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Healthy Lifestyle – The Best Recipe For A Quality Life

The term Healthy Lifestyle is very fashionable and perhaps is one of the most commonly used phrases in the Western World today. Notwithstanding, the pursuit of good physical and mental well-being must not be regarded as a fashion because, while we will all die, the medical people say that the root causes of illness and death are largely unhealthful lifestyles. Also many deaths due to infectious diseases are caused by an immune system that is weakened by a poor lifestyle.

This evening’s discussion should seek, therefore, to determine how our attitude to eating and drinking, working, recreating and our relationships one with another, at home and at work, impact on our mental and physical health, and moreover, whether we are seeking to promote a life of quality, a life that does not speak merely to longevity.

The question of relationships relative to healthy living is also worthy of consideration when we recognize that stressful conditions at home and at work can undermine our health. We therefore must look at questions such as financial concerns, job or career pressures, family health problems, not having enough time to yourself, conflicts with spouses, family or work colleagues.

The point I am trying to make here is your attitude to these stressors will depend significantly on their impact your well-being.

What is the evidence to demonstrate that we should pursue habits that lead to healthy living?

  1. Diet has a vital influence on health
  2. Five of the ten leading causes of death are associated with diet and these are coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and atherosclerosis, which is the abnormal thickening of arterial walls resulting from fatty deposits and fibrosis.
  3. Another three have been associated with excessive alcohol intake and these are cirrhosis of the liver, accidents and suicide
  4. Dietary excesses or imbalances also contribute to other problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, dental diseases, osteoporosis and gastrointestinal diseases

A longevity study, related to lifestyles conducted by Americans, Drs. Belloc and Breslow, suggested that the following habits an individual followed, made a tremendous impact on longevity. These are:

  1. Sleep 7 to 8 hours
  2. No eating between meals
  3. Eat breakfast regularly
  4. Maintain proper weight
  5. Regular exercise
  6. Moderate or no use of alcohol; and
  7. No smoking.

In the USA, in 1995, the ten leading afflictions that caused death were-

  1. Heart and blood vessel disease,
  2. Cancer
  3. Chronic lung disease
  4. Accidents
  5. Pneumonia/influenza
  6. Diabetes
  7. HIV/aids
  8. Suicide
  9. Liver cirrhosis
  10. Kidney failure

In the Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organisation informs that non-communicable diseases – obesity, asthma, cervical, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and their complications of amputations, strokes and heart disease, intentional and unintentional injuries– are the leading causes of illness and death in Barbados and the rest of the region.

They also inform that these diseases, whose onset may be caused by poor lifestyle choices, are all preventable. What they are saying is that increasing recognition of the risk factors that are common to con-communicable diseases are tobacco use, improper nutrition and physical inactivity. If that is so, then we can act.

•             We are told that heart disease has been the leading cause of death across the Caribbean for decades and accounted for 19% of deaths overall in 1995, translating roughly into 7,300 deaths

•             Stroke was the third leading cause of death in the Caribbean in 1995 after heart disease and all cancers, and accounted for 11% of mortality.

•             Hypertension is a risk factor for ischaemic heart disease and stroke and worsens the prognosis in diabetes.

•             Diabetes is under-reported on death certificates in the Caribbean. It as the fourth leading cause of death in 1995.

•             All cancers combined were the second leading cause of death in the Caribbean in 1995

•             Experts in all Caribbean countries except Belize and the British Virgin Islands report major changes in diet over the past 30 years. The trend is towards increased intake of refined, processed foods and increased intake of fast food and imported food. More salt and fat are now used in cooking and fewer fruits, vegetables, and ground provisions are now consumed.

•             Studies of physical activity in Barbados suggest that 51% of the adult population is almost completely sedentary.

The PAHO Strategic Plan for the region on non-communicable disease prevention and control in the Caribbean, states that the major non-communicable diseases are prevalent, disabling, costly and impact negatively on productivity and development. For the most part, these conditions are linked by common risk factors including obesity, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco and alcohol consumption, and under-use of known prevention strategies.

