COMMITTING TO A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE

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By Virginia Mzuzu Kwizombe

COMMITTING TO A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE

A healthy lifestyle is a way of living that helps you to enjoy all aspects of your life; physical, mental and social wellbeing. In this aspect “Health is not just the absence of disease”.  Below are some attainable healthy lifestyle resolutions you can make to keep you on track for better health all year.

  1.  Commit to doing More Physical Exercise

Physical activity is necessary to stimulate the body’s own natural maintenance and repair system. Our bones, joints, muscles – especially heart will actually stay younger if we keep them busy. 

Physical activity will not only keep you in shape, but also has long term health benefits such as increased protection from heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes, which are increasingly becoming diseases of major public health concern in Malawi.  Physical activity improves overall health well-being and is therefore not only important for those people who are overweight, but for people of all weight ranges and health conditions. 

The good thing is that we don’t have to be top athletes to get on the move! The World Health Organization recommends that a person should do 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, and this can easily become part of our daily routine.  Some ways of incorporating this could be:

  • Instead of taking kabanza walk for 30 mins to your home or get off the minibus some stops away from your home. 
  • Instead of driving to the shop or church take a walk instead.
  • Go for a walk during lunch breaks (and stretch in our offices in between)
  • Make time for a family weekend activity
  • Schedule daily morning or evening 30 minutes walks/jogs 

To ensure sustainability pick an activity you like; walking, running or dancing, and Remember: The only bad  exercise is the  exercise you won’t do!

  • Commit to eating a healthy diet based on a variety of foods 

A healthy diet includes aspects of nutrient adequacy, dietary balance and moderation. For good health, we need more than 40 different nutrients, and no single food can supply them all, and hence the best way to ensure that you are eating everything that your body needs is to eat a variety of foods.

Malawi promotes the six food group model for a healthy diet, which comprises; starch, legumes, vegetables, fruits, fats, animal sources.  However, in actuality Malawian diets are dominated by the staple food group which is made up of cereals (mainly maize), thus deficient of essential nutrients.  Eating a variety of foods, regularly, and in the right amounts is the best formula for a healthy diet.  Moreover, it is not about a single meal, it is about a balanced food choice over time that will make a difference.

Fruits and vegetables are among the most important foods for giving us enough vitamins, minerals and fibre.  It is advised that we should try to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Commit to putting more fresh fruits and vegetables on your plate. This can include for example: a banana at breakfast, an apple/mango/guava/pawpaw and a piece of watermelon as snacks, and a good portion of different vegetables at each meal. This is especially doable by taking advantage of the fruits and vegetables in season.

For good health, commit to select foods that are low in sugar- e.g. rethink that bottle of soft drink and drink water instead. A bottle of soft drink has over 150 calories, and over 7 teaspoons of sugar. Many people drink a lot of their daily calories without realizing it, which over time can lead to a lot of added weight. Even 100% fruit juice has just as many calories as soft drinks, thus it is better to eat a whole fruit, or limit juice consumption to 200mls per day. Sugary foods and drinks are high in energy, and hence best enjoyed in moderation, as an occasional treat. 

All in all, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a balancing act between nutrition and physical activity. If we burn off calories as much as we eat through our daily activities and exercising, we will remain in balance, or keep a constant weight. On the other side, if we eat more calories than we burn in a day, we’ll gain weight.  The message is reasonably simple: if we are gaining weight, we need to eat less and be more active!

Gradual changes in our lifestyle are easier to maintain than major changes introduced all at once.  As an action to jump start your healthy habits do the following: For three days, write down the foods and drinks you consume throughout the day, and make a note of the amount of physical activity you have made. Spot where you could improve. Start now! And keep changing gradually.

About the Writer

Virginia Mzunzu Kwizombe, holds a masters degree in Health Promotion from the University of Brighton UK.