Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Work towards holistic health

Most countries in the Western Hemisphere, including Grenada, continue to confront a rising incidence of non-communicable diseases. The studies have been done and the conclusions are well-known – our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and nutrition that is further and further removed from the source, is damaging our health. We need to eat food of a better quality and in smaller portions; and we need to move more.

While the statistics continue to cause alarm for medical professionals and health authorities, we would venture to say that casual observation indicates that some of the messages are slowly taking root in the minds of the Caribbean populace. In the last decade, the number of persons engaging in regular physical activity in public spaces has increased. This has perhaps been supported by a conscious effort by the authorities to provide more locations conducive to being active. Meanwhile, others continue to use the familiar exercise spots such as highways and beaches to keep fit. Another encouraging trend is the surge in corporate entities’ endorsing and supporting physical activity. Indeed, hardly a month goes by without a walking or running event, usually under the auspices of a business house. Additionally, most public gatherings are not complete unless they include some form of group physical activity on the line-up of entertainment for attendees. The message that we must keep active is clearly getting through.

However, the other part of the healthy lifestyles equation – nutrition – still has a long way to go. We have really seen a more concerted effort by health authorities to give guidelines on proper nutrition, reducing the use of salt and other ingredients that may make our diets unnecessarily unhealthy. However, while this information is making its way into people’s consciousness, many find that the hectic pace of today’s world does not make for a very supportive environment. The cry is often that it is either too expensive or just easier to eat unhealthy meals, which are more readily available and less time-consuming to prepare then healthy ones.

That said, we do not discount the fact there needs to be an individual desire to adopt a healthier lifestyle. All the recreational spaces and fresh food menus in the world cannot tempt someone who is determined to remain sedentary and to eat ‘junk food’. Indeed, we would suggest that a large part of the process is influenced by an individual’s outlook and priorities. It has been said that it is easier to maintain one’s health than to retain it, but many do not think of this until they are faced with a diagnosis of a chronic non-communicable disease (NCD) and the attendant worries such as the cost of medication and medical treatment, as well as actual enjoyment of life.

Perhaps, therefore, a third component of the equation is missing – emotional health. For many, lifestyle choices that lead to NCDs are a result of trying to ‘enjoy life’ – drinking alcohol, eating rich foods to excess, sedentary recreational activities such as video games, television and Internet surfing… These are activities that speak to a desire to socialise with others and/or dull the senses for at least a brief period of time to escape from life’s worries. Might we suggest, then, that in the promotion of healthy lifestyles, greater emphasis be placed on learning to better manage our mental health – and in a way that does not harm our bodies? Human beings are more than just flesh and bones; we are thoughts and emotions as well. Any lifestyle that does not address the entire package will fall short.

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