We are living longer, but with more disease. Life expectancy rose to 75.3 years for women and 69.8 years for men in 2016, but chronic diseases are affecting more people than ever before, show data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, published in The Lancet.
Close to three in four (72%) deaths worldwide were caused by non-communicable diseases such as heart and lung conditions, stroke, cancers and diabetes, with high blood pressure, bad nutrition and tobacco use being the top three causes of illness and death worldwide.
What can you do about it? Here’s a seven-point checklist to help you prevent or at least delay the onset of lifestyle diseases.
FIND A NEW LOW
Close to one in three people in India has high blood pressure, which is directly responsible for 57% of all stroke deaths and 24% of all heart disease deaths in the country.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is defined as a systolic (higher reading) of 140 mmHg or more, and a diastolic (lower reading) of 90 mmHg or more.
Changing the type or strength of blood pressure medication to keep blood pressure below 120/80mmHg reduces the chances of heart attack, heart failure and stroke by a third and the risk of death by almost a quarter, as compared to the target blood pressure of 140/90mmHg of the US National Institutes of Health. Close to one in three people in India have high blood pressure, which is directly responsible for 57% of all stroke deaths and 24% of all heart disease deaths in the country.
Smoking is linked to more than 90% of lung cancers and 80% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung disorders.
Smoking triggers heart trouble by hardening, blocking and narrowing arteries, which makes it the leading cause of heart attacks and stroke in young people. Quitting halves your risk of a heart attack and stroke.
Smoking is also the single biggest lifestyle risk factor for developing diabetes and related complications.
Chewing tobacco is no better. Gutkha, khaini and paan masala cause cancers of the mouth and oral cavity, which account for 30% of all cancers in India.
CUT SUGAR LEVELS
India has 70 million adults with diabetes and an equal number with insulin resistance, which is a precursor to disease.
Healthy blood sugar levels after eight hours of fasting should be below 100 mg/dl. A 100-125 mg/dl range indicates impaired fasting glucose (pre-diabetes), and a reading above 125 mg/dl is classified as diabetes.
Uncontrolled diabetes damages blood vessels and nerves and can lead to heart disease, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), delayed wound healing, kidney disease, gum disease, vision damage (retinopathy) and impotence.
LOSE STOMACH FAT
Losing just 10% of your excess body weight lowers blood pressure and triglycerides (a type of blood fats). A waist size of more than 38 inches for men and 35 inches for women raises the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and inflammation (elevated levels of C-reactive protein).
A high-fibre diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free products, fish, pulses and legumes, and unsaturated oils such as mustard, olive, sunflower, corn and rapeseed (canola) help keep weight healthy. So does daily aerobic activity — where your heart beats fast enough for you to feel it beating — for at least 30 minutes each day. This can include physical activity such as brisk walks (speed of at least 4-5 km/hour), yoga or weight training.
SLASH BAD CHOLESTEROL
The amount of total fats and carbohydrates you ingest affects blood cholesterol levels more than cholesterol from dietary sources such as red meat, dairy, eggs, shellfish and saturated fats and partially hydrogenated oils such as lard, palm oil and coconut oil. Too much bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or LDL) leads to fatty deposits called plaque getting deposited inside the walls of the arteries, which restricts blood flow and causes heart attacks. Keep bad cholesterol levels below 100 mg/dl.
RAISE GOOD CHOLESTEROL
High density lipoprotein (HDL) protects against heart disease by scavenging cholesterol from the bloodstream and artery walls and taking it to the liver for disposal. HDL levels must be more than 45 mg/dl for men and over 55 mg/dl for women. An HDL reading of 60 mg/dl or more can actually cancel out one heart disease risk factor (such as family history, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, inactivity).
Daily psychosocial stressors such as financial worries, heavy workload, job insecurity, relationship problems, personal conflict, or the pressures of looking after an ailing parent, child or partner can lead to early death. Chronic stress can cause depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It also suppresses immunity and lowers the body’s ability to both fight and recover from illnesses.