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From applying sun cream to brushing teeth and a lack of computer breaks, these are the areas you really need to pay attention to

GettyApplying suncream: You’ll need more than that, love
It’s a message we usually hear stepping from train to platform or bus to pavement.

But according to health experts, there are other gaps in our lifestyles we could do with taking extra care over.

Fiona Duffy looks at some common ones – and explains how to fill them…


Mind the gap…

According to the British Association of Dermatologists, we apply less than half of what we need to be using to stay protected in the sun.

Other studies show we repeatedly leave entire patches of skin exposed – including the neck, ears, shoulders, scalp and back of the arms and legs.

“In women, melanoma is found, mainly, on the legs and arms while, for men, problem areas are the torso, head and neck,” warns Rebecca Maxwell, skin cancer screening nurse at The MOLE Clinic in London .

“These are the areas we tend to expose to the sun more often, which shows the link between prolonged sun exposure and skin cancer.”

The popularity of once-a-day sun creams could create even more gaps, adds GP Dr Paul Stillman. “We’re now applying longer-lasting cream less often, so if we miss a spot it matters more.”

Close that gap…

A 10p-size dollop of sun cream on each small section of your body is the only way to ensure you’re using enough, advises Dr Stillman.

Rub in methodically from top to toe, or in front of a full-length mirror to ensure every exposed inch is covered.

Choose your sun cream carefully. According to a study by consumer watchdog Which? only seven out of 15 factor-30 products passed stringent tests.

Try M&S Formula Sun Care SPF 30 Sun Lotion (from £2.50), which received a “great value” sticker.

For your back, and hard-to-reach areas, buy a long-handled sun cream applicator (try Back Bliss applicator £11.99) or get someone to do the honours.


Mind the gap…

Think you’re a whizz with the toothbrush? Think again… A study by Oral-B reveals a whopping 75% of people brush incorrectly.

“Incorrect brushing automatically means some teeth or surfaces are completely overlooked,” says Dr Uchenna Okoye, clinical director of London Smiling.

“These include the back surfaces of the teeth, areas around the tongue and the biting surfaces.”

Gum disease has been linked to everything from heart disease and strokes to premature ejaculation.

Brushing alone only cleans around two-thirds of the mouth, so floss too.

Close that gap…

Use an electric, mains-charged toothbrush like the Oral-B Smart Series rather than a manual.

“It’s like comparing a vacuum cleaner to a dustpan and brush – there’s no contest,” says Dr Okoye.

To ensure every nook and cranny is cleaned, divide your mouth into four sections – and brush quadrant by quadrant for two minutes.

Floss or use interdental brushes daily to remove any food debris caught between the teeth. And wait between eating breakfast and cleaning your gnashers.

“Tooth enamel is weakened by food – particularly acidic juice or sugary cereal – and brushing immediately afterwards simply wears this away.

“Ideally, brush before breakfast and then freshen up your mouth by chewing sugar-free gum,” says Dr Okoye.

GettyYoung women on mobileOn phone: Make sure you keep it well away once the call is over
Mind the gap….

Eight in 10 of us keep our mobile phones on overnight, with around half of us using them as alarms, says Ofcom.

But experts warn that a small gap between your head and mobile phone could dramatically affect both quality and quantity of your slumber.

According to sleep expert Sammy Margo , having a mobile close makes us “hypervigilant”, waiting for a call or text. It leaves us unable to sink into restorative shut-eye for long enough.

And even just a short exposure of “blue” light from a mobile screen has an immediate effect on our sensitive retinas, which transmit messages to the brain.

“Studies show that this suppresses the nighttime secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin, making you feel more alert,” she says.

Close that gap…

Never sleep with your phone under your pillow. Moving it 20cm away from your head reduces radiation emissions by 98%, says comparison service uSwitch.

Set yourself – and the family – a technology cut-off time each evening. “Setting aside a techno-free time to unwind and prepare for rest is crucial for good-quality sleep,” says Sammy.

Place all mobiles in a separate room or out of reach until morning and use an old-fashioned alarm clock.


Mind the gap…

Just one in five employees takes regular breaks from their computer, as recommended by eye health professionals, says Kelly Plahay from The Eyecare Trust .

“That’s despite a staggering 90% of us suffering symptoms of screen fatigue, including headaches, eyestrain and problems with close and long-distance vision,” she says.

“Prolonged screen use can put enormous strain on our eyes and trigger episodes of visual stress.”

Close that gap…

Follow the 20-20-20 rule, advises Kelly. “Look away from your screen every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds and focus on objects 20 feet away.

“This really helps to combat the effects of screen fatigue that can leave your eyes feeling sore, itchy and tired.”

