February is Healthy Lifestyles Awareness Month, an initiative which aims to encourage more people to take a proactive approach to their health and wellbeing. The campaign aims to tackle the dangers of common health risk factors, by promoting healthy behaviour among individuals, communities and populations.
Most of us start the new year with good intentions, planning to eat healthier, exercise more and ditch unhealthy habits. It can be hard to keep up this momentum as the year rolls on however. How do you focus on keeping your health in check when there are so many other demands on your time? What should your priorities be?
Healthy Lifestyles Awareness Month has identified the most important areas for you to focus on. The campaign covers 5 key elements which have the biggest impact on health.
The Problem of Lifestyle Diseases
Lifestyle diseases, also known as non-communicable diseases or NCDs, are non-infectious illnesses that can typically be prevented by changes in diet and lifestyle. Common examples include heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, obesity and osteoporosis.
NCDs are long-term medical conditions that typically progress slowly, and last for long periods of time. These diseases are directly linked to our unhealthy modern lifestyles, and we can help to prevent them by focusing on the 5 key elements of healthy living.
- Promoting Good Nutrition
An unhealthy diet can lead to long-term health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Here are a few quick and easy tips to make your eating habits healthier.
- Eating 5 servings of fruit and/ or vegetables every day will give your body a wide variety of valuable nutrients
- Staying hydrated is extremely important, and helps to prevent overeating – drink several glasses of fluid a day, preferably water (although tea and coffee also count towards total fluid intake)
- Choosing a sugar-free soda over a regular soda will cut out a whopping 7 teaspoons of sugar from your daily intake
- Swapping full cream milk for fat-free milk will cut your fat intake by 7.5g
- Choosing soft tub margarine over hard brick margarine or butter will reduce your saturated fat intake
Some of these might feel like “baby steps”, but even small changes to your daily eating habits can make a big difference in the long run.
- Regular Physical Activity
So many of us spend the majority of our time sitting motionless behind our desks. This is another big factor that impacts our health and increases our risk of NCDs.
It’s recommended that you do around 30 minutes of exercise, 5 times a week. But that doesn’t have to mean shelling out for a fancy gym membership. Walking, running, riding a bike around the neighbourhood or playing a fun sport with your family are all great ways to get your pulse racing and your blood pumping.
- Tobacco Control
If you’re a smoker, quitting is one of the biggest gifts you could give to your body. Smoking narrows your blood vessels and reduces your circulation, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Not only that, it almost triples the risk of heart disease. Understandably, tobacco control is a big focus for Healthy Lifestyles Awareness Month.
Quitting isn’t easy, but it can be done, and it’s worth it! Ask your friends and family for support and ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a quitting aid like nicotine gum or patches. Your body (and your wallet) will thank you.
- Intervention against Alcohol & Substance Abuse
Drinking and drugs have a major impact on the health of the user. Even worse, substance abuse has a huge impact on families and communities. Part of the Healthy Lifestyles Awareness Month initiative includes highlighting the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, and the steps people affected by it can take to overcome it.
- Promotion of Safe Sexual Behaviour
Practising safe sex means protecting yourself and your partner against the risks that come with being sexually active; namely unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections. Safe sexual behaviours include:
- Choosing a reliable method of contraception
- Using contraception correctly and consistently
- Being honest with your partner about your sexual history and health
- Being faithful to your partner
- Getting tested regularly for HIV and knowing your status
Condom Week is another health initiative taking place in February, aiming to raise awareness about the benefits of using condoms as a method of protection.
Prevention is Better than Cure
The long-term benefits of a healthy lifestyle are undeniable. Focusing on these 5 areas of your life will help to promote better physical, mental and emotional wellness.
February 22 marks National Healthy Lifestyles Awareness Day. This is a great opportunity for you to take another look at those resolutions, and reinvigorate your commitment to smarter, healthier living!
Aon Hewitt Global Medical Trend Rate Report for 2016, the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS).
Annual Report 2014-2015 and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Written by LifeAssist