Here's how to cut down your chances of developing a chronic disease

By Drum Digital
06 April 2017

Being active can cut down your chances of developing a chronic disease

By Vida Li Sik

A panel of medical experts in Johannesburg yesterday agreed that exercise is a “vital sign” of a person’s overall health.

Four key indicators of your health are your pulse, body temperature, breathing rate and blood pressure and all doctors would take these measurements as part of their assessment.

But consider this: If you visit your doctor for a minor medical complaint and you get a prescription to get more physically-active, would you consider the consultation money well-spent?

People expect to leave their doctor’s room with a prescription for medicine or tests, Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness said. “Very little time is spent on assessing the level of fitness of patients,” he said.

It is easier to prescribe medication to improve a patient’s health than to prescribe an exercise programme, said Dr David Jankelow, Cardiologist and President of the Johannesburg Branch of the SA Heart Foundation.

It’s time to get moving

Movement is key to healing, he said. “Years ago cardiac patients or heart attack patients were kept immobile for an extended period,” Dr Jankelow explained. “Today we know that getting these patients active is probably the most important thing we can do. We need to show them they need not fear exercise simply because they have experienced an adverse health event. The same goes for ICU patients.”

All of this would be based on the patient’s individual needs, of course, and is not a blanket prescription to everyone.

While few people would question the benefits of exercise, persuading people to get some exercise is the problem,  Professor Martin Schwellnus, Director for Sport, Exercise Medicine and Lifestyle Research at the University of Pretoria said.

“We’re genetically programmed to do some exercise every day and there is evidence that the incidence of all chronic diseases can be reduced by 50% if people build exercise into their daily lives,” Schwellnus said.

Why you should

Still not convinced? Maybe some statistics will help. In South Africa, obesity is one of the top five risk factors for early death and the country is ranked highest for obesity in sub-Saharan Africa.  A recent Stats SA paper reported that Non-Communicable Diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are now the leading causes of death in the country.

How to start

It’s easy for doctors to tell patients what to do, but do they “practice what they preach?” Dr Elijah Nkosi is a GP in Soweto and he has 10 Comrades and 12 Two Oceans Marathons under his belt and the medals to prove it. He said he has seen positive outcomes when exercise is incorporated into a patient’s individual needs.

“Some people who’ve being taking anti-depressants are now doing marathons. I tell patients that exercise is do-able. The key is to start slowly and to ease into exercise, increasing the amount and level of exercise you do,” he added.

There you have it. Getting healthier is a matter of making the time to exercise.

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