Create an eye-friendly environment. Position any documents you’re working on at roughly the same distance from the screen to avoid having to refocus, and position your monitor an arm’s length away.

Try to keep your eyes level with the top of the screen when working, select a font size of 12 points or above and keep blinking.

GettyBusinesswoman with laptopAt desk: Slouching is common
Mind the gap…

Experts warn we are facing an epidemic of back pain – largely caused by poor posture and gaps in back support when using computers, tablets and laptops.

In a recent survey by Simplyhealth, a huge 84% of 18 to 24-year-olds said they had suffered back pain in the previous 12 months. The average respondent spent 8.83 hours a day slouched in front of a screen.

Osteopath Garry Trainer explains: “You see people slouching on the sofa, half propped up and really contorted, and if you’re also working like that for long periods of time, or have weak muscles and bad posture, you’re more likely to get acute back pain.”

Close that gap…

“When seated, increasing the angle between your torso and thigh encourages the spine into an upright posture. It’s essential that the pelvis is slightly higher than the knees, with feet flat on the floor.

“Ensure that your bottom is at the back of the chair so you are gaining support from the backrest and keep a fist-sized gap between the back of your knee and the chair.

“Once in the correct position, it’s important that you support that position with a lumbar cushion to block the gap in the small of the back and avoid muscle fatigue,” advises Garry.

If working on a laptop, ensure it’s placed on a desk – not your lap! – with the screen raised to eye level.

Invest in a separate keyboard and mouse to ease the strain on shoulders and neck. Stretch and strengthen your back by doing yoga or Pilates.

Mind the gap…

Parents fastidiously check the toe-box when buying children new shoes, but we need to keep monitoring little feet – and our own, warns leading podiatrist Lorraine Jones .

“Children’s feet don’t grow uniformly, so you need to make regular checks.”

And a too-small toe-box won’t just damage little tootsies. “Long term, many underlying problems – such as bunions, hammer toes and painful nails – can be exacerbated by squashing the forefoot into a badly fitting shoe.

And bruised toenails are a sign of trauma to the foot.

“A shoe that’s too roomy or that doesn’t support the feet can be just as damaging, causing discomfort and blistering. At the same time, excessive pressure over the joints can cause painful corns to develop,” warns Lorraine.

Close that gap…

There should always be about a 1cm gap between the end of the longest toe and the end of the shoe – both in children’s and adult’s shoes.

Keep “snug” shoes and ballet pumps for minimal wearing.

“The best shoes for comfort are lace-ups or shoes with an adjustable Velcro strap over the instep which holds the heel firmly in the back of the shoe, preventing the foot from sliding forwards and moving around,” says Lorraine.

Feet can swell up during exercise so running shoes may need to be a size or two bigger.

Mind the gap…

Many women dismiss irregularities in their periods if they’re anxious, stressed or approaching the menopause.

But the older a woman is, the more significance a change in menstrual cycle can potentially have, warns Jullien Brady, consultant gynaecologist with Cancer Partners UK.

“Gaps between periods in your teens or early 20s are quite common,” Jullien advises.

“However, as women enter their 30s and 40s, irregular bleeding may be a symptom of a whole host of other things – including fibroids, infection and even cancer.

“Unscheduled bleeding between periods, or a change in the bleeding pattern, rather than a long gap between periods, are causes for concern too.”

Close that gap…

A sudden, stark change in your menstrual pattern, which affects more than two cycles should always be checked, says Mr Brady.

“This is especially true if there are other associated symptoms such as offensive discharge or bleeding after or pain during intercourse, in which case you should seek help.”

It’s also advisable to keep a diary of your periods so sudden changes can be spotted early.

GettyWoman showing off her lost weight and slim figureGood news or bad? Weight loss on waistline
Mind the gap…

A sudden tightening or loosening of your waistband – particularly if your eating habits haven’t changed – could flag up health problems, warns GP Dr Matt Piccaver.

“Rapid weight loss in older people might mean cancer. In a younger person, it could indicate illnesses such as type 1 diabetes, while in teens it could be an eating disorder.”

And a tight waistband? “In older people it can be caused by ascites, or fluid inside the tummy, which will make it feel tight. There are lots of other causes, many related to cancer.”

Other causes include a bowel obstruction, ovarian cysts, an underactive thyroid and IBS.

Close the gap…

The most obvious cause is overeating, advises Dr Piccaver. If so, the weight gain would be gradual.

You have a higher risk of health problems if your waist size is more than 94cm if you’re a man and more than 80cm if you’re a woman. Find out if you’re a healthy weight using the BMI healthy weight calculator on nhs.uk.

“But get unusual abdominal swelling – particularly with other symptoms like pain and bloating – checked out,” he adds.


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