Better health in the Christmas season

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour underscore the need for everyone of all ages and abilities to be physically active, as this could be a main factor that ensures good health and well-being, especially at a time when many are restricted in their movements due to the COVID-19 pandemic and feasting and merry-making are at a zenith. Most of us pack on a few pounds during the holidays and, according to WHO, up to five million deaths a year are linked to inadequate activity, but it does not have to be that way.
In Guyana’s case, it is believed that around 40 per cent of Guyanese are already overweight or obese; and of that number, the majority are women. What is noteworthy is the realisation that most cases of chronic, non-communicable diseases are avoidable, and it is within our individual powers to prevent these diseases from affecting our lives.
The new guidelines recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for all adults, including people living with chronic conditions or disabilities, and an average of 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents. Additionally, the WHO statistics show that one in four adults, and four out of five adolescents do not get enough physical activity. Globally, this is estimated to cost US$54 billion in direct health care, and another US$14 billion to lost productivity. This is quite revealing, and perhaps renewed efforts need to made at all levels to encourage persons to engage in regular physical activity.
The guidelines encourage women to maintain regular physical activity throughout pregnancy and post-delivery. They also highlight the valuable health benefits of physical activity for people living with disabilities.
Older adults (aged 65 years or older) also are advised to add activities which emphasise balance and coordination, as well as muscle strengthening, to help prevent falls and improve health.
According to WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, being physically active is critical for health and well-being; it can help to add years to life, and life to years. Regular physical activity is key to preventing and helping to manage heart disease, type-2 diabetes and cancer, as well as reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, reducing cognitive decline, improving memory, and boosting brain health.
All physical activity is beneficial, and can be done as part of work, sport, and leisure or transport (walking, wheeling and cycling), but also through dance, play, and everyday household tasks like gardening and cleaning.
WHO encourages countries to adopt the global guidelines to develop national health policies in support of the WHO Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030. The plan was agreed by global health leaders at the 71st World Health Assembly in 2018 to reduce physical inactivity by 15 per cent by 2030.
So, the question is: How do we make the breakthrough when it comes to getting our citizens to adopt healthy lifestyles, considering the fact that some persons still operate with a high degree of ignorance? To begin with, we believe that there is need for greater awareness and knowledge in the society about the dangers of chronic illnesses. On this basis, we urge that there be continuous awareness campaigns across the country to address various health issues. Research has shown that the numerous media campaigns on HIV/AIDS prevention and care, stigma and discrimination have impacted positively on attitudes and lifestyle changes; and messages in a similar fashion should be created towards addressing non-communicable illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, or in dealing with overweightness and obesity.
The Health Ministry, along with other partners, should lead the way in promoting various programmes to get persons to become more active and lead healthier lives. Too many persons are falling ill due to poor lifestyle choices.
Additionally, while individual responsibility and choice are crucial factors affecting the incidence of chronic diseases, public policy, public education, qualitative regulation of food imports, licensing laws to protect consumers, and gearing the environment to support prevention of chronic diseases are also prerequisites for combating this epidemic.
It is well accepted that better health is central to human happiness and well-being. It also makes an important contribution to economic progress, as healthy populations live longer, are more productive, and save more.