But having said all of that, we wish you, as the audience and fellow discussants, to consider the factors we have to deal with when we are proposing questions like nutrition and exercise – and these considerations are:

•             The high cost of nutritious foods, especially vegetables

•             The quality of the roads on which we walk, jog or run when we are working out, and

•             Societal violence, which prevents or scares some people from working out in the early or late hours of the day.

Another matter of significant magnitude is the breaking down of the cultural barriers, with regard to some of the foods we eat and the way in which we prepare them; and our vision and cultural acceptance of what is healthy looking.

We know that fatness can lead to adult-onset diabetes. We also know that too large a number of our population is diabetic; that diabetes can lead to illness (heart disease, impotence, blindness), lower limb amputations and death. We also know that what we eat and the amounts we eat can lead to illness.

Why have we failed, then, to make the conversion? What are the barriers?

What we have failed to do, we think, is to make the transition in significant numbers as to how we should set about to improve our health. The problem about lifestyle is that it is a personal decision – there are no laws or regulations, no statutory penalties or fines, or imprisonment that accompany the breaking of health rules, except illness and death.

Maybe, our healthy lifestyles programmes have to focus on dealing with smaller and more controlled numbers of people. Perhaps we need to treat people on a one-to-one, person-to-person basis, in order to get the message across. Perhaps our messages are too “mass”, too open, and too wide, with the result that they get lost among the other messages.

Perhaps, we should begin to interface with people and families on an individual basis, show them how they can improve their grocery list to include foods that are beneficial to their health.

We blunder in the sense that we take people for granted. We talk to people from a safe distance and we expect to see a dramatic conversion in their habits, for example,  – what they eat and the way they eat it. The most popular eating and recreational spots for Bajans were Baxter’s Road and now Oistin’s. What makes these places so trendy?  Fried chicken. Fried fish. Liquor. All of the foregoing are items that can impair their health. Much as we talk about fatness, Barbadian men still like to see women with an extra curve around her hips and a few inches in the area of the chest.

So we have some cultural hurdles to clear.

We recommend that families should participate in some of these health promotion programmes if we are serious about reaping success. In your forthcoming programme, you must invite the spouses of Transport Board workers, and where you can, their children, to these meetings.

We will explain why this is necessary: how dare we go home and tell our mothers or wives who have been cooking for us in the traditional way, for eons, about changing one food item for another, and really expect that she should radically change her way of doing things, overnight? Will not happen.

But if we, meaning my wife and myself, learn together, we could more easily suggest to one another that whether we are sautéing an onion or baking muffins, we should try using olive oil instead of butter. Why? Because the types of fat in these oils can improve the levels of cholesterol and other fat-like substances in their bloods and combat narrowing of arteries that occur with age.

We can explain to them that, instead of relying on red meat for protein, they can try fish, chicken or legumes. And when we wish to eat meat, we can select lean meats such as pork tenderloin or extra lean ground beef. They pack less artery-clogging saturated fat than pork loin or low-grade hamburger.

What we also wish to show this evening is that there are also cheap and traditional foods, which are useful like bananas and spinach. I am made to understand that banana is a bone protector. Bananas, which were long touted for potassium, also contain magnesium. Recent studies have shown that both minerals – potassium and magnesium have correlated with bone strength. Vitamin K, which plays a role in maintaining bone density, is found in spinach. Vitamin K helps 12 proteins in blood, bones, arteries and brain carry out their functions. Studies are showing that older women who eat lots of Vitamin K have denser bones and fewer hip fractures.

We are told, too, that spinach contains a compound called lutein, which helps to reduce the incidence of cataracts.

Staples such as bananas and oranges are rich in blood pressure-lowering potassium – and it is said that onion contain the organosulfur compounds that appear to increase levels of good cholesterol. So does olive oil.

We wish to show how, by our interaction at work, we can improve our health. I do not think there is a better place outside of our homes in which we could create the springboard or platform for environment for a healthy lifestyle, than is the workplace. There is a ready audience

A worker may spend eight hours physically at his worksite, but he may spend the other 16 hours of the day emotionally and psychologically at the worksite. What I am saying our bodies may leave the four walls of our worksites, but we are, emotionally attached to that place and the bad fit between worker and workplace may impact on the emotions that are taken home by the worker.