Mapping out your Health Goals

With Dr Lerato Masemola

March is my birth month. So I generally regard this month MY new year. This is a time for me to re-evaluate my yearly goals, and of course that includes my health goals. Another reason I choose to do this in March, not January, is because I truly dislike the rush and hype of the beginning of the year. Now I am mentally ready to make serious decisions (please note I did not say resolutions) and commit without wondering if I was high from New Year’s celebrations.

Speaking of health goals, I have to say I find it rather disturbing that, apart from signing up exorbitant gym contracts trying to compensate for “Ke Dezemba Boss” bingeing guilt, people don’t plan for their health. And unfortunately for most that do not put their health (not just gym) on their “TO DO” list for the year, they will NOT get around to seeing a doctor until they are sick.

Many people take their health and bodies for granted. Many more, and especially those without medical insurance, generally view health check-ups as an inconvenience and a grudge expense. Those with access to medical aid funding are quick to do cosmetic dental procedures (such as getting gold teeth ) and get sunglasses FIRST and neglect to check up on general wellbeing from head to toe.

FACT: most chronic lifestyle diseases are preventable. Take any study in any part of the world that looks at lifestyle illnesses and you will find that results are pretty predictable:  “The leading causes of death each year for most adults under age 75 are heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure (hypertension). All of which are preventable. And more than half of these preventable deaths occur among individuals under age 65.” (This recent study taken from Harvard Health Publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report – Sep ‘13).

We need our bodies in good health to live, and do all we want to do. You can have money, but if your body is ailing, you can’t really enjoy the money now, can you? If you are highly skilled in a job that requires brain or body strength, and you suddenly have a permanently debilitating stroke from undiagnosed hypertension or Diabetes etc, you say goodbye to your livelihood and the lifestyle that came with it.

You pay insurance for car, house, etc. but won’t ensure that your MOST VALUABLE “possession” – your health, is what it should be. Some even pay health insurance / medical aid, yet don’t use the funds. I have news for you; you can only cash (some of) the funds in when you die. (Pun unintended).

Yes, I of all people am well aware that life is unpredictable. Nobody knows when they are going to die. But a frail state of health in your golden years can make those years unbearable. Are you willing to risk that? If not, allow me to share some few tips on how to map out your health goals:

1. Make healthy DECISIONS (v.s. resolutions) and stick to them.

2. Try harder to quit smoking. If you have been trying for a while and are battling, perhaps putting your battle into perspective may help: it costs you on average R13000/year give or take, depending on brand and quantity of cigarettes a day. This does not include visits to your doctor from chronic emphysema.

3. Try harder to cut down on alcohol, especially If you are a heavy drinker. You will save money and improve your health. The combination of chisa-nyama and beer every weekend (common practice) unfortunately results in extra kilos. ESPECIALLY in December when it becomes a daily activity.

4. Invest the money you save when you quit bad habits. Use it for something worthwhile: a holiday, debt reduction, deposit on car or house, etc. Have a goal and reward yourself. Don’t lose one bad habit and pick up another; stop drinking/ smoking then smoke or drink more or stop smoking and start eating junk foods.

5. Lose those extra kilos. Whether they bother you or not, your organs, especially the heart, work extra hard to maintain a bigger body, not even discussing the complications from what is medically called truncal obesity: the fat around the tummy that is visible obesity as a boop – but also fat that is not easily seen – around the heart, kidneys and other important organs. Women’s waist line should not be more than 80cm, and a man’s waist 94cm (on average, may be more or less depending on race).

6. Maintain a healthy weight. It is not rocket science. Eat less, move more (this applies to more people than some would like to admit).

7. Exercise for general health, and not just in times of desperation when trying to lose an extra kilo or ten for Valentine’s day or a friend’s wedding etc. Exercise is good, but does not take away the responsibility of taking the body in for a service to check for things that are not lifestyle related.

8. Ladies, do regular PAP smears and breast examinations. Cervical cancer is primarily a cancer of young women. Singer Puff Johnson died at age 40 from cervical cancer. This is probably one of the easiest cancers to treat if caught early. The PAP smear is also probably one of the cheapest cancer screening test too (costs approx R200 in private, free at state facilities). I recommend no less than two in five years, more frequently if necessary. *

8. Gentlemen, don’t neglect to check the testes and prostate. Testicular cancer, much like cervical cancer is also a disease of young men. Although +/- 5 times less common in Africans than Caucasians, it is more likely to kill African men who get this disease due to severity of it in this race. And of course, let’s not forget the ever feared Prostate examination.  *

* Remember that if you’re working on a budget /cannot afford to see s specialists, your trusted GP (me) can do most of the general examinations and screening tests.

9. Last (but not least), Parents, don’t forget your children! Get them into a habit of self love and valuing their health from a young age. It will be your pleasure when they #ThankYouLater!!


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