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Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Chronic diseases, what they are and how to avoid them

Chronic diseases usually progress slowly and occur over a long period of time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, are by far the leading cause of mortality in the world, representing 63% of all deaths.” These disease conditions are called ‘non-communicable’ because you cannot ‘catch’ them from someone as you would the common cold. Scientists blame poor lifestyle choices as the main cause. Specifically, obesity appears to be a common risk factor for chronic diseases, especially diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers. 
Once considered a problem only in high income countries, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in countries like Jamaica. The Ministry of Health has recently increased efforts to educate Jamaicans on the dangers of obesity in adults and children. The basic message is for all of us to eat less and move more.

Avoiding Chronic Diseases
The saying “prevention is better than cure” holds true for chronic diseases. It is possible to decrease your risk  of chronic diseases by making healthy lifestyle choices permanently. That is, a healthy diet and exercise programme should not be started and stopped when there is some weight loss, but should be continued.
 To be healthy you should:
• Eat a diet that is more plant based (fruits, vegetables, nuts, peas, and beans)
• If meat is eaten, be very careful of portions; try to go some days without meat.
• Make water your beverage; avoid juice and sweetened drinks.
• Be careful of your portions
• Avoid fatty, salty, sugar-sweetened foods; eat more natural than processed foods
• Eat slowly – chew properly so that you ‘hear’ the message sent from the stomach to the brain that you are full.
• Don’t forget your teeth; Poor dental hygiene increases your risk of heart disease.
• MOVE! - Start off slow and gradually increase your distance, pace, and time spent in walking. Challenge yourself by adding hills or stairs to your routine if you can. It is wise to go to your doctor for a physical first to ensure that exercise is safe for you. 
And finally, get enough sleep. Scientists have found that a lack of sleep increases the risk of diabetes. Doctors are asked to encourage their patients to get at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep (Touma, Painnin, 2011). When you are tired, you are less likely to take the time to prepare a healthy meal. Many will purchase fast food or eat processed foods that are quick to prepare but may be high in fat, salt, or sugar. Additionally, it is hard to exercise when you are tired.

BY Carol Barnes Reid, Dr PH, RD, Coordinator of the Public Health Programme at Northern Caribbean University 

Reference: Touma, C &Pannain, S. 2012. Does lack of sleep cause diabetes? Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 78(8), 549-558