you can, then stop the timer when you need to exhale. "Normal cardiopulmonary reserve (CPR) is indicated if you are able to hold your breath for more than 25 seconds. Limited CPR is shown at 15 to 20 seconds, and if you can only hold your breath for less than 15 seconds, your breathing is considered very poor." An additional test: "With normal lung capacity, you should be able to blow out a match from 6 inches away. On average, many people in their 40s and 50s can only blow out a match at a distance of 7 to 8 inches. Young people can often douse the light as far as 12 inches away." What to do about it: Gittleman says cardiovascular exercise, such as swimming, bike riding, rowing, cross-country skiing, brisk walking, jogging, racket sports, jumping rope, aerobic dancing, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), all require a sustained supply of oxygen and are a great way to improve lung function. Meditative movement practices like yoga that focus on the breath can also be beneficial. "For an at-home session, lie on your back and relax. Breathe in deeply from your diaphragm and up through your chest. Hold for a few seconds and exhale slowly, squeezing your abdominal muscles to push out all of the air. Repeat for five to 10 cycles." RELATED: 5 Mindfulness Breathing Exercises You Can Do Anywhere, Anytime 03 of 14 Do I feel engaged at work? Why it matters: "Doing meaningful work can be profoundly rewarding, giving us a sense of purpose and something else to live for," Dr. McGee says. "Furthermore, research has suggested a lower mortality rate for those who volunteer, and it's been thought that early retirement can be harmful if someone doesn't have something greater to turn themselves over to." He recommends asking yourself specific questions surrounding work—a traditional job, going to school, or volunteering—including: Am I showing up each day and performing? Am I really engaging and appreciating the opportunities that my job presents? How am I lovingly contributing to the greater good of the company and my work relationships? What to do about it: To help improve your career, Dr. McGee suggests exploring opportunities to better show up at work. "Try to focus on being more present on the job. Are there parts of the role or organization you can lean into to feel more involved, or can you speak with your boss about additional opportunities to learn and grow?" Attitude can also play a crucial role in appreciation. "Focus on all the ways in which the job serves you, either in terms of skills, network, or supporting your family and other passions," he advises. "Conversely, if these tactics don't work and/or you've recently [realized you're] no longer fulfilled, speak to a career coach or do some personal research around other careers that can give you more meaning." 04 of 14 Am I getting enough play? Why it matters: While a good work ethic is important, Dr. McGee cautions that it should still allow room for fun. "It's important to enjoy life—it rejuvenates, restores, and gets us out of our compulsive ways of thinking," he says. "Some of the most productive people in the world were successful in part because they played." What to do about it: Aim to play—whatever that means to you—a bit every day (at least 15 to 20 minutes) and set aside at least one play day per week, suggests Dr. McGee. Not sure how to find enjoyment these days? "Google various hobbies for inspiration, and schedule it to ensure other things don't get in the way. It should be fun, interactive, and creative versus just sitting on the couch with the TV playing in the background." RELATED: 6 Creative Hobbies That Double as Stress-Busters 05 of 14 What are my blood stats? Why it matters: "Monitoring your blood pressure and/or glucose may, in certain instances, assist in mitigating the development of long-term health complications, including hypertension, coronary, and peripheral vascular disease (hardening of the arteries), Type 2 diabetes, kidney problems, or other organ system diseases," Dr. Barber says. "This is especially true when planning to intensify your exercise or diet regimen, as having knowledge of your blood pressure (both at rest and with exercise), blood sugar levels, inflammation status or other problems allows you to plan safely and effectively."What to do about it: While at-home screening technology can be helpful in identifying and monitoring various stats like blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, and other metrics, Dr. Barber stresses the importance of involving your health care professional for thorough analysis and treatment."Keeping them in the loop with respect to your progress and results, in addition to any problems or symptoms you may experience, can often prevent a future complication or setback," he explains. "Depending upon the results of your initial evaluation, you may need minimal (once a year or less) or more intensive follow-up to assist in optimizing your progress and managing any underlying health issues discovered at the time." 06 of 14 Is my mind as sharp as it used to be? Why it matters: In addition to being happy, you'll want to make sure your brain is high-functioning. "We've all become aware of the cognitive changes that can—but don't have to—occur with aging, such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. You may be younger at heart than your age suggests, but if you're having trouble remembering things as quickly as you used to or can't seem to focus the way you'd like, it may be a sign that your brain is lacking essential nutrients it needs to stay sharp," Gittleman explains. For a quick assessment, Gittleman recommends the Series of 7s. "The Series of 7s is found in the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and is often used as a possible indicator of declining cognitive function," she explains. See how well you do counting backward