When it comes to the health of Australians, there’s some good news and some bad news.
The good news is we are all living longer than ever before, but the bad is we are getting sicker.
This is the age of survival but increasing disability.
Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to prevent un-wellness as we age. We can reduce the risks of heart attack or stroke, and even decrease the risk of cancers.
To help develop your health plan for 2013, I’ve identified five common red flags (or health risks) that you can reduce in 2013 - make your New Year resolutions count!
Red flag: Waist not want not
If you’re female with a waist measurement of more than 80 centimetres, or male with a waist measurement of more than 94 centimetres, up goes the red flag.
As humans evolved, our genetics developed ‘survival genes’ that allow our bodies to add extra fat around the organs near our abdomen. That extra energy from the fat meant our ancestors could survive famine.
Because we no longer experience the same shortage of food like our ancestors and also move 80 per cent less than our grandparents, the ‘bonus fat’ (or visceral fat) has become a problem.
It creates a dangerous metabolic situation and stirs up inflammation in your body. Like a smouldering fire, it doesn’t take much for it to flare up and promote major changes in your metabolism, which increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
The good news? A 10 per cent reduction in waist size over 12 months dramatically reduces your risks and cuts your risk of type 2 diabetes by half.
Red flag: Blood pressure
If your blood pressure is elevated from the normal range there are no symptoms, which is why high blood pressure or hypertension is called the ‘Silent Killer’.
Let’s consider 120 /80 as being the normal level. Any persistent elevation of that figure as you age will increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.
Work with your family doctor to alter your life style. Reducing fat and salt in your diet, and gently increasing your daily exercise will make such a difference.
Red flag: Cholesterol
Cholesterol is an important biochemical, and in fact, your liver makes it. However if its level rises, it is strongly associated with disease in your blood vessels.
‘Bad’ cholesterol is called LDL cholesterol, and if it and another blood fat called Triglyceride are elevated, your heart attack and stroke risk fast tracks dramatically. The ideal figure for LDL is below 2.5mmol/litre.
For Triglyceride, it’s below 1.5mmol/litre. ‘Good’ cholesterol, or HDL, flushes unhealthy stuff out of your blood vessels and needs to be up above 1.00 mmol/litre.
Change is difficult but it is possible. Having a good coach in your family doctor, and knowing your numbers will help you meet the cholesterol challenge.
Red flag: Blood sugar level
One person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every five minutes, making it the most common chronic disease that Australians suffer.
Most cases are related to an increase in ‘bonus fat’ and waist size, which stops our insulin from doing its job of putting blood glucose into cells as fuel.
The build-up of high glucose in the blood has nasty effects, and will eventually wear out the pancreas until injections of insulin are needed for life to be maintained. The consequences of type 2 diabetes include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and even blindness.
Fortunately, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be reduced through healthy eating, exercise and weight loss.
Red flag: Steps you (don’t) take
To keep the home fires burning your body needs to move. Back in the old times, we moved to find shelter and food to eat. These days the only movement we have is to find the TV remote or to push the button to lower the car window.
But the stronger you are, the healthier you’ll be, and here is why: apart from maintaining your physical strength and energy, exercise promotes mood, so you feel better as well.
Mowing the lawn and walking to the bus or the train are all ways to help most of us achieve the recommended 10,000 steps a day. If you want to reduce your weight, increase your steps to 15,000 a day.
Help yourself out by buying yourself a good quality pedometer or step meter.
Keep a diet, mood and action diary to measure your daily diet, how you feel and the steps that you take. Remember to start slow, and before you become a marathon walker, speak with your family doctor.
Other things to keep in check!
Just as these red flags are so important in your effort to delay or avoid chronic disease, or put it off altogether through a healthier lifestyle, remember there are other considerations which come into play as you create your 2013 health plan.
If there are proven health screening tests, have them.
If you are a woman, have a two yearly Pap test to detect cancer of the cervix, as well as mammography and ultrasound testing for breast cancer. Everybody should talk to their doctor about the best way to screen for cancer of the colon.
Don’t miss out on the sounds you love!
And finally, don’t forget to get your hearing checked!
Hearing loss is not just a concern for the elderly – one in six people in Australia has a hearing loss. Research shows that even if you do go to the trouble of having a hearing screening, many of you will wait over seven years to do something about it.
But left unmanaged, your hearing loss can lead to isolation and even depression.
That’s such a pity because hearing devices are so technologically advanced and so subtle no one will notice you’re wearing one.
As ambassador for Australian Hearing let me tell you that a hearing screening takes little time, and the centres which offer them are all around the nation.
There is a wide range of solutions to correct a hearing problem - I should know, because I wear a hearing aid!
Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year; and now it’s my turn to make a resolution - where are my joggers?
- Dr John D’Arcy
'About Australian Hearing'
Australian Hearing is the nation’s leading hearing specialist and largest provider of Government funded hearing services.
With over 65 years’ experience helping Australians hear the sounds they love, you’ll find us at over 460 locations throughout the country.
To find out more, call your local centre on 131 797 or visit www.hearing.com.au.