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We often set health and wellness goals or resolutions at the start of a new year. While making these resolutions is easy enough, sticking to them beyond a few days or months is another story. In any case, for a healthier you starting this coming year, you only need to adopt three New Year’s Resolutions: keep off cigarettes, shift to a healthy diet, and exercise regularly.

World Health Organization figures show that an estimated 80 percent of premature deaths worldwide are caused by only four diseases: cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. Although the big four are brought about by the interplay of various genetic and environmental factors, scientific studies have consistently shown that there are only three major risk factors for these conditions, namely, smoking, unhealthy diet, and sedentary lifestyle. Hence, by simply sticking to the three lifestyle changes mentioned above you can considerably reduce your risk of premature death (i.e., death before the age of 70) and markedly improve your quality of life.

Keep off cigarettes

If you smoke, quit. If you don’t, don’t pick up the habit. Smoking is no doubt the most harmful habit humans have ever embraced. There are at least 400 toxic substances in tobacco that are released and absorbed through the lungs and the respiratory passages when a person smokes.

Smoking causes cancer, not only of the lungs, but also of the mouth and throat, nose and sinuses, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, urinary bladder, liver, colon, acute myeloid leukemia, prostate (in men), and ovary and cervix (in women). It is also a major underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes because it accelerates atherosclerosis—the deposition of cholesterol into blood vessel walls—and high blood pressure. Cardiovascular disease is, in fact, the most common cause of death associated with smoking, not cancer.

Smoking is likewise the cause of 80 percent of all cases of chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), a group of conditions exemplified by chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is characterized by blockage of airflow into the lungs making breathing difficult. It is a progressive disease that ultimately leads to an agonizing death.

Smoking also plays a major role in the development of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration (of the eye), impaired immune function, ectopic pregnancy, and cleft palate in infants (of pregnant women who smoke).

Smoking also worsens asthma. It likewise contributes to the development of cataract, low-back pain, peptic ulcers, fertility problems, and impotence (in men), paler and more wrinkled skin, periodontal diseases, and staining of the teeth.

The good news is it is never too late to quit smoking. Studies have shown that smoking cessation 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, still have significantly longer life expectancy than those who continue to smoke.

Also, most of the ill effects of cigarette smoking are reversible. The reversal may not be complete in some instances, but former smokers are still assured of a better quality of life than smokers.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise prevents the development of various chronic diseases. It lowers the risk of developing coronary heart disease (the number one cause of heart attacks), reduces the risk of developing a stroke by as much as 80 percent and type two diabetes mellitus by 50 percent—if one develops diabetes anyway, exercise makes the condition easier to control.

Exercise also prevents hypertension. Among people who are already hypertensive, exercise significantly reduces the dose of the maintenance drugs they need to take. Exercise likewise helps in the maintenance of desirable body weight not only by burning calories but also by enhancing the body’s capacity to use energy, enabling the body to spend extra calories more efficiently. It also increases blood levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol. Similarly, it lowers the risk of developing certain cancers, notably of the lungs, colon, and in females, the reproductive organs while slowing down the development of osteoporosis—an age-related condition, more pronounced in women, that is characterized by the brittleness of bones. It also reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition to preventing chronic diseases, exercise improves one’s quality of life. It improves the functional capacity of people with certain forms of arthritis and reduces their need for pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs. It enhances sleep quality, mood, and self-esteem while reducing stress, depression, and anxiety. It also increases interest in and capacity for sexual activity. It too helps in digesting food and preventing constipation. It prevents muscle loss and promotes good muscle tone while improving skin tone by enhancing blood flow to the skin.

What kind and how much exercise do you need? Experts recommend that you engage in both aerobic and muscle-strengthening and stretching exercises.

Muscle strengthening and stretching exercises need to be done only twice a week. Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, can simply be in the form of 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. Moderate-intensity exercise can be in the form of structured activities such as brisk walking, dancing, swimming, or cycling on level ground. But aerobic exercise need not be in the form of a structured program at all. Most people can get enough exercise by adopting simple lifestyle changes such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing household chores regularly, walking or biking to and from the neighborhood grocery instead of driving, etc. As long as the daily activities lead to palpable physical exertion and add up to more than 30 minutes per day.

Adopt a healthy diet

A healthy diet will keep your weight within desirable limits and keep your blood cholesterol and lipid profile within a normal range. It will likewise reduce your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

Make whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and pulses (legumes) such as beans and lentils a major part of your daily diet.

Limit “fast food” and other processed food high in fat, starches, or sugars. These food items predispose you to weight gain and obesity because they are highly palatable, high in energy, affordable, and easy to access.

Eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat and eat little, if any, processed meat. Red meat refers to all types of muscle meat from a mammal, including beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat while processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Processed meat includes ham, salami, bacon, and some sausages such as frankfurters and chorizo.

Focus on eating beneficial “good” unsaturated fats while avoiding harmful “bad” fats. Food high in good fats includes vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish. Bad fat includes trans fats that are primarily in processed food and saturated fats, which are present in red meat, butter, cheese, and ice cream.

Limit your salt intake. Add salt to dishes just to taste. Refrain from using salty “sawsawans” such as toyo and patis.

Limit your intake of added sugars, i.e., sugars and syrups that are added to food or beverages when they are processed or prepared. Less than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugars. Food and beverages with added sugar include candies, cakes, cookies, pies and cobblers, sweet rolls, pastries, doughnuts, dairy desserts such as ice cream and yogurt, sugar sweetened drinks such as soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and juice drinks.

Limit your alcohol consumption to two drinks per day (one drink for women).

Refrain from taking dietary supplements. Aim to meet your nutritional needs through diet alone. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting supplements like beta-carotene, fish oil, vitamin E, etc. increase the risk for cancers.


Source: Manila Bulletin

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