When we talk about risk factors we mean those factors, be they non-modifiable (such as age, sex and genetic make-up) or modifiable (levels of physical activity, dietary intake, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and stress) that contribute to the risk of the person developing a heart-related disease. “Cardio-vascular” (that relating to the heart and blood vessels) diseases include angina (as a result of blocked arteries), heart attacks, strokes (which follow the same developmental pathway as a heart attack, but occur in the brain), and thromboses (think of venous thrombo-embolisms we are warned about when flying). There are also conditions that in themselves are illnesses, but are also risk factors. These include diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
In the world today we face a “3-4-5” Scenario. Three behaviours (smoking, insufficient physical activity and poor diets) result in four diseases of lifestyle (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema), cardiovascular disease, cancer (various forms) and diabetes) and these together result in 50% of deaths worldwide.
The important thing about the “3-4-5” scenario is that the three factors responsible for 50% of global mortality are modifiable risks! We have the power to determine whether we will become a statistic or not! That is a very positive, and very optimistic fact: the reality is that as humans we lack the innate motivation and drive to change our habitual lifestyles. Perhaps I can offer some motivation that might encourage you to consider the ‘lifestyle choices’ you are making.
Factor 1: Poor dietary habits. Did you know that 60% of cancer cases are diet related? Current research suggests more often than not that many instances of cancer can be linked to poor lifestyle habits. What does this mean? Ensure that your diet consists of a variety of components, and all in moderation! If in doubt, seek professional guidance from a dietician. The big “no nos”: fried foods, sugar-laden foods, and processed or over-refined foods. Swop fried fish in batter for grilled fish, opt for wholewheat rather than white bread, brown rice rather than white rice. Cook up your own soup, don’t choose packet soup. No one is suggesting you should give up red meat or ice-cream, but don’t eat visible fat on meat and have that choc-vanilla soft-serve in moderation!
Factor 2: Insufficient physical activity. Estimates indicate that 60 – 80% of adults in the world today are not active enough. This means that 60-80% of the adult population does not manage to obtain thirty minutes of exercise on three days of the week (latest recommendations indicate that the ideal is to obtain thirty minutes of moderate activity on most, if not all, days of the week). If you stop and think about it that isn’t an entirely unrealistic goal, is it? A hint for those who find lack of time a problem (and thus, an excuse!) is that the thirty minutes of activity you should be getting daily need not be continuous. Two 15 minute sessions, or even three ten minute sessions have been shown to provide the same health benefits as one 30 minute session.
Finding those elusive fifteen minutes can be challenging: herewith some tips on how to do it:
· Record your favourite TV show: hour-long TV shows are actually only 45minutes duration so by skipping the ads you earn 15 minutes!
· Diarise your 15 minute workouts: things written in ‘black&white’ tend to get done!
· Set a timer: and thus prevent the inevitable “faff” – that quick email check that ends up taking an hour…; the coffee break that lasts longer than it should have. After ten minutes the ringer reminds you that it’s time to use time wisely!
· Neat freak? Ask yourself next time you’re re-arranging the sock drawer (again): “is this really important? Could I be using this time to take a 15 minute, health improving, life-saving walk?”
And when you’ve found them, what is the best way to utilise those 15 precious minutes?
· Found 15 minutes and you’re at the office? Take a quick walk.
· At home with 15 minutes on hand? Choose three exercises (my suggestion would be travelling lunges, abdominal crunches, and push-ups (either against a wall, at 45º against a strong surface or the rails around your balcony, or on the floor if you’re really brave!). Do ten of each exercise, three times over, with no breaks.
· At the shopping centre? Park in that furthest spot, avoid the lifts and escalators, and watch those minutes tick by – shopping can be exercise too!
For those who are gadget-mad and have a few bob to spend in the name of health-improvement, the following can be motivating. Personally, I prefer a minimalist approach and don’t go in for the idea that exercise of whatever kind must incur some cost. But we are all different and have different motivators.
· A Pedometer: obtainable at sports stores and at Clicks, these little gadgets affix to your belt and record the number of steps you take. A common aim is 10 000 steps a day (which amounts to 10km of walking!) but start small: see how many steps you actually take on an average day and then set yourself a goal: can you turn 100 steps into 150 per day for the next week? Then 200 per day? And so on.
· A heart-rate monitor: provides real-time information about your heart rate. Worn as a wrist-watch plus chest strap you can be sure to monitor your heart as you take that walk: watch how your heart rate increases and imagine the little engines inside you burning ever faster, using up all that excess fuel!
· An exercise ball: available at any sports store (Sportsmans Warehouse as an example). Burst proof (though possibly not cat-scratching-post proof!), a 55cm – 65cm diameter ball is ideal (55cm if you are shorter, 65cm if you are of average to tall build). Sit on it at your desk (but keep that tummy pulled in and back straight!) and then roll back on it to do your abdominal crunches.
· A set of dumbbells: if you don’t invest in a gym membership, one set of dumbbells could be a good investment. Adjustable are ideal as your progression does not leave your 2kg dumbbells wasted, you simply add some weight and create 5kg’s in a flash. Sports stores offer great ranges in funky colours too!
Exercise is easy to do: you just need to have the right mindset and not fall into the trap of thinking that it has to be sweaty and time-consuming. Anecdotally - I have a friend who in her thirties woke up to the fact that she was borderline obese. One of her strategies was to get up and do a chore or walk upstairs during every commercial break when watching television. One year later she is no longer an obesity risk, her blood pressure and cholesterol are down to healthy levels and she is a happier person ready to take on the world!
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