Are our lifestyles killing us? According to Stats SA’s most recent report on Mortality and Causes of Death, they may just be, with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stress-related ailments among the leading killers of South Africans.
This is borne out by the Global Wellness Index, published earlier this year by investment firm LetterOne, which placed South Africa last out of 151 nations evaluated, below the likes of Ukraine, Egypt and Iraq. As a country, we scored especially poorly on obesity, alcohol consumption, blood pressure, diabetes, activity levels and happiness measures.
The Stats SA’s report says that in South Africa, 46 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men older than 15 have hypertension, or high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and death. Like diabetes, hypertension is caused or exacerbated by poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol consumption.
The good news is that it’s fairly easy to make small lifestyle changes that can make us healthier and happier, says Jessica Beattie, Brand Manager and Strategist at FMI, a division of Bidvest Life Ltd. These changes can help avoid stress-related diseases and burn-out, which has just been recognised as a medical condition by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers.
“FMI has long felt that life insurance companies should help South Africans improve the quality of their lives – changing the current association with death cover, to focus on living insurance,” explains Beattie. “By stepping in to provide those earners with a monthly income should they be unable to work due to an injury or illness, they can at least continue to maintain their lifestyle and go on impacting those around them.”
Ultimately, our lifestyles define our health. Every small shift in our behavior results in long term benefits both physically and mentally.
FMI’s 6 tips to make SA happier (and avoid burn-out):
- Take time to relax. We’re so busy trying to get ahead that we forget to rest. This causes stress, which in turn causes health problems like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, depression and obesity. Regular exercise is a great natural stress reliever, but even taking 10 minutes doing something you love – listening to music, reading a good book, or relaxing with family, friends and pets – helps beat the pace of everyday life and bring our nervous system back to balance.
- Get more sleep. The research is clear on this: adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a night to function properly. Any less than that, and you’re not only going to be slower at work, but you’re raising your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Try getting to bed even 15 minutes earlier a night – and stick to a regular sleep pattern, even over weekends.
- Get your body – and mind – moving. Find ways to move more. You don’t have to rush out and join a gym. Going for a meeting 2 floors up? Take the stairs. Quick grocery shop? Take a stroll if you can. Catching up with friends? Do it over a takeaway coffee and a morning walk. And mentally challenging activities, like reading, Sodoku and playing chess, keep your brain healthy and lower your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Watch what you eat. Here again, small changes make a big difference: replace one sugary a drink a day with a glass of water, and try replacing a packet of chips with a handful of nuts or an apple. Sneak a few extra veggies into your diet, like some red pepper on your sandwich and some spinach in your stew, and you’re making a good start.
- Have that glass of red wine. We all know the stories about red wine being good for your heart. The good news is that it’s true – it helps to protect against certain cancers, anxiety and depression as well. Just don’t go overboard here.
- Make smarter financial decisions. A huge part of our stress is related to money – or the lack thereof. Separate out your flat monthly fees (like rent and medical bills) and break your lifestyle costs into 2-week chunks (ie: food and entertainment costs) so you can keep track of your impulse spend more easily. When it comes to bigger life decisions such as choosing an insurer, make sure that you’re covering the right risks.