As the world continues to battle infectious diseases such as Covid-19, there are several lifestyle diseases that pose some of the biggest threats to South Africans’ health.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — also known as lifestyle diseases — are associated with the way a person lives and are usually the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors.
These include diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, as well as diseases associated with smoking, alcohol and drug abuse.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs cause 41 million deaths each year, which is equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally.
Head of operations at Bonitas Medical Fund, Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa, says there are five more common lifestyle diseases that could have long-term effects on our bodies.
“By modifying your behaviour and adopting a healthier lifestyle, damage can be curbed. You can improve both the quality of your life and your longevity,” he said.
1. Lack of exercise
Not having enough exercise is a major cause of NCDs and chronic disease. Exercise can help to reduce or prevent certain NCDs.
Regular aerobic exercise may delay or prevent type 2 diabetes and has benefits for type 1 diabetes as well. Resistance training for type 2 diabetes results in a leaner body mass, blood sugar and blood pressure control.
Exercise can reduce cardiovascular risk factors in heart disease. It reduces blood pressure and assists in balancing cholesterol.
An exercise regime could also reduce the risk of several cancers including breast, colorectal, endometrial, kidney and liver cancer.
Your stress response is controlled by your hypothalamus, a tiny control tower in your brain. Stress hormones are sent out which trigger your body’s fight or flight response.
Your heart may start beating faster, you breathe more quickly and your muscles tense ready for action. This reaction proves useful in an emergency but if it keeps firing all day it could put your health at serious risk.
Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heart attacks and strokes affect thousands of people every year because of cigarette smoking.
“The good news is that it’s never too late to quit. Within 12 hours after your last cigarette your body will begin to heal itself,” says Mkhatshwa.
The levels of carbon monoxide and nicotine in your system will decline rapidly and your heart and lungs will begin repairing the damage caused by cigarette smoke.
Your risk of lung cancer starts to decline a year after you quit and, by the time you’ve been a non-smoker for 10 or 15 years, your risk of cancer is about the same as for people who have never smoked.
Excessive alcohol consumption over a long period of time can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, or cancer.
Here are some of the ways alcohol can affect the body:
- Excessive alcohol consumption may lead to pancreatitis which is an alcohol-related liver disease. Over time it may affect your central nervous system, memory and ability to make rational choices and think clearly.
- Your digestive system – over time, the tissues in your digestive tract get damaged and you can’t absorb nutrients properly, this results in malnutrition.
- Circulatory system – chronic drinking can affect your heart and lungs, giving rise to complications like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat leading to heart attack and stroke and heart failure.
- Skeletal and muscle systems – excessive alcohol can affect bone density and increase your risk of fractures as well as muscle weakness and atrophy.
- Immune system – drinking heavily reduces your body’s natural immune system which makes you more likely to develop pneumonia and tuberculosis.
5. Poor nutrition
Poor eating habits include under or over-eating and not having enough of the healthy foods we need each day or consuming too many types of food and drink.
Unhealthy eating habits can affect our nutrient intake, including energy (kilojoules) protein, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals as well as fibre and fluid.
This can cause obesity, which the WHO says has reached epidemic proportions globally.