By MH Staff - Posted on 14th January 2014
With a life expectancy of just 56 years, the odds are against us. Here’s how to beat them.
The latest Rapid Mortality Surveillance Report from the South African Medical Research Council brings both good and bad news amongst its graphs, charts and figures. The good news is the life expectancy of the average South African has increased since 2009. The bad news is that most citizens won’t live long enough to collect their pension at the age of 60. That’s right: Cher has more fight in her than we do. Living in a developing country takes its toll on our immune systems (the Japanese live 42% longer than we do), but a significant disability in making it to retirement is our Y-chromosome. We are but men. Beer-swilling, salt-shaking, chain-smoking, sugar-addicted, sneezing, coughing, couch-wallowing, doctor-ignoring men. And it’s killing us, quickly. We’ve sought the advice and precautionary steps that other countries are using to stay alive. Here’s how you can live better, healthier and longer.
STATE OF OUR COUNTRY: South Africa has one of the highest rates of hypertension in the world. Figures from the Heart and Stroke Foundation reveal that 6.3 million South Africans suffer from high blood pressure, with 130 citizens dying from heart attacks and 240 people suffering from strokes everyday. Hypertension’s stealthy nature makes it difficult to detect before it’s too late. “Because there are no obvious symptoms, many people walk around suffering from hypertension without being aware of it,” explains Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa. Diet-wise, it may not just be a question of how much we’re putting into our mouths but what: “Most people don’t realise how much salt they’re consuming, both at the table and hidden in processed foods,” says Mungal-Singh. Check the salt content on food labels, she advises. The maximum recommended amount is five grams (one teaspoon) a day. ROLE MODEL: ITALY Even notoriously nicotine-addicted Italians are smoking less, a 2011 study from that country reveals. Ready to kick some butts? New Stony Brook University research suggest that rewarding hobbies – a new sport, say – may lower your neural drive to smoke when you see cigarettes. What about all that pizza and pasta? Italians’ true dietary staples are heart-healthy olive oil, red wine and legumes – which they consume at a leisurely pace. “Enjoy the pleasure of eating, consume small portions of different things and drink only one glass of red wine per meal,” says Dr Francesco Sofi, a nutrition researcher in Italy.
STATE OF OUR COUNTRY: Statistics from death notification forms show that diabetes is the fourth-biggest killer in the country, according to the Medical Research Council. Like heart disease, sufferers are usually unaware of their state; the World Diabetes Foundation claims that in developing countries, less than half of people with diabetes are diagnosed. While diabetes isn’t always a death sentence, people with the sugar-spiking disease are twice as likely to die at a younger age than those without it. ROLE MODEL: SWITZERLAND You already know that fuelling your body with excess carbohydrates and kilojoules is bad. Turns out fuelling up your car can be dangerous too. We’re a nation of commuters. The latest General Household Survey shows that 42% of homes have at least one person who gets to work by a taxi. We don’t get to places by walking or pedalling; we get there while sitting, and that may be why our diabetes rate is much higher than Switzerland’s. And there’s another way our four-wheel fixation is hurting us: drive time can cut into mealtimes, so people with long commutes may grab unhealthy foods on the go, raising their risk of obesity, say scientists at Washington University in St Louis. If trading your car for cardio still isn’t a viable option, you can still carve time out for exercise. For example, use half of your noon break for a brisk walk. A 2011 Australian study reports that boosting your daily step count can help lower body fat and insulin resistance reducing your risk of diabetes. After you’ve finished walking, wind up your break by eating a lunch packed with diabetes-fighting fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. Try some canned tuna in a wholewheat pita and piece of fresh fruit.
STATE OF OUR COUNTRY: For a gland the size of a walnut, the prostate sure drives men nuts. One in six South Africans are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation reports that 4 000 men are diagnosed annually with the disease in our country. A 2012 European Urology review concluded that a Western diet and a typically sedentary lifestyle are likely factors for causing the leading cancer in males. ROLE MODEL: JAPAN PSA screenings are relatively uncommon in Japan, yet a significantly smaller percentage of Japanese men die of the disease each year, according to a European Urology review. That’s because one of their best weapons against prostate cancer has nothing to do with an exam table. The Japanese drink green tea like Americans drink Starbucks. A recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that men who downed five or more cups of tea a day were half as likely to be diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer than those who drank less than a cup. Green tea’s firepower comes from its catechins, compounds that may target and destroy cancer cells in prostrate tissue, says Dr Shahnjayla Connors, a cancer researcher at Washington University in St Louis. Although the research is still preliminary, she advises drinking green tea – hot or iced – every day. For an easy way to boost your prostate protection, stir lemon juice into your brew. This can enhance your body’s absorption of green tea’s catechins, according to a 2011 study from Korea.
STATE OF OUR COUNTRY: South Africa has one of the worst incidences of tuberculosis on the planet. The airborne disease affects mostly young adults, according to the World Health Organisation. “TB remains a major cause of death in our sub-region and we will not defeat HIV without a concerted offensive against TB,” says Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, South African Minister of Health. “If HIV/AIDS and TB were a snake, I can assure you the head would be in here South Africa.” Over 95% of cases and deaths occur in developing countries such as ours, and the WHO reports that one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, meaning that the carriers aren’t ill yet and cannot transmit the disease. However, a welcome change to these disheartening statistics may appear in the form of bedaquiline, the first new drug to combat tuberculosis released in 50 years that may thwart the multidrug-resistant disease. ROLE MODEL: AUSTRALIA The Aussies boast one of the lowest cases TB rates in the world, with the Medical Journal of Australia reporting just three cases in 13 years at the Department of Respiratory Medicine at Liverpool Hospital in Sydney. If you test positive, stay at home. In Australia, anyone found to have tuberculosis must be excluded from work until treatment has been given and a medical certificate is produced from a health authority. Make sure those around you are tested too. Upon diagnosis a TB patient’s close contacts and family members are advised to undergo skin tests. Inoculate your kids. A vaccine (BCG) is available for children – although it doesn’t prevent infection it does reduce the risk of death from tuberculosis.
STATE OF OUR COUNTRY:: It’s not only flu’s carriers that get hit hard; the virus leaves our economy wheezing too. CAM Solutions, an absenteeism statistics firm, reports that South African companies lose R2.7-billion a year to flu and respiratory illnesses. South Africa is one of the few African countries that conduct active surveillance for the flu virus to define seasons and infecting types. So the info is out there. You just need to know how to react when it comes. ROLE MODEL: USA Stateside, they take their flu shots seriously. The Centre of Disease Control and Prevention strongly encourages American citizens to take their annual flu vaccine, insisting that children six months of age and older should get injected as soon as the season’s vaccines are available. Those at risk of serious flu complications are young children, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions. Feeling a fever? Phone the office and tell them you’re staying in. The CDC insists you stay at home for 24 hours after your fever has gone. (Note that this means the fever should be gone without the assistance of fever-reducing medicine). Still man down? Go to the doctor, the CDC experts say. Anti-viral drugs are different to antibiotics and need a prescription. They’ll shorten the time you’re down and prevent further chances of serious complications. Make a judgment call as soon as you can though; the drugs work best within two days of getting sick.