With the holiday season drawing to a close and Christmas gorging - by way of chocolates, cakes and other confectionaries and gallons of booze - all finished, it is time to re-cultivate some healthy habits for the New Year. Here are some strategies as prescribed by experts. WOLE OYEBADE reports.
SEVERAL Nigerians, who are religiously inclined, have made prayer requests for the New Year and one of them is for a healthier 2013. Indeed, health is wealth, so their request is not out of place.
The truth from the medical point of view, however, is that some would actually need the doctors more than others. This is due to varying levels of immunity system, a system of biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease.
Immune systems in individuals do not function alike. In people with high immunity level, the body naturally clears up all health threats before the person gets a hint of ill health. Where otherwise, the doctor and hospital bed would be essential to fight the manifest of infections and diseases in the body.
A number of factors affect immune system health that individuals would not always help. But fortunately, there are ways you can strengthen your immune system and health generally in the New Year.
Good nutrition. Nutrition is an important immunity booster and central to healthy living. Lack of it impairs immune function. Nutrition experts advised diets high in fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts that promote immune health, presumably because they’re rich in nutrients that the immune system requires.
No matter where you are, good water should always be the first thing you reach for when you’re thirsty. Water truly is essential as eating close to nature.
Public health expert and President of the Nigerian Medical Women Association (NWAN) in Lagos, Dr. Dumebi Owa, said eating right is eating close to nature as possible.
Her advice, “eat fresh fruits and vegetable. Don’t cut your vegetable in the market before washing and don’t over-cook to avoid nutrient loss. Eat less fatty things, salt, sugar and take a lot of water and rest very well. We should learn how to say enough is enough. We are indeed what we eat and our mothers should start cooking real food again,” she said.
Stress less. According to the experts, when an individual is stressed, his or her adrenal glands churn out epinephrine (aka, adrenaline) and cortisol. While acute stress pumps up the immune system, grinding long-term duress over-burdens the defense mechanism.
For instance, psychological stress raises the risk for common cold and other viruses. Less often, chronic stress can promote a hyper-reactive immune system and aggravate conditions such as allergies, asthma and autoimmune disease.
While most of us can’t move into a spa, we can learn to save our stress responses for true emergencies and not fire them up over stalled traffic. Stress-reducing activities such as meditation produce positive changes in the immune system.
While work-related rat race and traffic snarl might be inevitable, Nutritionist, Ms Wajiku Wairia-Lumula suggested a de-stressing approach on a daily basis.
She noted that body massage, quiet music or after-work hangout with like-minds or religious gathering could aid recovery from everyday hassles and might therefore buttress immune function. Don’t always wait till weekend or month end to de-stress.
Wairia-Lumula, a council member of Kenya Nutritional and Dieticians Institute (KNDI) said, “wellness is about the whole being. How well you are able to manage stress on day-to-day basis, handling emotion and spiritual connections matters a lot. Above all, be discrete. Take only what the body needs and can put to use,” she said.
Exercise. Moderate exercise like 30 minutes brisk walking, on a daily basis, discharges tension and stress while it enhances immune function.
Nutritionist and Chief Executive Officer, Justy Foods, George Ekeh said many people easily fall ill because of low consumption of natural food and inadequate exercise unlike people of old that lived well beyond 100 years.
According to him, “the earlier generations might not have gone to the gym, but they did wrestling, they worked, trekked and rode bicycles - all forms of exercising. They farmed and did manual things that adequately and consistently oxygenate the cells.
“But why are we having incidences of stroke and sudden deaths when we are just 30, 40 and in our 60s? We discover that people are not embracing healthy lifestyle and sedentary living is one of them. That is why many of these commonplace diseases are costing our lives,” he said.
Ekeh advised that each individual should aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking and a total of 10,000 steps per day.
New research suggests that routinely wearing a pedometer encourages people to walk about an extra mile each day, lose weight, and lower their blood pressure.
Strength training, which involves both the upper and lower body, is also ideal. Too many people neglect resistance exercise, particularly women for whom it is crucial for preventing muscle and bone loss with age. Lift weights for at least 20 minutes, two to three-times per week.
Good sleep. Medically, sleep is a time when growth-promoting and reparative hormones knit up the raveled sleeve of daily life. Sleep deprivation activates the stress response, depresses immune function and elevates inflammatory chemicals (which cause you to feel ill).
