I was recently fascinated by a medical essay titled ‘Death is not the enemy’. The essay was pretty candid about human death being normal, and an inescapable finality.
But the author, a prolific medical writer, didn’t stop there. He went on to spell out things that shouldn’t be regarded as normal. Premature death, disability, pain, prolongation of dying, and human suffering are the real enemies according to him. And he thinks all those things are avoidable.
Premature death is defined by WHO as death before the age of 70. But that age is dependent on many factors, from socio-economics to the ready availability of health services. There is however a commonality that is ubiquitous in the overall effect of longevity, and that is human behaviour. Humans appear to have an almost inexplicable attraction to harmful habits, eventually ending up with suffering and premature deaths.
Hazardous substances are all over the place. Think of tobacco, hard drugs, alcohol, sugar, processed foods, fast cars and bikes, and all manner of gadgetry that tick our fancy. Think then of the association of all that with avoidable diseases and injuries. There is an almost fatal attraction to risky behaviour and the consequent ill health.
The choice of health and longevity is easy. Avoid toxins (think smoking and drinking as obvious examples). Eat healthier, meaning fresh foods, fruits and veggies in plenty, and less animal and processed foods. Stay socially connected for overall well-being.
Be physically active and maintain a healthy weight. All that will limit your risks for chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer, which eventually may kill you prematurely. Your behaviour must also include vigilance for health conditions that can be detected early and tamed. Stay up to date with recommended screening tests for various diseases, even when you feel healthy.
There are plenty of screening tests for various cancers and other chronic metabolic diseases. Don’t ignore unusual and recurring symptoms, get checked soonest possible. Make sure to have health insurance, or easily accessible health funds to facilitate access to quality healthcare.
In the end, it’s all about choices. Freedom of choice can surely lead you to the most unhealthy pathway, and to premature death. But the opposite is also true. The medical essayist I quoted earlier posits that premature or late death are calculable outcome. And personal choices play a big role.
Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist.