No one can live forever and eventually everyone will succumb to some sort of illness or disease or simply old age. However, we have quite a bit of control over how long we live based on our lifestyle choices.
There are a few common diseases in the UK which account for most of the deaths. For example, heart disease is the largest killer and various forms of cancer also were responsible for more than a quarter of deaths. Is there anything that we can do to reduce our risk of dying from these common killers?
Here are a few ways that you can adjust your lifestyle and habits to help protect yourself from some of the most common diseases which occur in the UK.
Heart disease, resulting in a heart attack, is the major killer within the UK. Chances are you know at least one person already who has passed away due to this reason; likely more. A heart attack occurs when the cells within your heart die and the muscle is no longer able to perform its crucial job of pumping blood around your body. Without a supply of blood, your body quickly dies.
Heart attacks are more common in women over the age of 55 and men over the age of 45. If you have a family history of heart disease this also raises your risk of developing it. A heart attack is usually preceded by angina (chest pains) and will be marked by chest discomfort, fatigue and intense pain.
So what can you do to reduce your risk of a heart attack? The very first thing to do is to quit smoking. This habit makes you five times more likely to suffer a heart attack in your 30s or 40s. Losing excess weight will also help, along with keeping a lifelong habit of regular exercise and eating plenty of fruit, vegetables. Try to reduce the salt in your diet and eat oily fish which contains omega 3 oils. Some studies have shown that these fish oils can reduce your risk of health attack by up to 45 percent.
Another lifestyle adjustment that will reduce your risk is simply chilling out. Stress makes your blood pressure high and can have the effect on your heart of carrying an extra 44lbs in weight or being 20 years older. Do your best to stop worrying about the things in your life that you can’t change and make sure you take time to unwind and de-stress if you find yourself getting overwhelmed.
Cancer is one of the most common killers in the UK. Normally our cells divide occasionally when they need to in order to replace themselves. However, when cancer is present, the cells start dividing on their own and producing abnormal copies of themselves to the point that they start to invade surrounding tissues. Cancer usually kills a person because it impairs the function of the organ or tissue which it is growing on in their body.
The warning signs of cancer should not be ignored, as the earlier you receive treatment the more likely it is that you will be able to recover. Cancer symptoms include an unexplained lump, changes in bowel habits, recurrent heartburn, urinary difficulties, a nagging cough, sudden and inexplicable weight loss and recurrent discomfort in a specific place.
We still don’t fully understand how the interactions between genes, environment and lifestyle cause cancer. It can occur at any age and it is very unclear exactly what causes it. However, there are some lifestyle habits which definitely increase your risk of cancer. For example, if you smoke you increase your risk of developing throat and lung cancer by nearly 100 percent.
The risk of developing at least 40 percent of cancers can be prevented by lifestyle changes. Not smoking, drinking less alcohol, reducing sun exposure, losing weight and eating nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables can really help to reduce your risk. Also, regular exercise will have a positive effect, as well as reducing your intake of air pollution and making sure you are not exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace. Also, some sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis and genital warts have been found to increase the likelihood of certain cancers.
Dementia usually shows up as Alzheimer’s disease and causes the cells within your brain to deteriorate. It occurs when protein accumulates within the outside and inside of the cells within the brain. This protein attacks the cells in the brain. The symptoms that this disease displays are mood swings as well as having difficulty thinking, remembering, speaking and making judgements.
You can reduce your risk of dementia by taking folic acid as well as omega 3 supplements. However, the best way to prevent it is to continue to challenge yourself mentally by being engaged in work, learning new things and keeping your brain active. When it comes to brain cells, the more you use them the less likely you are to lose them, so your daily crossword challenge is a positive habit which keeps your brain alive!
When it comes to digestive diseases, liver failure is the biggest killer of people in the UK. The liver is responsible for filtering toxins within the body and producing the bile that we need to digest food, as well as regulating blood production. When liver disease occurs, the cells within your liver will be slowly turned into scar tissue. This causes your liver to cease to be able to function, which causes toxins to build up in the body. This can slow down the clotting of your blood up 50 percent.
The symptoms of liver disease are tenderness in the upper right abdomen, jaundice, intense itchiness and easy bruising. The chance of getting liver disease in the UK is one in 109 and women are more prone to it than men. How can you reduce your chances? Drink less alcohol as it causes damage to the liver. Also, try to take painkillers as infrequently as possible as they can also cause damage. If you have unprotected sex, get tested for hepatitis.
Although we can’t control everything, the lifestyle that we lead does have an effect on our likelihood of getting certain diseases. If we can develop good habits which will keep us healthy throughout our lives, we will reduce our risk of being affected by many common diseases. Most of these changes are simple adjustments to your diet and lifestyle. They might seem like small changes on a day to day basis, but they accumulate over time to create a significant difference in your long term health.
By Dr. Albert Ferrante MB BS MRCS FRCP (UK)
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