Reaching your ideal body weight, getting regular exercise, quittingaddictions, improving relationships and having a positive attitude to life will slash your risk of some of life’s most preventable diseases.
But don’t be reluctant to visit the doctor or pop pills if you need them, either.
This is some of the advice in a new book, 5 Stages Of Health (Random House), by cardiologist Dr Ross Walker, which outlines the five stages of health and the chances for improvement within them.
Genetics can quite simply be a case of bad luck. But in many instances, Walker says, the gene loads the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.
So being aware of your family history and pre-empting the onset of disease is crucial. “You need to think about your family history and, if there is a trend, get checked,” Walker says.
“We can now screen people for all the common diseases. It’s very accurate, not that expensive and doesn’t involve huge buckets of radiation.”
Walker says while you can’t change your genes, you can change the effects of your genes on your body by making lifestyle modifications, taking certain therapeutic drugs and, in some cases, vitamins.
By the age of 40, you need to see a GP and have your blood pressure taken and cholesterol and blood sugars tested, along with other relevant gender-specific checks.
If you are generally healthy, have a major check-up at the age of 50, including a calcium score of your coronary arteries,
a colonoscopy, osteoperosis check and the usual breast cancer and gynaecological screenings.
“Most diseases are preventable,” Walker says. “You can’t screen everybody, you can’t pick up every disease, but you can pick up most diseases in most people.”
Most of us live in cities, where pollution can have dire health consequences such as increased rates of asthmaand other respiratory illnesses. So the last thing you want to do is compound the problem by smoking.
But Walker says synthetic chemicals and electro-magnetic radiation can also pose problems, such as excessive use of X-rays or CT scans and spending too much time on a mobile phone.
“We’re exposed to this background electro-magnetic radiation and we’re not really sure what effect that’s having on our body,” Walker says. He says it is even worth keeping computers, TVs and wiring out of the bedroom.
Quoting Albert Einstein, Walker says, “Nothing’s a more certain sign of insanity than to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.”
He says many people don’t attribute their ailing health to life stresses.
Lifestyle stresses occur, but it is the way we handle our emotions that counts, Walker says.
“So change your situation or, more importantly, change your attitude to the situation. There are certain things in life that are deal breakers but there are other things where you can resolve your issue with your partner, your children, your employer.
“You can always do something about stress. It’s not thestress but the way you handle it that’s important.”
No manner of herbs, vitamins or complementary medicine will help certain diseases, so when they strike, orthodox drugs are the way to go, Walker says.
“I’m a great supporter of complementary medicine, but if you look at the breakdown, you get 70 per cent of good health from how you look after yourself.
“I’d say five per cent comes from complementary medicine and the other 25 per cent comes from evidence-based orthodox medicine. Rely on lifestyle principles but also orthodox medicine.”
Walker admits this is a contentious area but believes there is some higher purpose in life. “It’s the importance of seeing life symbolically. So if something happens, rather than saying, ‘Poor me’, ask, ‘What is this trying to teach me?’”
But he says you need to also manage your mind as part of your overall health strategy.
“If you put the five strategies together, you’ll be healthier and happier and your life will have more meaning,” he says.
“See every day of your life as an opportunity for self-improvement. If you ever reach perfection it’s the end of the game. Every day you’ve got to wake up and press the reset button. Don’t set a timeframe.”