Healthy living: The best antidote to common NCDs

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Healthy lifestyle habits such as engaging in regular exercises help keep one safe. / Net photo.

Imagine going to bed feeling fine only to wake up the following morning on a hospital bed. This is exactly what happened to Florent Muganda, a 45-year-old resident of Kimironko in Gasabo District recently.

Muganda recollects that he woke up on the fateful day ‘full of life’, and headed straight to the bathroom for the routine morning shower. Minutes later, he was on the floor gasping for breath, with a swollen face.

He says his wife, who rushed him to the hospital, told him he had heard a thud in the bathroom, but thought it was something in the neighbourhood. When she couldn’t hear any sound from the bathroom minutes after trying to call him out, she went to check out the bathroom, only to find him semi-unconscious on the floor. After carrying out several tests at the hospital, the doctor told him that the fainting was a result of high blood pressure.

Unlike Muganda, health experts say many people who get such experiences rarely make it out alive. They explain that passing out can emanate from different factors such as having certain non-communicable diseases such as stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes, among others.

February being the healthy lifestyle awareness month, Healthy Times talked to various experts about the dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle.

Nancy Clark, an internationally respected sports nutritionist, dietitian and author, says a healthy lifestyle is one that leaves you fit, energetic and at reduced risk for disease, based on the choices you make about your daily habits. Good nutrition, daily exercise and adequate sleep are the foundation for continuing good health. Managing stress in positive ways, instead of through smoking or drinking alcohol, reduces wear and tear on your body at the hormonal level, she says.

A lifestyle to avoid

According to Dr Gilles F. Ndayisaba, the division manager, non-communicable Diseases at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), they educate people about positive lifestyle changes during campaigns and awareness drives they conduct on the best way to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs). He says the most common NCDs include high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and other respiratory diseases.

Ndayisaba says they place special emphasis on smoking, diet, consumption of alcohol and physical activities.

“These are the focal point when it comes to educating people on prevention and keeping the disease at bay,” he says.

For instance, he says tobacco smoking leads to many diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory diseases and cancer.

Ndayisaba further explains that any kind of smoking is harmful unlike for factors such as alcohol which are potentially dangerous when there is abuse.

“Alcohol taken responsibly and in low quantity doesn’t pose one problems. But when abused, one can develop high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes, among others.

“Back in the day, there was a misconception that no one actually dies from smoking. This is because when such people died, it was mistaken for poisoning or other causes due to lack of knowledge. However, today, people should be aware of the dangers smoking poses to their life and commit to changing their lifestyle positively,” he notes.

Janvier Rusizina, a general practitioner at La Nouvelle Clinic in Remera Kigali, says life in urban centres can as well lead to one starting to indulge in unhealthy lifestyles including smoking as well as drinking.

He further points out that people spend the whole day sitting in office and use cars instead of walking, a habit that is carried on even at home where they spend more time seated watching television.

Infact, Rusizina says others prefer passing by the bar to have a drink before going home, which means that one has no time for exercising, putting them to more risks of NCDs.

He explains that this is why the government has put in more efforts in mobilising people to do exercise through programmes such as the Car-free day and the car-free zone in Kigali city, among others.

Also in line with helping people to stay healthy, Ndayisaba says in public institutions, people are encouraged to do sports every Friday.

“If people can look at ways of doing things differently, they can opt for at least walking home instead of driving; this is a good habit that can help one keep away from NCDs,” he says.

Joseph Uwiragiye, a nutritionist at University Teaching Hospital, Kigali, (CHUK), says dieting habits are a big issue and a risk factor as well. He says in most cases, people still hold the misconception that ‘eating well’ means consuming junk food.

“As health workers, it’s our responsibility to educate people on what is good and what is not so that they can change their mindset as far as their diet and health are concerned,” he says.

Things you shouldn’t ignore

Apart from changing one’s lifestyle, there are other things that one should keep in mind to ensure that they are not at any risk of developing NCDs.

For example, the health ministry is conducting campaigns, where health workers educate and advise people to go for regular check-ups. For instance, other than an unhealthy lifestyle, one can have health problems related to other factors such as genetics.

“When one has a good lifestyle, they decrease the chances of getting cancer and other diseases, but there are other things that can’t be controlled. Getting regular medical check-ups is important to avoid complications,” Ndayisaba says.

He says because men aged over 50 are at greater risk of getting prostate cancer, they are advised to go for screening. The same applies to women above 45 who face a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

“It’s always advisable to do comprehensive health check-ups annually if one doesn’t have any major health problem. People should find out other reasons that could make them sick,” he says.

Ndayisaba says this is being backed up by medical insurances, where one can go for such check-ups annually and get screened for all kinds of diseases using whatever insurance cover they have.

How to stay healthy

Yvan Ntware, a general practitioner working in Gasabo District, says staying healthy requires determination and commitment, though it takes time to get rid of certain lifestyles such as smoking and drinking.

He says one should prioritise their health and keep in mind the damage that could come along with poor lifestyle.

“The risk factors are not the same to everyone; some people are more prone to getting diabetes, while others are more liable to cancer or high blood pressure and so on. Therefore getting tested regularly is important,” he says.

For Isaac Bikorimana, a Kigali-based nutritionist, an interesting aspect people don’t know is that staying healthy starts with one’s self-esteem and people around them.

For instance, he says that people around one can make them feel good or hate themselves, either because of their body size, health condition or for refusing to indulge in some of their habits like smoking.

“In most cases some of them might encourage you to smoke, overeat or drink too much alcohol. This kind of company is not good and staying away from it can improve your lifestyle in general,” he says.

Bikorimana adds that identifying one’s areas of weakness when it comes to being exposed to risk factors of NCDs is as well important.

He notes that habits such as eating while using the phone, watching television, skipping meals, and eating while sleeping, among others, should be avoided.

“Although these seem to be petty to some people, some can, for instance, contribute to overeating which can bring health problems.”

Ndayisaba says also notes that some non-communicable diseases are caused by infectious diseases.

“Having a hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible helps one decrease the chances of having liver cancer. Young girls being vaccinated against HBV prevents them from getting cervical cancer later in their lives. These are some of the simple things that can be done now to ensure that each and everyone stays away from NCDs,” he says.