With so much available information on lifestyle diseases, it’s easy to think that achieving good health is unrealistic.
While not easy, we believe good health is possible – with intention and discipline. From all our reading, the message we have found to be most common is that to achieve good health you need diligence and commitment to self- improvement.
When talking about good health, five areas are almost always mentioned: diet, physical activity, body weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Most studies have found them to have a large impact on life expectancy and the reduction in cardiovascular diseases if carefully moderated and balanced. Our addition to this list would be stress.
“If we ate and drank less, didn’t smoke, and were physically more active, 40% of cancers and 75% of diabetes and cardiovascular disease would be avoided”. The Lancet – The Art of Medicine.
Let’s examine the top 6 lifestyle factors to consider for good health and management of lifestyle diseases.
As you might know, our philosophy at Abundance Wholesome Foods is clear: Food is Medicine. Use it like medicine and you’ll see your life transform. Consumption of healthy foods like vegetables in a rainbow of colours, as well as fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids plays a huge role in one’s health. So do unhealthy foods like refined foods, processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.
While each individual is different where food is concerned, the Mediterranean diet is favoured in most studies. This heart-healthy diet was discovered as a result of fewer heart disease deaths observed in the Mediterranean countries, and subsequent studies found that it is associated with reduced cardiovascular risk. According to the Mayo Clinic, the main components of the Mediterranean diet are:
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
- Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
- Moderate portions of dairy products
- Limited intake of red meat
Sharing meals with friends and family, enjoying a glass of red wine and being physically active are also included in the diet. Even individuals with hereditary genetic conditions are encouraged to make a positive change in their diets to reduce the risks.
Unless you have good genes, there is really no magic wand for the perfect weight where a normal body mass index (BMI) is considered to be between 18.5 and 24.9. Obesity, which is closely associated with lifestyle diseases, has become a huge challenge worldwide, while in South Africa the numbers continue to soar. Over 55% of South Africans are overweight (guilty!) with a BMI of more than 25. This is mostly as a result of sugar in our foods and sometimes a lack of impulse control.
Reducing portion sizes, reformulating foods and restricting the availability of high-calorie foods would have the most impact, according to the McKinsey Global Institute’s discussion paper on curbing obesity.
3. Physical activity
This is one of those things that can’t be avoided – it’s essential for strength and basic body function. It is important to find what works for you when it comes to physical activity, so it becomes enjoyable and not a grudge activity. A daily, 30-minute moderate to high-intensity activity is recommended – regularity is key. Physical activity can be a low-cost way to boost health. Dancing to a home video, community gym classes, brisk walking or gardening is cheap if not free. Mix it up weekly to stay interested!
Getting enough sleep can help protect your quality of life, as well as your physical and mental health. Sleep quality is decreasing, with our screen obsessions and demanding lifestyles taking their toll. While everyone is different, most people need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep to function optimally.
It is also important to balance this, however, as too little or too much sleep can be a problem. Everything in moderation. Some studies cite short sleep as a risk factor for obesity and chronic diseases, including heart diseases. Day time naps seem to be making a comeback, but there are some conflicting theories on this. Our advice? Do what works for you in order to get your daily dose of ZZZs.
5. Alcohol and Smoking
Harvard Health measures a moderate alcohol consumption rate as between 5 and 15 grams per day for women, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. One drink potentially contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. South Africa has been identified as a country with high rates of alcohol consumption which has resulted in us being the unhealthiest country in the world. There’s nothing much to say here other than balance, moderation and caution.
As for smoking – there just is no healthy amount of smoking. It’s a hard NO.
As our lives become more sophisticated or “improved”, stress levels are rising. Although there is “good” stress – the fight or flight response to circumstances and the type that motivates and propels you to reach your goals – in most instances chronic stress is what we struggle with. Left unchecked, stress can affect your life negatively, contributing to poor health. Things like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes can all be exacerbated by stress. Check out our articles on Mindfulness as a way of coping with stress.
Here are some common effects of stress as laid out by the Mayo Clinic
|On your body||On your mood||On your behaviour|
|Headache||Anxiety||Overeating or undereating|
|Muscle tension or pain||Restlessness||Angry outbursts|
|Chest pain||Lack of motivation or focus||Drug or alcohol misuse|
|Fatigue||Feeling overwhelmed||Tobacco use|
|Change in sex drive||Irritability or anger||Social withdrawal|
|Stomach upset||Sadness or depression||Exercising less often|
It might seem like a lot to handle, so start small. Small changes matter! Don’t change everything at once, try to implement one new good habit every week and you will start to see the rewards. It’s never too late and it is always worthwhile to invest in your health. You can do it!