The New Year is traditionally a time for making 'good resolutions'. While many of these fall by the wayside, often before the end of January, this is a good time to think about changes we might make in our lives that will benefit our health.
It is true to say that in our Western society the majority of serious ill health and premature death is related to the way we live. These 'lifestyle' diseases include heart attacks, strokes, many cancers, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, digestive disorders, some mental illnesses and road accidents.
The good news is that many of these problems can be prevented, or at least delayed, by some simple adjustments to the things we do.
Important areas of our lives, which are entirely in our own control, and which affect our health include:
Perhaps the most important single thing anyone can do to increase their chances of living a long and active life is to be a non-smoker. The relationship between smoking and a whole range of diseases is well known and, even for those who have smoked for many years, there will always be benefits from stopping.
What we eat has a great influence on the way our bodies work. Food is the source of energy and also provides the materials that our bodies use to repair damage, replace parts that wear out (such as blood cells), and fight infections. These materials are also necessary for the thousands of complex chemical reactions that occur in our bodies every second.
Too much food will make us overweight and prone to arthritis, high blood pressure, heart attacks and diabetes complications. The wrong sorts of food can cause digestive disorders and deficiency diseases. Some simple rules are to eat plenty of fibre, in the form of fruit, vegetables and cereals (don't forget bread), drink plenty of water, avoid excesses of animal fats and eat fish more often.
Exercise should be a regular feature of everyone's life. By keeping the muscles in good working order, and stimulating the flow of blood around the body, exercise makes us feel better both physically and mentally. Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart attack and plays an important part in weight control. The amount and type of exercise necessary for these benefits varies enormously from person to person, depending on such things as age, physical condition and existing health problems.
A simple guide is to try to exercise for at least 30 minutes at moderate intensity on most, preferably all, days. You can accumulate 30 minutes throughout the day by exercising for shorter sessions of 10-15 minutes at a time. A guide to moderate intensity would be a brisk walk that leaves you feeling slightly puffed at the end. People who have not done any regular exercise for some time should not suddenly take up strenuous exercise such as squash.
Alcohol use is accepted in many cultures but it should be remembered that alcohol is a drug. Excessive alcohol use increases the risk of accidents, relationship problems and risky behaviour such as unsafe sex. It can also lead to long-term health damage, including brain injury, high blood pressure and cirrhosis of the liver.
The risk of harm increases with the amount of alcohol drunk both regularly and on any one occasion. Australian guidelines recommend that healthy men and women should drink no more than 2 standard drinks per day to reduce their lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease and injury, and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one occasion.
Last Reviewed: 21 July 2010