There’s can be no doubt about it. It’s something we’ve all heard, & read, about for some time, but due to the COVID pandemic, it’s as if we’ve seen it with real clarity for the first time – our National Health Service is in crisis. In truth, of course, the NHS has been teetering on the edge for a long time – barely held together by the hard work & goodwill of the staff. The current pandemic has simply added another straw to an already overburdened back, pushing infrastructure, resources, and staff to breaking point.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that once we get through this pandemic it will all be okay. Unfortunately, no amount of lockdowns, social distancing, hand hygiene, masks, or vaccines will tackle the more long-standing, largely silent pandemic that the NHS is unable to cope with. The real cause for the NHS crisis is the increasing burden of chronic, mostly metabolic illness – diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, arthritis, stroke, depression, and cancer.
Whilst our understanding of these diseases & how we can manage them with different medication continues to grow – the underlying fundamental causes of these debilitating & often deadly diseases have been largely neglected by traditional medical practice & research, despite the fact that these diseases continue to affect more & more people each year and rates are predicted to continue increasing in the future.
The scale of this global pandemic is staggering. Chronic diseases, such as those mentioned above, account for over 70% of all global deaths annually – that’s over 40 million deaths year after year after year. And 15 million of these “avoidable” annual deaths occur between the ages of 30 and 69 years. (World Health Organisation)
For comparison, there have been just over 2 million global COVID global deaths in the last 12 months across all age groups.
Whilst people are living longer, many of these additional years are spent with significant health problems – the gap between healthspan & lifespan is getting bigger. A 2019 report from the European Commission revealed that for the UK, the increase in life expectancy has actually slowed over the last decade and our obesity level is one of the highest in the EU, with more than 1 in 5 UK adults being obese.
However, all is not lost. The silver lining to this doom & gloom, the golden nugget that I want to shine a light on, is that all these illnesses have a single common underlying cause. They are all lifestyle diseases. By that, I mean that our environment, diet, level of activity, sleep, emotional wellbeing, and use of cigarettes, alcohol & drugs play a significant role in the development, severity & ultimate outcome of all the major chronic diseases. Imagine if by changing our lifestyle we not only reduced the risk of developing those diseases ourselves, so we felt better, had more energy & vitality, lived longer & healthier, but we also reduced the burden on the NHS. The Kings Fund estimates that unhealthy lifestyles cost the NHS £15 billion every year and 70% of all GP visits relate to an underlying lifestyle disease
Many studies, including the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), show that a healthy lifestyle can have a significant impact on the development of chronic disease and may prevent over 90% of both diabetes and heart disease, including over 80% of all heart attacks, 50% of all strokes, and over a third of all cancers.
80% of all premature deaths are due to just 3 poor lifestyle habits – smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity, yet less than 10 % of the population tick all four boxes of a nonsmoker, BMI less than 30, more than 5 portions of fruit & vegetables per day and regular physical activity.
Lifestyle medicine is all about educating & empowering tindividuals to make the right choices, supporting them through that process of change, and just as importantly, championing improvements in our environment. Whilst we all choose how we live our lives, lifestyle medicine does not judge people for the choices they make or blame them for their disease. We acknowledge that none of us live in complete isolation without any external influences. Our environment can either constrain or liberate us.
Environmental factors include pollution, poverty and social deprivation, the constant high profile marketing of convenience, processed foods & surgery snacks, the expectations we (or the boss) place on ourselves around work & family so that any personal time is either nonexistent or squeezed into an already hectic schedule and loss of social connection – something that we’ve all experienced over the last year. All of these play a part in restricting the lifestyle choices we believe are available to us and whilst challenging to change, they are as much part of the lifestyle medicine movement, as helping individual patients.
Individual health is intrinsically linked to public health.
Our health isn’t determined by our genes, it’s dictated by our lifestyle & environment.
Our DNA provides a potential blueprint to how our bodies work, but it is our lifestyle, our internal and external environment, both physical & emotional, that dictate how & when those genes are expressed and what they manifest.
7 Key Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Please don’t attempt to try them all at once! Pick one that seems the most relevant to you or even easiest to sustain. All of these factors are interlinked so improving one area will have benefits elsewhere & will make subsequent changes easier to adopt long-term.
1 – Replace processed food with real,whole food – preferably locally sourced & seasonal.
2 – Replace manufactured sweet, sugary snacks with fruit, nuts & seeds
3 – Focus on regular daily movement & activity rather than just exercise. Working in is as important as working out.
4 – Develop a nighttime routine for the last hour before you want to be asleep – low-level lighting, switch off the technology, warm bath, etc.
5 – Spend time with the people you care about & will support your new habits, not those that hold you back to your old ways.
6 – Take time out, if not daily, at least a couple of times a week, to begin with, to ground yourself in the present, calm your busy mind & reaffirm the important things, and people, in your life right now.
7 – Stop all smoking, includimg e-cigarettes & minimise alcohol.
If we truly want to save our NHS, then we all need to do our bit.
We need to take responsibility for our own health, do the things that may not be easy, but we know to be right, to improve our own health, rather than rely on the NHS to patch us up with tablets & medicines.
For more expert advice on how lifestyle medicine & health coaching can help YOU achieve better long term vitality and wellbeing, as well as more detail on the healthy habit suggestions offered above, please go to www.life-without-limits.co.uk or join our community at www.facebook.com/groups/liveyourlifewithoutlimits