Stop for a moment. How healthy are you really? Do you have the odd migraine, a bit of high blood pressure, a few extra kilos, a 5-a-day smoking habit and an almost unused gym membership card?
Or do you run marathons, spend hours preparing exactly the right food, have a season ticket with your GP, and can’t remember the last time you felt slightly tipsy?
“The good news,” says Dr Randal Leisegang, a specialist doctor who deals with Momentum’s clinical protocols, “is that maintaining a healthy lifestyle does not have to be about being excessively strict or restrictive. It’s about following a reasonable and practical approach to health. What you do most of the time is the important thing.”
He stressed that many people who are trying to change to a healthier lifestyle go overboard, and when they cannot maintain the self-imposed health regimes, and often unnecessary changes, they ditch the whole effort.
“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not that difficult to achieve. There needs to be a balance. It is important that people get a holistic picture of their health rather than becoming obsessed with only one aspect of it. Or become swept up in the latest fad,” according to Leisegang.
The second part of staying healthy is to identify and manage health risks. He also underlines that a healthy lifestyle can combat many apparently unrelated health problems, such as heart disease, bowel cancer and breast cancer, to name but a few.
So getting proactive and realistic about your health can prevent an endless array of diseases – not just one. It’s really worth making the effort.
More on a healthy lifestyle
Forget about drastic and unreasonable changes. And get an early start. These are two pieces of advice given by Dr Leisegang. He compares healthy living to building a house. If the plans and the foundations are right from the beginning, it will prevent a lot of expenses and complications later on.
“It is much easier to get a healthy lifestyle in your twenties, than it is to try to make lifestyle changes after you have had a heart attack, or been diagnosed with some serious disease,” according to Leisegang.
Keep in mind that a poor lifestyle, especially dangerous combinations such as smoking, lack of exercise, a high-fat/low-fibre diet and obesitycan cause a myriad of seemingly unrelated serious health problems, such as cancer, heart attacks and diabetes. But the poor lifestyle in fact underlies all of these.
Do these 7 things for yourself
You don’t have to train for a triathlon in order to get all the benefits from exercise. The amount of exercise recommended for general health and fitness is only 20-25 minutes, 3 - 4 times per week. A stiff walk around two street blocks will do it. You need to increase your heart rate by 50% above your resting level for that time. The payoffs are huge - exercise helps in the prevention and management of so many medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, obesity, osteoporosis and bowel disorders, to name but a few. Everyone can do this. Choose something you enjoy, as this increases the chances that you will stick to it.
Right, this is easier said than done. And let’s face it, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances around, so it’s no wonder that quitting is so hard. Even when one keeps the horror stories in mind. And they are pretty horrible. One in every two smokers will die of smoking-related diseases, and those exceptionally dangerous chemicals will not only affect your lungs, but they spread right throughout your body. So do whatever it takes to quit. Join a programme, see a doctor or a psychologist, get the nicotine chewing gum – whatever works for you. And if it doesn’t work first time round, try again.
This is also easier said than done. But whatever you do, do it slowly. Crash diets will only mess up your metabolism. Find something that fits your lifestyle and that you can stick to. Bend the rules every now and then – it will make it easier to stick to something in the long run. The advantages of a normal weight are many: good self esteem, good bone density, less chance of arthritis of weightbearing joints, and less heart disease and strokes. Obesity is also related to some cancers i.e. breast and colon cancer. An acceptable body mass index (where your height and weight are measured in relation to each other) is between 18.5 and 25, and your waist measurement should not be above 102cm (ideally < 94cm) in men or > 88cm in women (ideally < 80cm).
As a rule, we should all have a diet that is high in fresh fruit, vegetables and salads, and low in animal fats. Try to replace saturated fats (i.e. red meats, fried foods) with unsaturated ones (fish, olive oils). Try to reduce foods that are refined (white bread, rice and sugar: rather use brown), and colourants and preservatives. Salt in moderation and conversion to low-sodium salt is recommended, especially if you are at risk for high blood pressure. Your food should be spread evenly throughout the day (3 - 5 medium to small meals) when it is needed. Avoid leaving your main food intake to just before going to bed.
There is evidence that a tot of alcohol per day may be good for us, but this benefit is lost if more is taken. Above two tots per day may be harmful. Don’t drink and drive, or drink and swim. Excessive drinking affects your whole life – all your organs, your ability to function at work and your social life. Seek help if things are getting out of control.
Everyone has stress in their lives. Work, health, relationships, you name it. We can’t escape it, but we can manage it. Problem is, people often ignore it till it is too late. Stress can cause or increase a multitude of problems: from neck pain, heartburn, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, to name but a few. Stress needs to be managed actively, usually by setting realistic objectives and expectations, realigning priorities and allowing enough time for enjoyable activities. It is also a good idea to learn some stress managing techniques. It really is worth asking for help.
Accidents happen so quickly, and often when we are negligent for a split second. Avoiding high risk behaviour is common sense, but we all need to be reminded to do this from time to time. When we are at risk we should ensure we are protected, for example wearing protective equipment i.e. a safety belt, life jacket, eye protection, gloves, condoms. It really is better to be safe than sorry.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, September 2006)