Let’s talk statistics.
In 2014, nearly a quarter of all deaths (23%; 116,489 out of 501,424) in England and Wales were from causes considered potentially avoidable through timely and effective healthcare or public health interventions.
The five biggest killers are heart disease, stroke, cancer, and lung and liver disorders.
“People who die prematurely from avoidable causes lose an average of 23 potential years of life. The biggest contributors to avoidable deaths are chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.” Anne Campbell, Mortality Analysis Team, Office for National Statistics
The WHO 2012 statistical profile for the UK notes that healthy expectancy in both sexes was 10 year(s) lower than overall life expectancy at birth. This means that the equivalent of 10 years of full health is expected to be lost at the end of life to those final years being lived with morbidity and disability.
It all sounds rather bleak BUT disease don’t just appear out of nowhere. In most cases it’s preceded by many, many years of symptoms and warning signs.
The same risk factors appear again and again. The 2012 Global Burden of Disease report identified five main risk factors contributing to early death and reduced quality of life in the UK. They are:
- Smoking tobacco
- Having high blood pressure
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Seriously, just stop.
Sixty two per cent of adults and 28% of children aged 2-15 are either overweight or obese (Health Survey for England, 2012). Sixty-two per cent!! That’s the majority of people! What chance does a 2-year-old stand have of growing up healthy if excess weight is ingrained as their norm from such a young age?
Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and some cancers.
Obesity in pregnancy can also result in negative long term health effects for the child and future adult – e.g. a fivefold increase in cardiovascular disease risk if the mother has a BMI of 40 compared to a BMI of 25.
It’s not just about us but about future generations. What kind of lifestyle and health inheritance are we creating for them to step into?
There are now almost 2.5 million people with Type 2 diabetes in England, and the prevalence continues to rise year on year, driven by the obesity epidemic, at a rate that outstrips that of all other long term conditions, often requiring significant and life-long limiting medical management. Someone who is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes will die approximately 6 years earlier than those without diabetes.
High Blood PressureWatch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download
Your risk of HBP is increased by having too much salt and not enough fruit and vegetables, not getting enough exercise, drinking too much alcohol, coffee or caffeine, not getting proper sleep, being overweight, having diabetes and smoking. It’s all quite circular. The same factors crop up AGAIN and AGAIN.
In the UK physical inactivity is a contributor to around 17% of premature deaths. The importance of physical activity in preventing more than 20 chronic conditions is highlighted by the WHO.
I’ve had hilarious nights on the booze in the past but it’s sobering to read that alcohol consumption is one of the key behavioural risk factors for illness and death with over 60 diseases or conditions that can be caused by drinking alcohol. Harmful drinking causes cardiovascular disease and increases the risk of various cancers as well as liver disease.
Health or Disease? You Choose
The biggest risks factors contributing to deaths from the major killers are largely preventable. We can avoid tobacco, alcohol, move our bodies more and keep a healthy weight. But we so often don’t. Why?
This flurry of research was spiked by a conversation with an older friend who’s just been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. She was explaining that her diet was very healthy and that she was genetically predisposed to it and therefore it was essentially inevitable.
Genes are a factor of course, but it’s not clear that genes are the be-all-and-end-all. Your destiny isn’t predetermined by your genes. The fascinating field of epigenetics is showing how our genes can be switched on and off by our behaviour. Those behavioural factors again. Seems we have a lot more control than we may think.
Back to my friend and her inevitable diagnosis. She’s overweight. One of the biggest risk factors for the top 5 killers and for diabetes is obesity. You can tell yourself all you want that you have a healthy lifestyle and you just eat salad but if your body is carrying extra weight then something is not right. The incredibly insightful Shakira got it spot on, the hips don’t lie. Or any other body part for that matter.
I say this with compassion as I take an honest look at my own midriff. In recent years the kilos have crept on. I’ve also tried to convince myself that I’m active enough and eating well, that this is just ‘how I am.’ It’s time to call myself out on my own bullshit.
