NEW YEAR HEALTH RESOLUTIONS
What we eat matters to our health and eating right should ind a place in one’s health resolutions for the New Year. Countless studies have shown the beneits of a healthy diet in helping prevent a wide variety of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, gout, many types of cancer, nutritional deiciencies, etc
The New Year is the time for health resolutions and hopefully it will be a healthy year for most of us. Resolutions of all sorts often suffer from the fatal law of our not following through with them. Motivation or more often, practical problems of life, lead to our dropping them one after the other in the irst few weeks or even days after making them. Quite a few people do not even bother to make resolutions after having failed to abide by them in the past. Nonetheless, making resolutions signiies that we realize the need for them and identifying areas in our life that need changes is surely important. It is a good idea to make resolutions that are achievable rather than those that are ideal for us but which may be impractical or unachievable. As far as health resolutions go, the aim for everyone is obviously to be healthy now and to remain healthy in the future also. Unfortunately, maintaining optimum health and itness requires effort. That the effort is well worth making does not need stressing.
What we eat matters to our health and eating right should ind a place in one’s health resolutions for the New Year. Countless studies have shown the beneits of a healthy diet in helping prevent a wide variety of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, gout, many types of cancer, nutritional deiciencies, etc. Ideally, one should be eating 3 to 4 small meals rather than one or two large meals on a daily basis. Also, one’s diet needs to be balanced with a fair representation of the three main nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Complex carbohydrates in the form of polysaccharides are much to be preferred and consumption of simple sugars is best restricted to below 37.5 gm for men and 25 gm for women on a daily basis. This works out to about 9 and 6 teaspoonful respectively. Considering that a 330 ml can of Coke or Pepsi contains upwards of 35 gm sugar, it is very easy to exceed this limit unless one is fairly vigilant. Fruit juice is also best avoided. One glass of about 300 ml orange juice contains more than 30 gm sugar and a similar quantity of grape juice contains more than 55 gm sugar and these refer to “no sugar added” varieties. Proteins are good for us but the recommended daily allowance is only 0.8 gm per KG. Also, red meat such as beef and lamb which often serve as sources of protein in our diet need to be limited. We also need fats in our diet for health but trans fats are undoubtedly harmful. These are often present in processed foods as they extend shelf life of foods. The consumption of saturated fats is also best controlled to a reasonable extent. Unsaturated fats are considered healthy for the heart and examples include sunlower oil, olive oil, corn oil and canola oil. Vegetables and fruits are highly desirable components in our diet and the recommendation is for 5 portions to be consumed daily. For reference, one portion is about half a cup of cooked vegetable or a cup of a leafy vegetable or a medium sized fruit such as an apple or orange. Fruit juice is, however, best avoided. To summarize, the resolution should be to eat 3 to 4 small meals daily which are balanced in their content, restrict sugar, colas, fruit juice and red meat and to eat 5 portions of fruits and vegetables. It is equally important for the resolution to include limiting total calories consumed so as to maintain weight within desirable limits. Obesity is a major health problem worldwide and this has particular relevance in the Middle East.
Another worthwhile health resolution is to exercise regularly. Both aerobic exercises and nonaerobic exercises are good for us. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, swimming and cycling. For most of us a good combination will be 5 days of aerobic exercises and 2 days of muscle strengthening exercises every week. Using steroids to bulk up muscles is not a good idea at all. Half an hour of exercising daily is a target that is practical for most of us and has also been found to offer substantial health beneits in the long-term. Deinitely a health resolution worth making.
If one is a smoker, a resolution to stop smoking is probably the best gift to self and family. The ill effects of smoking are so well known that repeating them is redundant. Even passive smoking causes thousands of deaths. Yes, it is dificult to give up smoking but consider the health beneits and maybe even the money saved in cost of cigarettes and doctors’ fees and make the resolution. Even more important, adhere to the resolution and give up smoking permanently. And this applies to all forms of tobacco use including chewing tobacco, vaping, pipe and sheesha.
Another worthwhile resolution for the New Year is to go for a health check-up. High blood pressure and diabetes are rampant even in people in their 20s and 30s. Obesity and a sedentary life style have much to do with it. For many years these illnesses are silent. However, even though there may not be any symptoms, abnormal blood pressure or sugar damage vital organs such as the heart, kidneys and eyes. Screening for high blood pressure or high sugar is simple and economic in terms of time, cost and resources. Other diseases worth screening for on a regular basis include high cholesterol, breast cancer and colon cancer. High cholesterol levels are well known to be a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The elevated cholesterol itself does not cause any symptoms. However, it leads to atherosclerosis with narrowing of arteries and deposits within them, affecting circulation through them. Cholesterol levels can only be known from the results of a blood test. The main reason for high cholesterol levels is genetic and except for medications to control elevated levels, other measures are just supportive. People with preexisting problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure, those above 40 years of age and those with a signiicant family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or stroke are appropriate candidates for a screening lipid proile to evaluate the level of serum cholesterol and of the good HDL and bad LDL components. For people already having any of these diseases the resolution should be to continue regular treatment to keep them under control.
Screening for breast cancer and for colon cancer is also worthwhile. Both are relatively common cancers and both respond excellently when treated early. Also, fairly effective screening methods are available for both these cancers. Screening methods for breast cancer include self-examination, clinical examination by a trained healthcare worker, ultrasound examination and mammography. Although all these methods are bedeviled by false positives and false negatives, they do detect majority of early breast cancers. MRI scan is more reliable but cost factors prevent it from being considered a true screening modality for breast cancer. General recommendations are for all women above 40 years of age to be screened but considering how common breast cancer is and the proportion of women developing it at an earlier age this cut off limit appears to be too conservative. In any case, women with a family history of breast cancer need to start screening earlier. Results of treatment of breast cancer at stage I and II are really excellent and should motivate one to make a resolution to book an appointment for screening. Colon cancer is the other cancer which is well worth screening for. Testing for occult blood in stools is one of the screening tools but a colonoscopy is far more reliable. The disadvantage is the inconvenience and the cost. Colon cancer starts as a benign tumour called an adenoma. Not all adenomas become cancerous. However, the chances are much higher in larger adenomas. The advantage of colonoscopy is that adenomas or early cancers can be removed during the same procedure and tissue sample can be obtained to determine if any lesion detected is cancerous. For early cancer the screening procedure can be a curative procedure. There is, however, a risk for cancer to arise from other areas of the colon even when the index lesion has been completely removed. Hence, these patients require regular followup with colonoscopy. For the initial screening colonoscopy, the general recommendation is that it start at 50 years of age.
So the desire should be for the New Year be a happy and prosperous one but resolutions are also required to ensure that it is a healthy one.