Lifestyle changes for a healthy new year

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Rohini Diniz

Quit smoking: Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and is a preventable cause of death all over the world. Cigarettes contain tobacco, nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and a host of other toxic compounds that damage the body. These toxins enter the blood stream and cause damage to the heart and circulatory system thereby increasing the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes.

The lungs are the worst affected by smoking. The chemicals and particles in cigarette smoke irritate the airways and lungs leading to the production of mucus which causes the characteristic smoker’s cough early in the morning. Smoking can also lead to wheezing and asthma which can progress to fatal disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, pneumonia, emphysema and lung cancer.

Smoking causes bad breath, stained teeth, gum disease and damages the sense of taste, increases the risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the skin leading to premature ageing and is a leading cause of cancers affecting the mouth, tongue, throat, oesophagus and larynx. It can cause impotency in males and reduce fertility in females. Women who smoke during pregnancy are at risk of miscarriages or can have premature births or stillbirths

Smokers have an increased chance of developing ulcers and stomach cancer and are at risk of developing kidney cancer too. Smoking can weaken the muscles that control the lower end of the oesophagus leading to reflux of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus leading to heart burn.

The good news is that once you stop smoking, you will prevent further deterioration to your skin caused by smoking and within two years of stopping smoking, your risk of stroke is reduced to half that of a non-smoker and within five years it will be the same as a non-smoker. Stopping tobacco, even after many years of use, can greatly reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancer.

Reduce alcohol intake: While research studies have shown that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol particularly red wine, may protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease, heavy drinking over a long period of time can damage the heart causing problems like enlargement of the heart muscles, irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure and strokes.

Alcohol particularly affects the central nervous system. It interferes with the communication pathways in the brain affecting the functioning of the brain resulting in changes in mood and behaviour making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. The most well know health issues caused by alcohol dependency are those affecting the liver. Heavy drinking leads to liver inflammation and a variety of problems such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. Alcoholics who are also smokers are at increased risk of developing cancer. Drinking too much also weakens the immune system making the body an easier target for infections. 

Get enough sleep: With changing lifestyle patterns such as night shifts at work, increased access to entertainment and other activities, constant exposure to artificial lighting and use of electronic devices such as laptops and smart phones after sunset most people are not getting enough of sleep and this lack of sleep is affecting one’s health and productivity. Why is it important to get enough of sleep especially at night? While we sleep, our brain works hard at forming new pathways necessary for learning, creating memories and new insights. Without enough sleep, one cannot focus, pay attention or respond quickly. Lack of sleep also causes daytime fatigue, drowsiness and mood problems. Studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and infections.

How many hours of sleep does one need? Sleep needs vary from person to person and also changes at throughout the lifecycle. On an average a healthy adult needs eight hours of night time sleep. What needs to be remembered is that it is not only the number of hours of sleep, but the quality and timing of sleep which are equally important.

Manage stress: All of us experience some degree of stress at some point of time or the other. Stress is not a condition on its own but rather a reaction to a situation that we perceive overwhelming to us. While some kinds of stress are good as they improve motivation and work output, too much stress can have a negative influence on the mood and general well-being of an individual. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity. Since everyone reacts to stress differently, it becomes important to choose positive and healthy ways to manage stress as it occurs. Pursuing hobbies, practising mediation, yoga or going for a walk are great stress busters and go a long way in reducing stress.

(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 22 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on [email protected])