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13 February 2012

Avoiding lifestyle diseases

It is possible to significantly reduce the risk of contracting a number of diseases by changing the way we live our lives.

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It is possible to significantly reduce the risk of contracting a number of diseases by changing the way we live our lives.

Our modern lifestyles have an impact on our health – we’re more stressed, we have easy access to sugars and fats, many of us smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, and many of us don’t exercise as part of our daily routines. All of this contributes to an increased risk to our health, taking the form of very specific lifestyle diseases.

Type 2 Diabetes

This form of diabetes is characterised by high blood glucose and lower insulin, which, if not properly managed can result in varying complications like kidney failure, blindness and even death. Early type 2 diabetes can be managed with exercise and dietary modification, but once advanced, insulin is usually prescribed.

Early warning signs: Frequent urination, increased thirst, increased appetite, fatigue and weight loss.

Heart disease

This is a blanket term for a variety of diseases affecting the heart, involving both the muscles and the vascular system, which can ultimately result in heart failure. Before surgical intervention, treatment commonly consists of giving up smoking, light exercise, low-sodium diet and other dietary changes and medication.

Early warning signs: Shortness of breath, leg swelling and exercise intolerance

Metabolic syndrome

This is a combination of conditions that together increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Early warning signs: There are various differing indicators of the syndrome, but generally, raised blood fat levels, hypertension, obesity and high blood sugar, high insulin levels or insulin resistance must be present. A central factor in this syndrome is the accumulation of fat around the abdomen.

Cancer

Cancer is arguably the most frightening of the dread diseases, and while genetics contribute to this unregulated cell growth, there are many lifestyle contributors as well – the most significant of which is smoking.

Early warning signs: Cancer symptoms start at the site of the primary cancer and include swelling or bleeding, ulceration and ultimately pain (the initial swelling is often painless). Thereafter, when the cancer has spread, the lymph nodes enlarge, as can the liver and spleen.

Stroke

This is a disturbance in the blood supply to the brain, resulting in a rapid loss of brain function and limited mobility or facial sagging often but not always restricted to one side of the body.

Early warning signs: The sudden onset of numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side, confusion or problems understanding, difficulty speaking, vision difficulty, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination or difficulty walking or a severe headache with no apparent cause.

Staying healthy in 2012

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the lifestyle diseases, but it does give you an indication of some of the ones you are most likely to encounter. The good news is that a great deal of your risk of contracting one of these diseases can be managed by lifestyle changes – and you don’t have to approach each disease differently; the same healthy habits apply for all.

This year try to make sure that you:

  • Exercise moderately at least: Even a half hour’s brisk walk a day is enough to improve your health and reduce your risks.
  • Eat the right foods: Avoid fatty foods and too many carbs, eat good proteins – preferably grilled rather than fried – and not too much red meat, eat plenty fresh vegetables and a fair deal of fruit, and avoid overly processed or sugary foods.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep reduces stress and inflammation, helps regulate your appetite and reduces your risk for depression and heart conditions. Try to get around eight hours of sleep a night.
  • Drink enough water: Most people don’t drink as much water as they should. Although other beverages are hydrating, they introduce other substances into your body as well, which defeats the point of drinking to help flush out your system. Try for around eight glasses of water a day.
  • Reduce stress: Stress is one of the biggest risk factors in many lifestyle diseases. While worrying about stress can generally only make you more stressed, it’s a good idea to try and manage your life if you find that you are feeling overwhelmed or running on empty. Speak to a therapist or a life coach if you really can’t find a way to make the changes you know you need.
  • Give up smoking: There is no debate about the link between cancer and smoking, and there is no healthy amount to smoke. For your good health, give it up.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation: Although there are varying definitions of “moderation” when it comes to alcohol, it is a good idea to drink no more than one or two drinks a day – and these daily drinks can’t be rolled over to the weekend. Always drink with food and space your drinks if you are drinking more.

Treat existing conditions

So many lifestyle diseases create greater risks for others – for instance there is a clear link between diabetes, heart disease and strokes. If you have one condition, take it seriously, and if you are in a high-risk group – for instance, have high blood pressure – make sure that you manage your condition.

 

(Graham Anderson, Principal officer of Profmed, February 2011)

 
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