I’m putting on weight because I’m eating more than my body needs. If you know me you might be rolling your eyes or gasping that I should be concerned about my weight. The excess is probably 7 kilos which isn’t a huge amount, but that’s 7 kilos more than is optimum. If I continue to add just 1 kilo a year I’ll be one of the above statistics by the time I retire. I’d like to enjoy my retirement. I have lots of shit I want to do when all the time becomes available. I definitely do not want to be worrying about bits and pieces of me falling apart and breaking down.
The interesting question then arises is why is there is this dissonance between what my body needs and what I’m feeding it? How and why do we convince ourselves we’re taking good care of ourselves when we’re really not?
Perhaps because as a culture we don’t really prioritise healthy ageing and longevity, so relatively speaking we might appear to be doing well. That’s not going to cut the mustard if you want a long life and life-long health. It might do, but you leave yourself much more open to disease if you don’t take a pro-active and quite frankly counter-cultural approach to self-care.
Another thing that came up in the conversation with my diabetic friend was her perception that in order to prevent the unfolding of type 2-diabetes she would have had to lead an unrealistic lifestyle. Some health professionals do not bother asking patients to make comprehensive lifestyle changes that could improve their conditions and keep them off medication because they don’t feel the changes are realistic for most people.
What the hell is wrong with our culture that we’ve deemed it unrealistic for the average person to live in accordance with the basic needs of their physiology for health? Surely whatever your body needs in order to thrive should be the norm while a lifestyle that leads to degeneration, disease and dependency on medication for the latter part of your life should be the extreme option, not the norm?
Dr Dean Ornish has done some fantastic work to show the huge impact and power that lifestyle changes can have on our top health issues. He took a group of people with severe heart disease into a healthy lifestyle programme. These were people right at the end of the line in the disease process. The doctors had said there was nothing more they could do. They were clinically fucked. Told to take their tablets and wait for the inevitable heart attack.
The simple healthy living programme supported them in transitioning to and maintaining a plant-based diet and a regular exercise routine. Crucial to its success (because change is hard) was peer support. Rather than individuals being sent off to make big lifestyle changes alone, these individuals belonged to a group who were in the same last chance saloon with a desire to make positive changes. They had these three pillars: diet, exercise, and group support. The result? The reversal of their heart disease. These are people who had been told by doctors that there was nothing more that could be done for them. It’s
These are people who had been told by doctors that there was nothing more that could be done for them. It’s that hard for people to change their habits around food and exercise that many doctors don’t even bother offering this as a solution!
So this is it. It’s reckoning day. What are you feeding yourself? How does your body respond to what you’re eating? Does it feel vibrant, light and energised? Or heavy, dull and lethargic? Are you trim and lean or are you carrying excess weight? How much alcohol are you consuming? What about other stimulants like caffeine? Should it be normal to need a drug to get through the day? How often are you moving your body? Are you getting the deep, restorative sleep you need each night to support a healthy immune system? Do you wake up feeling refreshed and upbeat, ready for a glorious new day?
Really take the time to look at the signs now. You should feel great. Not just physically, but also mentally. You should feel psyched to be alive. That’s the mark of great health. If you don’t feel that way then take an honest look at the signs. What information is your body, mind, and soul trying to convey to you to get you back on track?
Where is there scope for improvement? What does your average day look like? If you’re not doing the small things that support your health DAILY then take stock. Each day we put a penny in the bank and over time it gathers compound interest. The pot grows and grows and grows. But what daily habits are you investing in exactly? Are they funding the bank of heath or the bank of disease?
A few glasses of wine in the evening might not seem like a big deal but what’s the cumulative effect over a lifetime?
A few extra pounds on the waistline might seem like no big deal but what’s the effect over a lifetime if a few more pounds are added to those, then a few more?
I’m totally facing my own reckoning day. I’m carrying extra weight. I’ve fallen into the trap of slowly piling on the pounds through a fairly sedentary lifestyle and eating more than I need just because food is an easy anesthetic for the usual stresses of life. But I’m steering the ship around.
I want to listen to what my body is telling me and act accordingly. I want to learn from my yesterdays and todays so that tomorrow is healthier, happier and more vibrant. I want my body to get more intelligent as I age so I can live life fully and age gracefully.
What do you want?