Once we come to terms with our mortality, it is also an important step to learn how to protect it. Sure, it is scary to think about how you might die but it just might also be extremely beneficial. With such a problem, I like to rely on some good logical thinking and for those that know me best that means looking at the data and drawing clear conclusions that I can pass onto my clients.
If we look at the data, it is very clear that most Australians will die of one of a handful of non-communicable diseases: heart disease, stroke, cancer and dementia. You can view the statistics here. Now I’m not saying that these are the only causes of death but they are by far the most likely causes of death. So for now let’s forget about ebola, sharks, terrorism, spiders and snakes because at the end of the day it is highly unlikely that you will be troubled by any of these dangers and let’s focus on what can really improve your health because the good news is that most of these diseases are preventable or you can at least delay the onset.
I like to keep my advice really simple so here are the 4 major behavioural risk factors you need to improve to prevent these leading causes of disease:
1. Tobacco Use
- Quit. And if you can’t quit, seek help. http://www.icanquit.com.au
2. Physical Inactivity
Follow the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines:
- Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
- Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.
- Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
- Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.
Follow the Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines:
- Minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting.
- Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.
3. Unhealthy Diet
Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines:
- To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy need
- Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five food groups every day:
- Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years)
And drink plenty of water.
- Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
- Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding
- Care for your food; prepare and store it safely
4. Harmful Use of Alcohol
- Consume no more than 2 standard drinks per day
- Have at least 2 alcohol free days per week
These 4 behavioural risk factors combine to lead to 4 major metabolic/physical risk factors for the diseases I have already mentioned:
1. High Blood Glucose
2. High Blood Pressure
3. High Blood Cholesterol
If you change your habits for the 4 behavioural risk factors above, you can change the 4 metabolic/physical risk factors. My intention here is not to discount that there are many different causes of disease but simply to give clear advice to the majority of people. The truth is the majority of Australians will die from a non-communicable, lifestyle-related disease. By adhering to this advice you cannot guarantee you won’t be affected by the diseases mentioned but you can guarantee that you will decrease your risk of developing these diseases. We all have a different relationship with death. I think about the dreams I once had as a child about death. It didn’t take me long to realise that if I was scared of drowning then I could decrease my risk by learning how to swim. I’m asking you to do the same thing. You can decrease your risk of death by taking action. Chances are you won’t die from drowning but when it comes to lifestyle-related diseases we all better start learning how to swim.