a civil society alliance for combatting chronic disease in the caribbean

Healthy Caribbean Coalition - 'Love that body, make it last'

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First Published Jamaica Observer Monday, September 13, 2010 - JEAN LOWRIE-CHIN

It was painful to hear our alarm go off at 5:45 am last Saturday. Crawling out of bed, we headed to Emancipation Park for a session with Tai Chi Master Stewart Maxwell. To our surprise the Park was a hive of activity - lots of folks were walking, jogging and stretching, a vision of active contentment. At the end of class we felt refreshed and finally happy to greet the day - those endorphins had kicked in.

We owe it to ourselves to be as well as we can possibly be. It is a part of our education that we have not emphasised enough, a shortcoming that can have serious implications for regional health care budgets as our population is rapidly greying. Three years ago, Caribbean Wellness Day was announced as one of the mandates of Caricom Heads of Government coming out of their landmark Summit on Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in 2007. It is now observed annually on the second Saturday of September. This year's theme is "Love that body, make it last".

Chronic NCDs include diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and cancer, which account for 60 per cent of deaths worldwide and are reported to be the leading causes of death, disability and illness in the Caribbean. In a region where we have an abundance of wholesome food crops and excellent weather, we should not be suffering from diseases which are largely brought on by poor diet, insufficient exercise and too few hours of sleep.

But let us take a closer look at our Jamaican society and see how some of our social issues affect our health. One overweight single mother admitted that from work to home, to housework and homework, she dealt with her stress by eating. A senior citizen has watched her once peaceful neighbourhood become a nightmare of night noises - now she hardly gets a good night's sleep. So afraid are we of the criminals in our midst that we will drive the shortest of distances to the corner store., instead of just walking as we used to do.

Illiteracy and misplaced values result in poor health management, and malnourished children. Nurses at the Bustamante Hospital for Children say that the condition of some of our children can be heartbreaking. They are fed the crumbs from the tables of greedy relatives who "bling out" on remittances from the children's parents.

As we became excited about FNO - a great concept to boost business, let us put our minds to attractive programmes that will help us to take control of our health. Kudos to Jamaica Producers for their campaign to promote the consumption of our delicious local bananas and the National Health Fund for their wise messages.

We are lucky that Jamaica, perhaps, has the healthiest fast-food chains, carrying vegetarian items and home-grown ingredients. However, I have heard that the crusts of our delicious patties contain animal fat - I hope this is not true.

Health management is important, and we welcome the introduction of the health ministry's passport for children in which their immunisation history can be entered. I also wish mothers of young children would desist from wearing those long, unhygienic nails - have you ever seen a nurse or a chef with nails that long? Take a hint!

In honour of Caribbean Wellness Day, allow me to share with you some important tips from those two gurus of good health, Prof Denise Eldemire Shearer and Dr Anthony Vendryes. This information was presented at a Wellness Seminar for the members of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) (see this and Tai Chi demo at www.ccrponline.org).

Professor Eldemire Shearer described healthy ageing as "the ongoing activities and behaviours you undertake to reduce the risk of illness and disease and increase your physical, emotional and mental health."

She recommended, "Maintaining mental and physical health, avoiding disorders or disease and remaining active and independent." This last point helped me to respect the lifestyle choices of my octogenarian mother.

Professor Eldemire Shearer advised that "chronic disease which is manifest in adult life is the result of exposure to risk factors, the major ones being tobacco, alcohol, high-fat diet and low levels of exercise." She spoke of "the incredible ability of cells to survive, cellular repair systems and the fact that we can impact our ageing process".

"There are certain healthy habits that will influence healthy ageing," said Professor Eldemire Shearer. "These are: following a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and staying mentally active."

She quoted Garson Kanin: "Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art."

Dr Vendryes warned that "we are digging our graves with our teeth," and said that we should reduce abdominal fat. "Shape can be more important than weight," he said, pointing out that the fat in the abdomen could be more dangerous than fat on the thighs.

Exercise is important. "Use it or lose it!" counselled Dr Vendryes. "Exercise complements nutrition, has physical and emotional benefits and slows the ageing process." He recommended both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise, advising us to "start slowly, be consistent, enjoy what you do."

Dr Vendryes says wellness demands that we cleanse our bodies of poisons such as "cigarette smoke, alcohol, drugs (legal and otherwise), chemicals and pollutants. These toxins hasten ageing."

He urged proper stress management. "Stress is not a person or situation, it is a reaction or response," he explained. "It is the enemy within and it accelerates ageing. To manage stress, you should learn to know your stress reaction and learn the relaxation response."

Let us promise ourselves to make wellness a priority - the payback is endurance, productivity, and a positive outlook on life. To pursue wellness is the manifestation of your love for your family, your effort to be in your best condition so you can be fully "there" when they need you. Dr Vendryes quoted Hippocrates' age-old saying: "Your health is your greatest wealth."




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