Statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that non-communicable diseases linked to lifestyle choices, such as diabetes and some cancers, kill about 16 million people prematurely worldwide each year. With the month of April marking Health Awareness Month, South Africans are urged to make other lifestyle choices in addition to improving their eating habits, to achieve a healthy lifestyle throughout the year.
This is according to Dr Dominique Stott, Executive: Medical Standards and Services at PPS, who says that people should focus on all the factors pertaining to a healthy lifestyle and not just healthy eating. “Although healthy food contributes massively to one’s overall health, lifestyle awareness should also focus on changing one or more unhealthy habits in addition to eating better foods.”
She explains that a healthy lifestyle is not just about the promotion of good nutrition, but should also include other factors such as stopping smoking, doing some regular physical activity and reducing alcohol intake.
Dr Stott says although most people know the theory of a healthy lifestyle, by taking the first steps they can put all the theory into practice. She provides the below tips for South Africans who want to start living a healthier life this year:
Partake in physical exercise The WHO also estimates that about 84% of adolescents across the globe do not get enough regular exercise. Regular physical activity will directly impact one’s physical and mental well-being as it can lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure and excess weight, and also improve one’s mood and stress coping skills, which is a lot better than taking pills for stress. The general advice for most consumers is to take part in at least two hours per week, or 30 minutes daily, of moderate-intensity exercise, in addition to one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week.
As this is often unrealistic due to work and family commitments, simple changes such as running up the stairs instead of taking the lift, taking a brisk walk after work, and doing gardening will also contribute to increased physical activity every week. It is also advisable to encourage the whole family to partake in the physical activities. By making exercise something to enjoy with a partner,people can keep up their momentum to develop a habit. Once exercise becomes a habit, people miss being active when they do not do it.
Quit smoking While the numbers of smokers are slowly on the decrease, there are still too many people in the country who smoke cigarettes. According to the National Council Against Smoking, 44 000 people in South Africa die every year from complications related to smoking. Chronic diseases such as strokes, heart attacks and cancer can be directly linked to the use of cigarettes.
Due to the highly addictive nature of the nicotine found in cigarettes, it is extremely challenging for many to stop smoking, which explains why still so many smoke. However, the first step to stopping smoking could be to pick a “stop date” and stick to that decision. There are also numerous prescription medication available for those who remain motivated. The success rates for these are good and people using this medication have a higher chance of stopping smoking than those who try to quit smoking without outside support.
Limit alcohol intake As a rule, alcohol should be consumed in moderation, as it contributes directly to high blood pressure, weight gain, liver disease and indirectly to psychosocial issues. Women are advised to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week but also no more than three units per day. The advised unit consumption for men comprises no more than 21 units of alcohol per week and no more than four units in any given day.
Studies have shown that 1-2 glasses of red wine or tots of whisky per day does have beneficial effects on the levels of good cholesterol therefore moderation is the key, as with all things. Consumers should also beware of the use of alcohol to cope with stress even though it may seem to help initially, because it leads to far bigger problems.
Always watch what you eat Healthy eating is all about eating minimally processed, fresh and nutritious food. Consumers should pack their lunch for work, and snack on fruits and vegetables to optimise health while at the workplace. When buying groceries it is important that consumers focus on buying foods that are minimally processed and when eating out, try to go for less fatty options and stick to the roast vegetables where possible.
Making sensible choices regarding what one eats will go a long way to avoid overloading on foods which eventually have a detrimental impact on one’s overall wellbeing.
“The process of adopting a healthy lifestyle can be overwhelming for many individuals, but a few small changes to one’s lifestyle can make a big difference to overall well-being. A healthy lifestyle is an investment into overall mental and physical wellness and more people need to invest time to enrich their daily lives with healthy habits,” conclude Dr Stott.