Adequate sleep makes you feel better, decreases risk for cardiovascular disease, boosts memory and reduces the likelihood of being in a car accident.
Associate Professor and Consultant Neurologist, College of Medicine University of Lagos (CMUL), Njideka Okubadejo explained that sleep is a basic necessity of life. Adults and children should, therefore, ensure that they sleep well at night to function well in the daytime.
Okubadejo said, “an adult needs six to eight hours of sleep on the average every day, while children should sleep for nine to 10 hours daily.
“I know it is difficult to achieve these in our society as we are all in the rat race. As much as possible we must create time for our children. It is also important to make our sleep environment hygienic, free of noise, light and other distractions for deep refreshing sleep. We would be better for it,” she said.
Shun tobacco smoke and excess alcohol. Tobacco smoke triggers inflammation, increases respiratory mucus, and inhibits the hair-like projections inside your nose (cilia) from clearing that mucus. Children and adults exposed to tobacco smoke are more at risk for respiratory infections, including colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis and middle ear infections.
Habitual alcohol consumption runs contrary to healthy-life plan. Alcohol-abuse is associated with an increased risk of alcoholism, malnutrition, chronic pancreatis, alcoholic liver disease, and cancer. In addition damage to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system can occur from chronic alcohol abuse. Long-term use of alcohol in excessive quantities is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body not just the immune system.
Choose vitamin and mineral supplements wisely. Yes, studies link deficiencies of zinc, selenium, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, D and E to reduced immune function. But scientists are yet to pinpoint exact levels of these nutrients for optimal immune function, much less whether dietary supplementation really helps the average, well-fed person.
So, don’t pop too many vitamins this year. Enthusiasm for vitamin pills is high, but evidence for their benefits is low. Try to get vitamins from foods and consider a multivitamin for insurance. Any woman thinking about getting pregnant should make sure to take a folic acid supplement. Women should get at least 1,000 mgs of calcium per day (1,200 mgs/day if you’re past menopause) from food and/or supplements.
Familiarise with immune-enhancing herbs and fruits. A long list of medicinal plants and fruits contain chemicals that enhance immune system activity, including aloe vera plants, garlic, elderberries, button mushrooms, watermelon, grapefruits, almonds, spinach and ginger among others.
Cultivating the habit of drinking green tea regularly can help strengthen immunity. Green tea contains potent antioxidant compounds that neutralise free radicals and prevent damage to the immune system.
In addition, green tea stimulates the liver to secrete interferon, an immune compound that helps fight infection. To bolster immune function, drink 3 or more cups of green tea daily.
Garlic is also the favourite choice of many. In addition to boosting the immune system, it is anticancer and antimicrobial against a variety of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Key ingredients don’t survive cooking, so add a clove or two of raw, minced garlic to meals just before serving.
Periodic medical check. Some diseases will still not go away following this guide; for these, early detection and correction are necessary. Further advances can be expected only when each individual assumes responsibility for his or her own health and fitness this year. Longevity will depend more upon our active participation in programmes for health betterment – this must be a “do-it-yourself” project.
However, in resource poor environment where over 70 per cent medical bills are out of pocket, it is not unusual for the populace to overlook periodic medical checks. And the effects are usually evident in their health indices.
The chronic diseases currently ravaging a sizable portion of the population, with their quiet approaches, make undercover progress to depress our vigour and shorten our active years. Diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure seldom cause symptoms in their early stages, yet treatment is more effective, less extended, less painful and less expensive when it is begun at the outset of a disease.
So, the best hope for control of these diseases lies in their early detection, says Medical Director, City Hospital Nigeria Limited, Lagos, Dr. Bosun Babajide.
Babajide explained that hypertension and Diabetes Mellitus (DM) are two leading cause of deaths in Nigeria, especially when the cases are not detected earlier.
He added that there might be a reduction in “sudden unexpected deaths” when there is improved health care delivery to the acceptable levels in the country.
But the attitude of Nigerians to health care needs to change.
“There is nonchalance to regular checks. An average Nigerian spends more on car and household maintenance monthly than on “preventive health maintenance.” “Yes, he may spend more on curative but not on preventive and in ‘sudden unexpected deaths’ there is no allowance for cure,” he said.
Granted that we all have made our New Year resolutions by now. We might as well add these few healthy habits to them. After all, our dreams, no matter how beautiful, amount to nothing without good health.
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