LETTERS: Wellness a potent weapon against lifestyle diseases

Being healthy is a priority. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

We all aspire to live a healthy, happy and successful life. We feel good when we are healthy. Good health enables us to engage in various activities leading to self-fulfillment. Poor health and illness undermine our ability to actualize our potential as individuals and could even lead to death.

It is common knowledge that our lifestyles, meaning the choices we make regarding how we live, have a direct bearing on our health. Medical experts tell us that many human diseases are preventable with the right choices about what we eat or drink, what we do with our bodies and even how we think.

Today, the world is grappling with a surge in chronic but preventable illnesses linked to changing lifestyle patterns among individuals. These include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. Many of these deadly conditions have been attributed to poor lifestyle like heavy drinking, unhealthy diet, smoking, inactivity and stress.

They fall within the category known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), now considered a bigger threat to mankind than communicable diseases like malaria, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis.

Fortunately, the incidence and prevalence of these killer diseases can be checked if people embrace wellness as a lifestyle principle.

There is growing and irrefutable evidence that deliberate efforts to adopt a healthier lifestyle can cut the risk of acquiring debilitating non-communicable diseases. Of course, one’s genes and the environment play a role but lifestyle has been shown to be a primary factor.

Wellness is one avenue through which individuals can lessen susceptibility to chronic lifestyle illnesses. What exactly does wellness mean? The term wellness denotes conscious decisions by an individual to maintain good health.

It encompasses wise lifestyle choices that promote good health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines wellness as “the optimal state of health of individuals and groups.”

The term “wellness” is used interchangeably with “health” with the latter referring to the general state of a person’s physical, mental and emotional condition. Wellness on the other hand alludes to activities geared to not only preventing disease but also enhancing a person’s overall health and wellbeing.

For instance, sticking to a healthy diet, regular exercise, reducing consumption of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and stress management are integral elements of wellness, and signify a desire to achieve optimal physical, mental and emotional health.

The growing significance of wellness is illustrated by the increased use of workplace wellness programs to boost employee productivity and reduce cost associated with absenteeism due to illness linked to lifestyle illnesses. Many employers are investing in the wellness of their employees.

This may involve interventions directly targeting lifestyle, for example, prohibiting smoking at the workplace and providing facilities for employees to engage in sports. Workers with substance abuse problems are offered counseling and medical assistance.

Embracing wellness also reduces the high cost of treatment associated with lifestyle diseases. While it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of falling ill, taking good care of oneself translates to fewer visits to the doctor. But one must be disciplined enough to make the right choices.

Several studies have revealed that physical activity can reduce deaths attributable to a heart attack or stroke by as much as 30 per cent. Quitting smoking by age 40 reduces chances of dying prematurely from smoking-related illness by upto 90 per cent. The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are numerous.

Making conscious positive decisions about lifestyle therefore enhances productivity and longevity. They also come with financial benefits.

This is because lifestyle diseases account for a large proportion of spending on health care especially in developing countries like Kenya. They constitute a huge and growing burden on the health system given that treatment of diseases like cancer is expensive and thus unaffordable to the poor majority.

Addressing these challenge will require a complete shift in mindset; wellness provides a viable route to a healthier and happier life. We should not wait to treat diseases when they strike. Prevention is always better than cure. Wellness is the way to go.

Nixon Shigoli, managing director, AAR Insurance.