Our Lifestyles Are Killing Us

I’ve seen a few things recently especially when working in an outpatient department that is quite alarming. The number of new cases of diabetes and hypertension is alarming. Not only that, but alot of those are in men and women aged <40 years old.

A 34 year old lady with recurrent headaches and feelings of low energy levels came to the outpatient department recently. She is noted to be obese with a BMI of 32 and a blood pressure of 148/84mmHg.

She doesn’t have time to exercise, she works at a supermarket as a cashier and she eats mainly pasta, rice, chicken and traditional vegetables on occasion.

A few weekends a month she indulges in alcohol – just a few bottles a night though.

“But this headache is bothering me on some days doc”.

Usually high blood pressure in “younger” patients tend to have causes ie it is now secondary hypertension (causes such as kidney disease, endocrine conditions, pregnancy, certain tumors etc). It’s simple to manage in that once you identify the cause – treat it, the blood pressure normalises.

Essential hypertension is high blood pressure with no underlying cause, which is the most common type of hypertension that we have an are familiar with. The hypertension associated with ageing and metabolic syndrome.

Nowadays though, there’s alot of new cases such as the one above – with no underlying cause of the high blood pressure. This would put her, this young lady, in the category of essential hypertension.

I spent the next 15 minutes educating this lady on the importance of taking care of her health with includes:

  • Making time for exercise 4-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes each day (eg brisk walking, cycling, swimming etc)
  • Eating nutrient dense, fibre rich foods, with leaner protein sources – reduce white flour based foods eg pasta,bread, and increase complex carbohydrates instead (oats, legumes, whole wheat, etc)
  • Eliminate alcohol – if not, reduce and limit to 2 units a week
  • Drink more water in place of juices and soft drinks
  • Aim to sleep 6-8 hours (depending on you)

I let her know that the good news is that she can take active steps to control her health and avoid the downstream complications which include kidney disease, strokes, vision problems, heart attacks and nerve dysfunction. I also informed her how at risk she is to develop other co-morbidities such as diabetes and hyperlipidemia, if she does not manage it.

As she left the consultation room, I hoped that I helped her to understand more about the value of her health, how grand the scheme of health is and most importantly how she could take back control.

What I Wish People Knew About Health

About 80% of all illnesses could be prevented by proper lifestyle modifications.

But we hate to hear it. Nope.

As a doctor who is also into using lifestyle to prevent these illnesses, I have seen both ends of things. At the beginning/early/preventative stages where people do have the physical ability/energy to workout – where it’s about striving to be your fittest, hashtag lifting squad and gainzzzz.

On the other end of the spectrum is those who are in the hospital, with high blood pressure requiring 5 medications, chronic kidney disease and have signs of heart failure, who have chest pain even at walking 5meters.

When you look around and see the whole spectrum from the beginning to the end, it’s quite sad.

Sad because you have alot of power to change the situation for the better no matter where on the spectrum you are. If you’re young and healthy, you could keep that up and put systems in place to maintain it by creating and prioritising physical health (nutrition, exercise, mindset).

If you are newly diagnosed or have been only recently ill, you could improve or even reverse the effects.

Yes it is true that environment plays a huge role on our health status. We don’t choose our socioeconomic status, how our childhood was like, and of course there are true medical events that happen beyond our control.

Mental health is a whole chapter on its own because it is intrisically linked with our relationship with food. An unhealthy mind will not have a healthy relationship with food, which is a key component of health.

But that’s where it stops.

There is no one making you eat that family sized bad of Doritoes while watching Money Heist on Netflix. There is no one putting a third slice of chocolate cake on your plate.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

It’s not easy. It’s actually not. Because you’ll be swimming up against your usual flowing stream. You’ll be building new habits to overcome old ones and it isn’t easy.

However if you think about it, if you want something different (as 78% do during New Year’s and make that resolution), you will have to do something different.

You will have to think differently from before and you’ll need more willpower in the beginning than you think.

But it is so worth it, when later on you build the habits to put yourself in a health position, and what you might not realise is that, by doing that, it may inspire someone close to you to do the same.

“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change”

Michael Jackson

It’s Michael Jackson’s 11 year anniversary of his death today. It’s a coincidence that lyric from his song became fitting for this message (RIP MJ).

In other words, we have to take our own health back into our hands because it has far reaching consequences for yourself, your family, your friends and the society. You have far greater power than you think.

Prioritising your health is not only for you, it’s for the greater good.

Will you accept the responsibility to prioritise your health?

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