from 100, subtracting seven each time as you go along (100, 93, 86 and so on). "Though not necessarily a diagnostic test, this exercise does require focus, concentration, and memory, all of which are important indicators of mental acuity." RELATED: What Mindfulness Does to Your Brain: The Science of Neuroplasticity What to do about it: To address cognitive concerns nutritionally and stave off insulin resistance and diabetes, Gittleman suggests a diet that's low in sugar and high in lean proteins. "I recommend men and women aged 65 years and older eat 100 grams of protein daily, which is about double the RDA for adults under 65. Make sure you get enough essential fatty acids, especially omegas 3, 6, 7 and 9, to nurture your brain. Omega-3s can be found in chia seeds, flaxseeds, fish oil, olive oil, and nuts. You can get omega-6s from unrefined and unheated hemp, pine nuts, sunflower, sesame, and walnuts. Omega 7 is found in macadamia nut oil and sea buckthorn oil, and olive oil is a rich source of omega-9s," she explains. Gittleman is also a big fan of the "3 Bs"—blueberries, beets, and broccoli. "This powerful trio of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants will nourish your brain." While you're at it, feel free to enjoy 1 to 2 cups of organic coffee per day. "Not only does it add pep to your step, but it's also purported to strengthen long and short-term memory, as well as lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease." Lastly, she suggests an afternoon crossword puzzle or sudoku game to help sharpen your mental skills. 07 of 14 Did I apply sunscreen? Why it matters: "Sun exposure happens 365 days of the year—activities like driving, going outside for lunch, and sitting by a window can lead to lasting damage such as wrinkles, brown spots, and skin cancer," says Shari Marchbein, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "There's no such thing as a safe or healthy tan. Daily sunscreen use at any age is vital, as is wearing protective UPF50+ clothing, such as wide hats and long sleeve shirts." You need broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays, since they both have unique damaging effects. "UVA rays, which come through both clouds and glass, are considered aging rays because they can lead to premature aging of the skin by causing wrinkles and discoloration. Conversely, UVB rays can be called burning rays because they cause the immediate effects you see from the sun, like a sunburn," Dr. Marchbein explains. What to do about it: To shield skin from both UVA and UVB rays, Dr. Marchbein suggests opting for a broad-spectrum formula with an SPF of 30 or higher. "Apply half a teaspoon (way more than most people think) to the face, ears, neck, and any other exposed body parts, reapplying every two hours for adequate protection." Additionally, you'll want to perform regular skin checks using the ABCDE technique and visit a board-certified dermatologist about existing or new spots that could be cause for concern. 08 of 14 What is the quality of my relationships? Why it matters: "As humans, we naturally look to form quality connections with family, friends, and romantic partners," says Dr. McGee. "Benefiting others benefits us the most; being in loving relationships can help reduce feelings of depression, loneliness, and anxiety." What to do about it: Good, healthy relationships require time, attention, connection, kindness, consideration, collaboration, and forgiveness, he continues. "Give loved ones a call to show interest and help nurture them, and open yourself to forming additional connections through recovery, interest, religious, or volunteer groups where you can benefit others," he says, adding that everyone should strive to have a real connection with at least one person every day, ideally more. RELATED: 5 Life-Affirming Benefits of Writing Letters By Hand, According to Research 09 of 14 How do I feel after my meals? Why it matters: "Studies show that the digestive system maintains physical health and supports mental health, and that the gut contains 70 to 80 percent of the body's immune cells, making it a critical part of the immune system," says Avanti Kumar-Singh, MD, a holistic wellness expert and author of The Health Catalyst. "It is also home to the microbiome that secretes 90 percent of the body's serotonin and 50 percent of its dopamine, both of which influence mood." "When we don't feel energized after eating or have GI symptoms, such as constipation, bloating, pain, acid reflux, or a feeling of heaviness, it's an indication that our gut microbiome is out of balance, which can lead to discomfort, as well as more serious matters such as illness and disease," she adds. What to do about it: Dr. Kumar-Singh recommends short-term intermittent fasting to let your digestive system do what it needs to do. "By allowing your digestion to rest for 12 hours overnight, it has time to clean up and detoxify. Ideally, have an early and light dinner by 7 p.m. and then don't break your fast until 7 a.m. the next morning," she suggests, noting that one should visit a doctor if symptoms don't subside. There may be an underlying issue, such as a certain food sensitivity or allergy that a pro can help address. RELATED: Digestive Woes? These 5 Easy Eating Habits Will Give You a Healthier Gut 10 of 14 When was the last time I went outside? Why it matters: "Sunlight resets the body's circadian rhythm (or internal clock) through the pineal gland, which senses light, causing a cascade of hormones that control everything from metabolism to growth to inflammation and mood," Dr. Kumar-Singh says. She also emphasizes the general healing power of being in nature. "In Ayurveda, the flow of the vital life force energy (referred to as prana) is essential for health. When we're out in nature, we have direct access to the three main sources of this vital life force energy—the air, sun, and earth." What to do about it: Spend some time outside. Strive to take a walk (15 to 20 minutes) in nature every day. "You'll be in sunlight, which will reset your circadian rhythm, and you'll have access to fresh life-force energy," says Dr. Kumar-Singh. Plus, you'll reap physical benefits from the activity. 