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Watch your lifestyle!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

If you want to live longer, watch out for tobacco use, physical inactivity, alcohol and unhealthy diets

You’ve heard it before and it annoys you to hear it again. ‘Stop smoking!’ ‘Get some exercise!’’. ‘Enough drinking, you hear me?’ You close your ears and continue with your wild and wicked ways, muttering something to yourself about how irritating it is when people nag.

Well, here are some facts that you may not wish to hear but are worth repeating anyway.

According to the World Health Organisation, Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally. Each year, 15 million people die from an NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years; over 85% of these ‘premature’ deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries.

So what’s a non-communicable disease and what does it have to do with you? Well, there are four groups of such diseases and in many cases, they are caused by perfectly modifiable lifestyle behaviour—cardiovascular diseases (17.9 million people die annually from this worldwide); cancers (9.0 million); respiratory diseases (3.9 million), and diabetes (1.6 million).

Controlling these is not always in your own hands—after all, there is not much you can do about the uncontrolled urbanisation that leads to pollution and choking traffic jams that cause respiratory problems—but there are lots of other things that you can change in your own individual sphere. WHO says: “Tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets all increase the risk of dying from NCD.” Then there are other things such as ‘swimmer’s ear’, where excessive use of headphones can cause inflammation of the inner and outer ear.

It begins early and gets ingrained in us as we get older. While deaths from noncommunicable diseases mainly occur in adulthood, exposure to risk factors begins in childhood and builds up throughout life, WHO says.

Way back in 2011, the Journal of Nursing Science & Practice (Volume 1, Issue 1, July 2011), spoke of a study on lifestyle-disease related risk factors in school-going children in Delhi. The survey of 293 participants from two schools of children aged eight to 12 years involved 10% students, who were classified as  obese;  11%  were labelled  as overweight and nearly  39% who were underweight. 

Researchers found that around  50% of  the  participants consumed soft drinks, chocolates and  chips at least three times  per week. While awareness regarding  healthy and harmful eating was quite high and more than 90% knew that physical activity was good for health, only 55%  of  the  students  actually acted upon this. “Though the awareness level is high,” the study said, “it does not reflect in their eating habits”.

Since then, of course, things have become much worse for us all, with cell phone usage and excessive screen time, which are known to contribute to a host of health issues.

In Mumbai, this April, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation study concluded that psychiatric ailments, diabetes and hypertension are among the common reasons why Mumbaikars seek help at the city’s civic-run hospitals. In the first-ever such exercise, BMC doctors studied disease patterns of patients who visited BMC’s three-level healthcare facilities of 175 dispensaries, 15 peripheral hospitals and four tertiary care hospitals, using data compiled between October 2015 and September 2017. The study of 5.59 lakh patients reportedly led Dr Seema Bansode, professor and head of community medicine, Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital, Sion, and main researcher, to comment that it was evident that lifestyle diseases are on the rise. While there were no comparative figures for the researchers to draw upon, there is no reason to disbelieve what the study concludes.

WHO points out that children, adults and the elderly are all vulnerable to the risk factors contributing to NCDs, whether from unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, exposure to tobacco smoke or the harmful use of alcohol. Rapid unplanned urbanisation, unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles can show up in the most unpleasant ways—raised blood pressure, increased blood glucose, elevated blood lipids and obesity. All these are metabolic risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease, which is a key NCD that causes premature deaths.

So what can we do? Well, we all know the answer to that one. The remedies are simple, but following them isn’t necessarily so. There are always a dozen excuses as to why we can’t hit the gym, or at least step out for a walk. There are always reasons to have that one extra drink for the road because there is something to celebrate. And we lead lives full of such stress that, of course, that tenth cigarette of the day is a necessary thing in our lives.

So go on; run through that list of excuses and then chuck them out of the window. Challenge yourself—start by stepping out for a walk. You might even find it might actually be fun!

Here are some more fun facts on modifiable behavioural risk factors that WHO enumerates:

Tobacco accounts for over 7.2 million deaths every year (including from the effects of exposure to second-hand smoke), and is projected to increase markedly over the coming years.

4.1 million annual deaths have been attributed to excess salt/sodium intake.

More than half of the 3.3 million annual deaths attributable to alcohol use are from NCDs, including cancer.

1.6 million deaths annually can be attributed to insufficient physical activity.

How lifestyle issues impact health

Dr Ramakant Deshpande, Onco Surgeon at Asian Cancer Institute

“Alcohol consumption is detrimental to health and a leading preventable cause of death.  When the body takes in more alcohol than it can metabolise, the excess may be built up in the bloodstream. The heart circulates the blood alcohol throughout the body, leading to changes in chemistry and normal body functions. Even a single binge-drinking episode can result in significant bodily impairment, damage, or death. Over time, excessive alcohol, and smoking can lead to the development of many chronic diseases and other serious health problems. It also causes destruction of liver tissue initiating disorderly repair, leading to cirrhosis of the liver with impaired function and early mortality.

Heavy drinking can also cause cardiomyopathy, a potentially deadly condition in which the heart muscle weakens and eventually fails as well as heart rhythm abnormalities such as atrial and ventricular.  Ventricular fibrillation causes chaotic twitchning in the heart’s main pumping chambers. It causes rapid loss of consciousness and  in the absence of immediate treatment, sudden death can happen.”

Meera Bangera, Regional Fitness Manager (South), Talwalkars Better Value Fitness Ltd

The modern-day lifestyle of convenience is plagued by mental stress and lack of physical activity—a perfect recipe for biological and mental breakdown!

"Long hours of sitting, skipping meals at times to finish deadlines or attacking the food cabinet to hog comfort food like sweets or junk,to relieve mental stress and anxiety is like opening a Pandora's box of health issues, mainly weight gain, Poly-Cystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD), Thyroid, Joint pains, Diabetes, Blood Pressure and so on.

Small activities like stretching the whole body after every one hour of sitting, walking up and down a flight of four floors every two to three hours throughout the day can be really helpful. Try to be on your feet most of the time. Target to achieve at least 12,000 steps a day. If you cannot spend one hour in the gym, at least do a quick 20 minutes high-intense interval training, depending upon your fitness levels. In Talwalkars Better Value Fitness Ltd. we have Nuform, which is a 20-minute workout program and works on 10 large muscle groups at the same time. The benefits are the same as in a one-hour workout. You can do this twice a week and on the remaining days work on short burst activities. Make sure you eat small and nutritious meals which includes fruits and nuts every two hours and keep yourself hydrated."

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