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The 5 keys to good health

Dr Ross Walker
Thursday, January 17, 2019

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Now that our New Year’s resolutions have been firmly forgotten, only to be dusted off and brought out in another 12 months, we are now either back at work or gearing up for the start of the working year.

Just as we’re not particularly good with following New Year’s resolutions, human beings aren’t particularly good with all forms of compliance. To give you an example, if I start therapy in a group of patients, such as a particular medication, around 50% have stopped that therapy after 12 months. When I see these people in follow-up and ask them why, I received various answers, such as: “I ran out and didn’t get round to obtaining another script”; “I didn’t feel any different, so I stopped; I thought they were giving me side-effects so I thought it better that I didn’t take them anymore”; “I thought I was only on one course of pills and didn’t realise I had to take them indefinitely” etc. etc.

What most of us fail to realise, as far as our health goes, is that most forms of medications prescribed by doctors on a chronic basis typically reduce your risk for the disease by somewhere between 20% to 30%. It may come as some surprise for you to realise that following healthy lifestyle principles reduces your risks for all modern diseases, somewhere between 70% to 80%. I’ve included below a schematic that summarises these healthy lifestyle principles.

Two recently released studies have reinforced the importance of lifestyle. The first, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology followed just under 4,000 individuals living in Spain, as part of the Progression of early subclinical Atherosclerosis Study (PESA). Atherosclerosis is the progressive build up of fats, calcium and inflammatory tissue in the walls of arteries, which is the precursor to a heart attack and a stroke. 

This study used a device that monitors sleep for a period of seven days and found that those people who slept less than six hours every night had a 27% increased risk for atherosclerosis, when compared with those people who had the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Also, individuals who have poor quality sleep (for example, waking often during the night) had an increased risk of Atherosclerosis by 34%. Interestingly, the study also showed that people who slept for more than eight hours per night, especially women, had a high risk of atherosclerosis as well.

The second study appearing in The European Heart Journal looked at the vital importance of physical activity. This study looked at the cardio respiratory fitness of just over 4,500 people as part of a health survey known as HUNT3. All these participants were healthy with no history of pre-existing disease. Around 50% were women and 80% were deemed to be at low risk for developing cardiovascular disease over a 10-year period. At the end of the study period, 147 people suffered heart attacks or some form of coronary artery disease and the study clearly showed that those in the top 25% of fitness compared with those in the lowest 25% had half the number of cardiovascular events.

It is a great pity that only 50% of the Australian population performs any exercise and only 25% of the population performs the recommended amount of exercise, which is somewhere between three to five hours of moderate exercise every week. A study performed a few years ago known as the MORGEN trial demonstrated an 83% reduction in cardiovascular disease in those people who were the best compliers to healthy lifestyle principles.

How many times do health professionals have to stress the importance of lifestyle as opposed to much less effective medical therapy before human beings start to take on this advice? I have been practising medicine for over 40 years and the patients in my practice who do the best, despite whether I identify them at high risk or low risk for cardiovascular disease are those who firstly pick the right relatives i.e. have good genes but also follow these healthy lifestyle principles.

If I have deemed it necessary that they also take medications, whether they be orthodox pills or complementary therapies, being compliant with these treatments offers an added bonus to lifestyle. But what I’m asking you to do is to take the message into the New Year that “Lifestyle is king and always will be”.

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2019

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