Most people don’t think about their health until things start going wrong. Chronic diseases are on the rise worldwide, even in Africa, and need to be taken seriously.
Health is a priority that none of us can afford to ignore. Due to modern living, there is a rise in what is known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These are also commonly known as chronic diseases and they include conditions such as heart disease, cancer, asthma and diabetes. They tend to be long-term illnesses that progress slowly but can also result in more rapid death (from a sudden stroke, for instance).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 17 million people between the ages of 30 and 69 years die each year from NCDs, with 86% of these “premature” deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries, including countries in Africa. For this reason, we should all be concerned about turning the tide on this ever-increasing problem.
Unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, exposure to tobacco smoke and harmful use of alcohol are all major contributors to the rise in chronic disease. Coupled with urbanisation plus an aging population, modern life is a big contributor to NCDs. The effects of these contributors can show up in your body as increased blood pressure (hypertension), increased blood glucose (blood sugar), elevated cholesterol and/or obesity, all which can lead to chronic disease.
Warnings against continuing these unhealthy lifestyle practices may sound clichéd, but the threat to your health is real: developing a chronic disease may result in multiple, long-term challenges and ongoing suffering that could have been avoided. So, it’s best to adopt healthy habits now.
It’s taken a while for NCDs to become common among us, and to reverse their numbers and effects will require a combined, ongoing effort. Therefore, it becomes our responsibility as individuals and organisations to live healthily and to include our loved ones and communities in this mission.
Here are a few simple but impactful guidelines adapted from information by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help prevent the onset of chronic illness:
- Quit smoking – to lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and lung disease
- Eat healthily – to prevent, delay and manage many types of chronic diseases
- Get regular physical activity – at least 150 minutes a week plus strength training two days a week to reduce stress, manage weight and improve heart health
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol – over time, too much drinking can lead to high blood pressure, various cancers, heart disease, stroke and liver disease
- Get enough sleep – at least seven hours a day to help your body to rest and repair, and to combat stress
- Get screened regularly – for blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels, to prevent or catch related chronic diseases early
- Know your family history – so you can monitor and take steps to prevent developing the same chronic disease as your family
- Take care of your teeth – brush and floss your teeth daily and visit your dentist at least once a year as gum disease is quite common and doesn’t often cause pain, but can affect your overall health, especially if you already live with conditions like diabetes
- Make healthy choices at school and at work – have healthier food choices available, drink water rather than fizzy drinks, and implement education initiatives and programmes to encourage healthier lifestyles.
For more information on the top five NCDs facing Africans, check out our informative webinar here.