According to the World Health Organization (2016), non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of global death. Collectively, they are responsible for a whopping 70% of all death globally. The 4 main NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases. Other NCDs include hypertension, obesity, alcohol and substance abuse, and the common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are also frequently referred as “lifestyle diseases”, because poor personal lifestyle choices are the major causes to the development of these diseases. Examples of lifestyles that are risk factors for developing NCDs are such as tobacco use, alcohol abuse, poor diet that are high in sugar, salt, saturated fats, and trans fats, and sedentary lifestyle. Another reason they are called “lifestyle diseases” is that majority of them are preventable illnesses with some lifestyle changes, such as increasing the level of physical activity, or moderating the consumption of certain kind of food.
NCDs are diseases that are slow to develop, usually over a long duration of a sustained lifestyle. Lifestyle choices that puts one at risks of developing NCDs are considered as non-sustainable lifestyles, not because it is an expensive lifestyle, but because the results of developing the NCDs would impair one from functioning at the optimum, and it poses a major economic burden to household and globally. And according to the World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health (2011), this burden will evolve over the next two decades, suggesting a cumulative output loss of US$47 trillion, with cardiovascular diseases and mental health being the dominant contributors to this global economic burden of NCDs.
To combat this epidemic that is plaguing our society, it is essential to devise a strategy for a sustainable lifestyle. Cultivating healthy behaviors is the key here. The execution of the strategy should prevent the world from moving into that direction, or even reversing the current health condition faced in the society.
So the question now is, what health behavior? If it is only one behavior that you are going to choose to cultivate as a start, it would definitely be wise to increase your physical activity. According to the World Health Organization (2016), “regular physical activity reduces the risk of ischemic heart diseases [which is a type of cardiovascular diseases], diabetes, breast, and colon cancer”. Regular physical activity also lowers the risk of stroke, hypertension, and depression, and, it is fundamental for energy balance and weight control. WHO recommended to engage in at least a cumulative of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week.
Apart from that, stress management could be another key. As shown by numerous studies, level of stress is positively correlated to many of the NCDs. Psychological and physical stresses change the chemicals and hormones in our body that are adaptive in a short term, but maladaptive when it is prolonged, which what the modern society is experiencing now. Therefore, it is wise to start examining your level of stress, and manage your stress by practicing certain stress management techniques.
A good news is exercise does help in management of stress if increasing your physical activity through exercise sounds appealing to you, thus helping you to hit two birds with one stone. Dr. Stephen S. Ilardi from the University of Kansas who studies therapeutic lifestyle changes and psychopathology, asserted that “exercise is medicine. Literally. Just like a pill, it reliably changes brain function by altering the activity of key brain chemicals and hormones”, reversing the effect of stress has on your body.
So why not start cultivating the behavior of exercise as the first step of your lifestyle change to a better and more sustainable health?