By Eduardo Gonzales, MD
I am a 47-year-old office worker who is bent on becoming healthier this coming year. Do you have any suggestions on what I should adopt as New Year’s Resolutions? Incidentally, I have been a one-pack/day smoker since high school.—firstname.lastname@example.org
World Health Organization (WHO) figures show that chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes, are the leading causes of mortality in the world, accounting for 60 percent of all deaths. Yet chronic diseases are the most preventable of all health problems. What’s more, you only need to adhere to three lifestyle practices to prevent most of them, to wit: non-smoking, exercise, and a healthy diet. Needless to say, these three measures are what I suggest you adopt as New Year’s Resolutions for a healthier you.
Smoking is perhaps the most harmful habit man has ever embraced. It causes cancer, not only of the lungs, but also of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, urinary bladder, prostate (in men), and cervix (in women). It is also a major underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes because it accelerates the development of atherosclerosis (i.e., deposition of cholesterol and other fatty substances into blood vessel walls) and high blood pressure. Smoking is also the cause of 80 percent of all chronic obstructive lung diseases (COPD), a group of conditions that make breathing difficult.
It is never too late to quit smoking. Research consistently shows that quitting smoking at any age increases life expectancy. Smokers who quit before the age of 35 have a life expectancy that is not significantly different from non-smokers. Those who stop later, even as late as 65 to 74 years of age, also have significantly longer life expectancy than those who continue to smoke. Furthermore, most of the ill effects of cigarette smoking are reversible. The reversal may not be complete in some conditions and may merely be minimal in a few others. Nevertheless, former smokers are assured of a longer life expectancy and better quality of life than smokers.
Regular exercise counteracts the detrimental effects of sedentary lifestyle, which is associated with over a quarter of all deaths from the leading chronic diseases. It lowers the risk of developing coronary heart disease, the number one cause of heart attacks. It also reduces the risk of developing a stroke by as much as 80 percent and type 2 diabetes mellitus by half. It similarly decreases the risk of getting hypertension and of developing certain cancers, notably of the lungs, colon, and in females, the reproductive organs. Regular exercise also increases blood levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol. It likewise slows down the development of osteoporosis and contributes to maintenance of a desirable body weight.
Moreover, regular exercise helps in controlling chronic diseases in people who have them and, at the same time, it lowers the dose requirement of maintenance medicines for these diseases. In addition to preventing and controlling chronic disease, regular exercise improves one’s quality of life. It similarly reduces stress, depression, and anxiety and also enhances sleep quality. It enhances mood and self-esteem and promotes a person’s over-all well-being. It likewise improves muscle and skin tone. In addition, it helps in digesting food and preventing constipation.
By the way, exercise need not be in the form of a structured program that is carried out in the gym or the tracks. It can simply consist of 30 minutes per day of physical activities that lead to palpable physical exertion such as doing household chores, walking, etc.
Adopt a healthy diet
In so far as diet is concerned, embrace a healthy diet, which simply means one that contains a variety of food from all the food categories, with emphasis on fruits and vegetables, fat-free, low-fat dairy products, cereal and grain products, legumes and nuts, and, fish, poultry and lean meat. Also, if you drink, limit your alcohol intake to two drinks per day (note: for women, it’s just one drink per day). Most important, at all times, avoid excessive food intake.
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