Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
Our wish list would obviously vary depending on our age and our means, though the latter is not always taken into consideration! But by and large, surely most of us would already have decided on what we look forward to in the coming year. When maturity begins to set in, individual wishes no longer matter as much as what we wish either for, in the first instance, those who are close to us and then, if we become a bit altruistic, for others who we feel are deserving.
As for me, I can but agree with what I read in an editorial signed Martine Marcovitch of the women’s magazine Atmosphere No. 124. It was as follows: Pourquoi l’approche des fêtes, cette année, m’est-elle si légère?… Que vous souhaiter de plus et de mieux que cette paix de l’âme et cet élan sans fin recommencé vers ce qui bouge et vit? La santé, peut-être, qui rend tout possible. Ce cliché-là, vous me le pardonnez. J’y crois et je l’appelle comme une grâce sur nous toutes.’ (emphasis added)
On a personal basis, there could be no more significant truism than that, indeed, health makes everything possible. As I am going through a period, for the second time this year, of enduring a dose of my own medicine — acute low back pain — as the saying goes, this simple reflection and wish on the part of the lady editor struck a chord in me.
In general, we do not value our health enough until it gets impaired. The result can range from minor inconvenience to major difficulty in functioning – carrying out the daily activities that are required for our physical and mental upkeep, and those we need to do for a living, in other words our work. Inevitably, this leads us to interact with other people, for no man is an island, and whether locally or globally we are interdependent.
Hence the definition of health as proposed by the World Health Organisation, namely that ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’
It may sound complicated but in fact underlying it are very simple concepts. Imagine that you have the flu or common cold as it is also known, with running nose, fever and body ache: this physical discomfort not only puts you off food, but you cannot concentrate on your studies or perform any work that requires thinking, because your mind is clouded and confused as a result of the fever. Likewise, you are not inclined to socialize, meet friends, go out for a meal or a party. Because you know that the cold will pass – in one week with medicines and seven days without medicines: make your choice! – you are not unduly worried, since you will shortly be able to resume your normal routine.
But should the cold get complicated by a full-blown sinusitis or a pneumonia, then you are gone for many more days if not weeks, with major disruption in every aspect of your life, individual, family, community or work place.
One can give examples of a myriad of health conditions that are associated with such outcomes, and all of them potentially have the capacity to halt you in your galloping tract, as it were.
It is therefore important to try and keep as healthy as possible; it’s like taking an insurance for one’s life by building up one’s reserve. In addition to taking out formal insurance coverage there are simple, inexpensive ways of ensuring one’s good health – while accepting, at the same time, that in spite of all that one may do, disease and death do remain an unavoidable reality.
Broadly, there are two groups of diseases from which one may suffer: those caused by microbes and parasites (e.g. flu, malaria) which are known as infections, or infectious or communicable diseases because they may be transmitted or communicated from one person to another; and those which arise as a result of several factors which increase the risk of disease and act in various combinations and permutations, being referred to as the non-infectious or non-communicable diseases.
These risk factors are by now well known to practically everyone and include such as: poor eating habits with excessive consumption of fatty foods and fizzy drinks in particular; lack of physical exercise; abuse of alcohol and tobacco; exposure to environmental pollutants in the air, water or soil. The non-communicable diseases comprise diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, mental problems, chronic disease of the respiratory system, cancer and so on.
The well-known adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ is applicable to both groups of diseases. There are simple rules to prevent infections: breathe fresh air; drink clean potable water; eat wholesome food; pay meticulous attention to bodily cleanliness, wash one’s hands before meals and especially after using the toilet – an amazing almost 50% of people do not wash their hands following use of the toilet; keep one’s house and yard clean and tidy.
Further, children must be vaccinated according to the schedule laid down by WHO. In addition to these measures which are applied at individual level, the State ensures the access to clean water, disposal of waste and sewage, sets environmental standards and has oversight on their control.
As far as the non-communicable diseases are concerned, again here attention to food and drink is paramount, avoiding excessive reliance on the fast foods, soft and fizzy drinks, not abusing of alcohol and not consuming tobacco. Performing regular physical exercise, preferably in the open where there is fresh air, strengthens the body’s defences, builds up muscle strength and in general ‘tonifies’ all the body systems as it helps to open up the otherwise unused channels of circulation which in turn helps nutrients to reach all body parts and waste matter to be brought back from them.
The issue of health is obviously more complex than what the above outlines indicate, but if one were to abide by the simple rules indicated, one would be well prepared to cope with, and even ward off, most diseases.
However, there is also an element of what is called genetics that is involved in disease causation. In other words, one may be born with a susceptibility to certain conditions, and it may count for about 30% — according to current estimates – in giving rise to the particular disease, such as cancer. The remaining 70% are put down to one’s individual behaviour and the environmental factors referred to above, which allow the genetic tendency to manifest as disease.
It can be seen, therefore, that one may still be spared of disease despite a genetic tendency if one looks after oneself based on the simple measures alluded to in the preceding paragraphs, and of course following any additional advice given by doctors and other health professionals as the circumstances demand.
It bears stressing that most of the measures advocated are well within the capacity of all of us: they are surely not rocket science, one must agree! I do not know a single person who does not want to be in good health so as to enjoy life to the full. But we must beware to confuse enjoyment with simply eating, drinking and being merry in a state of mental haze – a particular danger during this period of festivities. Moderation is the order of the day, so that one can truly enjoy both food and drink and company – remember the social dimension in the WHO definition of health — otherwise the feasting will get spoilt, not to speak of the body being afflicted.
Let our wish and hope be for our good health and that of everyone, and we have enough guidelines to set us off on the path come 2012 if we have not been doing so yet. And why, we can even encourage others to think of their health too. All of us together can bring about some change, even if it is a little, it will be worth the while.
But if we add some other ingredients, we can achieve some more – perhaps even change the world:
‘Love is better than anger.
Hope is better than fear.
Optimism is better than despair.
So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.
And we’ll change the world.’
– Jack Layton
Happy New Year to all.
* Published in print edition on 31 December 2011