Establishing a lifestyle for life: Part 1

How you live will determine how long and how well you live

By: Helena Louw – Occupational Therapist

Definition of terms:

Wifi, screens, instant food: Genius developments crucial to survival and effective functioning in today’s world

Sleep, exercise, natural/ healthy food: Luxuries only a lucky few can afford or have; unattainable for the average person

These are hardly scientific definitions of the above terms, nor do I think anyone would define those concepts in this way if asked. Yet, I’ll bet this is how many of us think about them. Every day, I meet more people who rely on internet connections, screens and fast foods to make it through their day. The same people sigh with a resigned look on their faces when asked about their sleep, exercise and cooking habits: “I sleep when I can, when the work is done. I cancelled my gym membership after not going for 6 months. Who has time to cook? Maybe Sundays…”

Few people are aware of the potential health hazards posed by both the use of these ‘everyday’ commodities and the neglect of ‘luxuries’ such as sleep and exercise.

Interesting trends in current research:

  • Radiation from electronic devices such as cell phones, wi-fi routers, TV’s, wireless printers, baby monitors and computers is thought to contribute to mitochondrial damage, which in turn causes many chronic illnesses such as dementia and depression, amongst others.
  • More time spent on screens (TV, cell phones, computers/ laptops/ tablets, X-box etc.) is being directly correlated with an increased risk for depression and suicide in some populations.
  • (Excessive) screen-time has been linked to obesity, heart problems, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, autism, sleep disturbances, diabetes and disturbances in brain growth and hormone regulation.
  • Sleep deprivation is being linked to a higher risk of death from all causes (including, but not limited to, cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, suicide) and can wreak havoc on your quality of life through links to chronic pain, depression, anxiety, addiction and dementia.
  • Sitting for the largest part of the day (think desk-job and doing seated activities at home such as watching TV) has been linked to a shortened lifespan and numerous health risks, including cancer, obesity, musculoskeletal problems, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  • Much of the refined and processed foods (including many ‘fast foods’) which we find on our grocery shelves today consist of what may be called ‘empty calories’. These foods are high in energy but low in nutritional value (this may lead to a condition where someone is over-fed but malnourished, i.e. overweight but in fact have nutrient deficiencies). In addition, these processed and refined foods often contain harmful substances which fuel chronic inflammation in our bodies and increase our risk for a host of chronic diseases.

These few snippets from current research trends shed a new light on the long-term health consequences of our everyday lifestyles. Knowing that we play an active role in our own health (for better or worse) warrants a careful reconsideration of our daily choices.

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