We often live our lives without much consideration for our health until it is too late. However, by making a few lifestyle changes you could prevent or reduce the risk of contracting a range of diseases.
This is the message from Dr Jess Bouwer of Medicross Edenvale Medical and Dental Centre on the eve of Healthy Lifestyles Awareness Day 2013. Dr Bouwer says: “We should spend more time caring about our well-being to attain and maintain good health.” He offers a few simple pointers on how to do this.
“To establish a solid base for any lifestyle changes you undertake, find out from your doctor what health screenings he or she would recommend after taking your medical and family history, lifestyle and age into account,” says Dr Bouwer. Some of the common preventative screenings include:
- Physical check-ups every one to three years from the ages 18 to 65 and thereafter annually. Your doctor will monitor your weight, heart, lungs and general health.
- Dental check-ups annually to determine your teeth, gum and jaw health. Periodontal disease could cause a domino effect in your body, resulting in an increased risk of serious diseases such as heart disease, including damage to your heart valves, and stroke.
- Eye health and/or glaucoma check-ups every one or two years, from the ages of 18 to 65; annually if you are over 65.
- Cholesterol screening every one to three years. Having too much cholesterol in the blood is not a disease in itself, but it can lead to the hardening and narrowing of the arteries in the major vascular systems, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
- Blood pressure every one to three years from the age of 18 to 65 and annually thereafter. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. If this pressure consistently rises and stays high over time, it is called high blood pressure, a serious condition that can lead to heart attack, cancer, stroke, kidney failure, renal disease, blindness and other health problems.
- Blood (haemoglobin) count should be done when directed by your doctor. Low haemoglobin levels may indicate anaemia. This is common in childbearing women but can be an early sign of colon cancer in men.
- Dermatological check-ups should be done every five years from any age to monitor moles, skin lesions especially if you have a family history of melanoma or have suffered serious sunburn or excessive sun exposure.
- HIV tests need to be conducted regularly from the moment you become sexually active, when you enter a new relationship, engage in unprotected sex, or if you have been exposed to contaminated needles, blood or bodily fluids.
Depending on the status of your health, your doctor will advise if you need to have certain tests done more regularly.
Diets to live for
“Consider what you eat and drink carefully as it can have a vital impact on your body running smoothly and energetically,” advises Dr Bouwer. Eating healthily can also reduce the risk of high blood pressure and slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease, he adds.
Dr Bouwer says that by adopting the following nutrition advice you’ll be off to a good start:
- Reduce your salt/sodium intake. Excessive salt intake increases the chance of high blood pressure. Adults should consume less than 2 000mg of sodium, or a teaspoon of salt daily, and at least 3 510mg of potassium - approximately ten averaged sized bananas, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation. Look for low sodium or sodium-free products and replace salty stock cubes with salt-free garlic or onion powder, lemon, black or cayenne pepper and herbs.
- Eat berries. Berries might provide a safe and easy way to boost brainpower, a new study from Harvard researchers suggests. The study shows eating berries could stave off the cognitive decline and memory loss that comes with aging.
- Substitute saturated fats and trans fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The culprits that clog arteries which invite stroke and can cause your heart to turn on you include animal fats found in red meat, dairy and baked goods. The good fats are found in vegetables, seed and fish oil. Include omega-3 rich deep-sea fish like mackerel and salmon.
Dr Bouwer advises that regular aerobic exercise aids oxygen circulation, food digestion and toxin elimination, strengthens your musculoskeletal system and generally bolsters your immunity. It also reduces the risk of various lifestyle diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, he adds.
“I recommend to all my patients that they undertake at least half an hour of solid aerobic exercise such as jogging, skipping, tennis, brisk walking or dancing no less than four times a week.” For older and less active patients it is still good to take walks at least four times a week.
Like exercise, sleep is vital to re-energising your body, says Dr Bouwer. A study published in 2012 found that less than six hours sleep a night is one of the best predictors for on-the-job burnout, he observes. Dr Bouwer recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night, school children ten to 11 hours, toddlers 12 to 14 hours and infants about 14 to 15 hours plus every day.
Relaxation and play
Taking time out regularly to lower your stress levels so that your mind and body can properly unwind is crucial, suggests Dr Bouwer. “Nature is a healer, so go hiking, interact with animals and plants, swim in the sea or run on the beach. Enjoy time with your family, listen to soothing music, take up yoga or meditation and go for regular therapeutic massages.”
Regardless of your age or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and improve your health, says Dr Bouwer. As cancer.org points out: People who stop smoking before the age of 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years by 50% compared with those who continue smoking. “Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life. They have fewer illnesses like colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel healthier than people who still smoke.”
Issued by : Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centres
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Monique Vanek
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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