The end of the year is upon us and so is the pressure to make resolutions to do things that would make us healthier and happier. Since health is a prerequisite for happiness, here’s a seven-point checklist to prevent and delay lifestyle diseases by at least a decade, maybe two.
1. Keep blood pressure under 130/90 mmHg. High blood pressure (hypertension) is defined as a systolic (higher reading) blood pressure above 140 mmHg and a diastolic (lower reading) pressure of more than 90 mmHg. Results of a meta-analysis of 123 studies with more than 600,000 participants showed that every 10 mmHg fall in systolic pressure lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure, which, in the populations studied, led to a 13% reduction in deaths, reported The Lancet this week.
2. Lower bad cholesterol, but don’t neglect the good. There’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, and while your low density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) should be below 100 mg/dl, high density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol) should be well over 45 mg/dl for men and over 55 mg/dl for women. An HDL reading of 60 mg/dl or more cancels out one heart disease risk factors, which include family history, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity or inactivity, among others.
3. Keep fasting blood sugars under 100. About 65 million people have diabetes in India and an equal number have insulin resistance that is a precursor to developing the disease in the near future. Healthy blood sugar levels after eight hours of fasting are below 100. A 100-125 range indicates impaired fasting glucose (pre-diabetes), and a reading above 125 is classified as diabetes. The gold standard for diabetes tests is the oral glucose tolerance test done after having 75 gm of glucose in 200 ml of water two hours after the fasting test. A healthy reading is below 140. A reading above 200 indicates diabetes; and between 140-199 pre-diabetes.
4. Lose weight and tummy fat. Extra weight means that the heart has to work harder to supply blood to the body. A weight loss of 10% or more lowers blood pressure and the levels of triglycerides in the blood. Exercising — where your heart beats fast enough for you to feel it — for at least 30 to 40 minutes each day helps. The routine must include a combination of aerobic exercises such as brisk walks (speed of at least 4 km/hour), yoga and weight training. Belly fat is bad news. A waist-size larger than 38 inches for men and 35 inches for women raises the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a pro-inflammatory state (elevated levels of C-reactive protein in the blood), so you must burn away the fat by being physically active and eating healthy. Opt for a high-fibre diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free products, fish, pulses and legumes, and unsaturated oils such as mustard, olive, sunflower, corn, and rapeseed (canola).
5. Don’t worry, be happy. Depression does more than make you moody, it makes you battle listlessness, guilt, low self-worth, sleeplessness, appetite loss (or gain), and difficulty concentrating each day. It affects your ability to work, form relationships and function optimally, often leading to self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse and self-harm. People who are depressed after a surgery, heart attack, stroke or after being diagnosed a chronic disease such as cancer don’t do as well as those who aren’t depressed.
6. De-stress. Constant work stress, financial worries, relationship problems, being bullied, or taking care of an ailing parent, child or partner all lead to early death. Stress does not cause any single disease, not even ulcers. Australian researchers Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren won the 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine for showing that the bacterium H. pylori, and not stress, caused ulcers. What stress does is make several diseases worse by suppressing the immune system and raising risk of infections. From headaches and colds to the more debilitating diabetes, heart attacks, depression and impotence, stress has been linked to almost everything that can mess up our lives. And more than the physical stress of long working hours, night-shifts or threats of downsizing, personal conflicts– annoying colleagues, nagging spouses and tiresome bosses — add to stress.
7. Quit tobacco. Smoking causes more than 90% of lung cancers and 80% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung disorders that progressively make it harder to breathe. Smoking triggers trouble by hardening, blocking and narrowing arteries, which makes it the leading cause of heart attacks and stroke in young people. Quitting smoking halves risk of a heart attack and stroke. Chewing tobacco, including gutkha, khaini and paan masala, causes cancers of the mouth and oral cavity.