If you're overweight, smoking and engaging in low levels of exercise, you may be adding as much as 11 years to your body age.
"You're also in the high-risk category for strokes, heart attacks, cancer and diabetes. The good news is that by making only a few changes to your lifestyle you can decrease your body age to below your actual age as well as lower your health risk profile," says Dr Craig Nossel, head of Vitality at Discovery, South Africa’s largest medical scheme administrator.
Nossel says to get a clean bill of health, moderate exercise is essential.
"The great thing about moderate exercise is the high impact it has on your health. Imagine a pill or medications that can deliver the following benefits: stronger bones, a better sex life, decreased blood pressure, stress resiliency, better sleep, increased strength and flexibility, weight control, improved appearance, delayed ageing, an enhanced immune system and overall a longer and better quality of life."
He stresses that you don’t have to exercise extensively to have these benefits. Even moderate exercise has a high payoff in that it can make a significant change in life expectancy and quality of life. "Just start to get active: take the stairs not the lift, walk to the video store around the corner, do some gardening, take a dance class, and have more sex with your partner. It doesn’t have to be painful, it should be fun and relaxing," he says.
Kick the habit
The second lifestyle change is to stop smoking. The dangers of smoking are well known, but coupled with low activity levels and unhealthy eating habits it becomes lethal. "Your chances of suffering coronary disease, diabetes or a stroke are a whopping 44%. Just by quitting smoking you decrease your chances to 29% - a 15% reduction," says Nossel.
If you look at statistics from the USA it paints a gloomy picture. An estimated 430 000 Americans die each year from diseases caused by smoking (that's more than alcohol, cocaine, crack, heroin, homicide, suicide, car accidents, fires, and AIDS deaths combined).
Nossel stresses that quitting is really worth it and those who struggle to break the habit should consider joining a quit-smoking programme as they have excellent results and give emotional support.
The last crucial step to a health make-over is to start eating a quality diet. "This doesn’t mean you should only eat cucumbers and carrots. The emphasis is on quality and good food choices. We all know that a diet full of high-carbohydrate, processed foods and high in fats is not the way to go."
Nossel highlights five things to take into account in order to make sure you are getting a quality diet:
(Discovery Vitality, December 2007)
- Eat a good breakfast, with some fruit and high fibre cereals.
- Make sure that you rotate your low-fat proteins such as skinless chicken, fish, lean meats and restrict your red meat intake to only twice a week.
- Drink plenty of water as it makes up more than half your body composition and must be replaced daily. It also aids with digestion and prevents constipation.
- Remember that you need lots of fibre as it also aids digestion, prevents constipation, decreases cholesterol and stabilises blood sugar levels.
- Minimise your intake of high-sugar and processed foods, as these are low in nutrient value and creates havoc in terms of your blood sugar and energy levels.