11 of 14 What am I looking forward to? Why it matters: "As humans, it's in our nature to believe (or at least hope) things will get better, so when we stop believing in, or have difficulty thinking about, the future it can be a sign of depression," says Robin Gaines, MD, psychiatrist and member of the Diplomate American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. There will always be variables that you can't control, so Dr. Gaines says it's helpful to gauge whether the interest is still there. What to do about it: Pay attention to your habits, and if feeling a sense of withdrawal, try willing yourself into action. "Behavioral Activation (or, in layman's terms, 'try to get up and do something') used to be thought of as a part of cognitive behavioral therapy, but is now used as its own therapy to combat depression," says Dr. Gaines. Plan small, doable things you can look forward to: a weekly walk with a friend, date night with your partner, a pedicure, a yoga class. Keep a journal of good things that happened to you—or things you're grateful for—each day so eventually your mind starts looking out for positive moments. If negative patterns and feelings persist, however, Dr. Gaines suggests seeking professional guidance. RELATED: It's Probably Time for a Self Check-in—Here's How to Do It 12 of 14 Did I brush properly? Why it matters: A daily dental check-in can go a long way, as medical experts stress that good oral hygiene not only helps keep cavities at bay, but also helps prevent more severe periodontal diseases from occurring. "Recent research supports the idea that diabetes and gum disease are a two-way street. People with a history of diabetes and heart disease tend to be at higher risk for gingivitis and periodontal disease, which can result in infections of the gum and the bone that holds your teeth," explains Lawrence Fung, DDS, a cosmetic dentist and founder of Silicon Beach Dental in Los Angeles. "On the other hand, good oral care has been suggested to help control diabetes." Additionally, gingivitis that can occur when you don't brush or floss enough to remove plaque can manifest as bleeding gums, bad breath, increased risk for heart disease, and premature loss of teeth. What to do about it: "A proper dental routine includes brushing two times a day for two minutes at a time, 30 seconds per quadrant of your teeth, flossing to get rid of any excess bits, and rinsing with a mouthwash. You can floss and rinse more often, if needed," Fung says. And if you have sensitive teeth, switch to a sensitive formula toothpaste. "If the sensitivity persists, however, it could be cavities or a deeper infection. If you're bleeding while flossing or your gums are inflamed, visit a dentist." 13 of 14 Does my day-to-day align with my larger values and long-term goals? Why it matters: If your life feels out of balance, experts say goal-oriented assessments can help you get things back on track. "Create a diagram of your current life, and then create another diagram of your ideal life. It could take the form of a pie chart," says Julie Kolzet, PhD, a cognitive behavioral therapist and Health Review Board member at Psycom. "This is a technique borrowed from cognitive therapy pioneer Judith Beck," she continues. "Ask yourself how much time you're devoting to some key areas (i.e., friends, family, work, health) and insert divisions into the pie that reflect how you're currently spending your time. Juxtapose this with another pie reflecting how you'd ideally like to spend your time." What to do about it: If there's a discrepancy, ask yourself, "What is one concrete step I can take today to move closer to my ideal pie?" But change doesn't happen overnight: "Be easy on yourself," Kolzet says. "It can be helpful to enlist the support of people who will help you build a life that reflects your ideal pie." 14 of 14 Are my habits sabotaging my health? Why it matters: Though a craft cocktail, sugary snack, or movie marathon on the sofa feel like a treat on a stressful day, Dr. Barber says these activities only provide temporary pleasure and can quickly turn into the worst thing for you without moderation. "The main issue with eating C.R.A.P. (carbonated beverages/sodas, refined sugar, artificial foods, and processed foods) is the contribution it has to overall body inflammation," he explains. "We're learning that cellular inflammation (gut, vascular, neuro, etc.) is often the mechanism for systemic disease, such as digestive problems, vascular/cardiac disease, brain fog, cancer, and a multitude of other problems." What to do about it: It's absolutely fine to indulge now and then, but Dr. Barber stresses that it should be the exception—not a regular occurrence. For example, if you're an alcohol drinker, "data would support a nutritional program that limits alcohol to two to four drinks per week, (one drink = 1 1/2 ounces of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer)," he continues. "That said, the American Heart Association recommends no more than one alcoholic beverage equivalent per day for women and two or fewer per day for men." Keep highly processed foods, refined sugars, and other unhealthy treats to a minimum, and move as much as you can throughout the day to avoid falling into the trap of becoming overly sedentary. Focus on small incremental changes that are realistic and attainable, says Walter Richard Bush Jr., MD, an emergency medicine physician and medical advisor to fitness data analysis app Point. 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