As well as being the month of love, February is also healthy lifestyle awareness month in South Africa, which essentially means looking at how to live longer.
This year’s theme is titled “Cheka Impilo – have peace of mind,” which roughly translates to “check your health, so you are free from worry”.
In 2019, Statistics South Africa estimated life expectancy at 61,5 years for males and 67,7 years for females. Not super impressive, but not really surprising when you consider that life expectancy is affected by things such as socio-economic status, quality of the health system and the ability of the people to access it – things often out of many people’s control. From a South African perspective, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has greatly affected life expectancy rates.
What is in our control is nurturing healthy behavior in order to prevent early death from a range of lifestyle diseases. While most of us know what it takes to lead a healthy lifestyle, we sometimes get so wrapped up in the busyness of life that health takes a back seat. Consider this your reminder and take a moment to check in with yourself and see what needs to change.
What is a healthy lifestyle?
The World Health Organisation defines a healthy lifestyle as “a way of living that lowers the risk of being seriously ill or dying early”. Essentially these are the day-to-day activities that can prevent disease and promote health and wellbeing; prevention is better than cure.
The Department of Health recommends the following for a healthy lifestyle:
- Good nutrition
- Regular physical activity
- Safe sexual practices
- No substance or alcohol abuse
- No smoking
That covers the basics of your physical being but for a holistic approach to health, one must take into consideration mental, social and spiritual health as well. These include things like being able to take responsibility for your health and actions, taking time to relax and be mindful, having meaningful and healthy relationships and looking after your spiritual wellness. We believe that a holistic approach is an answer to how to live longer.
Does a healthy lifestyle make a difference?
A Harvard Public School of Health study spanning 34 years showed that those people who maintain a healthy diet, physical activity level, body weight (BMI) and relationship with alcohol and smoking lived 10 to 14 years longer. People who had none of these habits were far more likely to die prematurely from cancer or cardiovascular disease and practicing just one healthy habit out of the five (it did not matter which one) increased life expectancy by two years in both men and women.
The more healthy habits you practice, the longer the lifespan.
So, if that’s not enough motivation, here’s a recap on how to live longer. In the short-term, a healthy lifestyle keeps us energetic, makes us feel good and look better and we achieve our goals much easier. In the long-term we’re more likely to steer clear of illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, thus enjoying our lives for longer. We’re also modelling positive behavior for children who will develop healthy habits at an early stage, making one big healthy South Africa.
Let’s make those healthy choices a habit. In this month of love, love and gift yourself the gift that keeps on giving.
Silindokuhle is an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist registered with the HPCSA. She holds a Master’s degree from UKZN and runs an independent practice specialising in psychological assessments, training and wellbeing.