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Be true to yourself

As 2018 is around the corner, some introspection on how to improve your life is not out of place

Be true to yourself

A new year is upon us. Nothing much will change as the clock tick tocks past the midnight hour on the last day of December. Everything will be the same as it was a few moments earlier except that it will be a new year. But most of us with the time and the inclination for such things will have come up with some new ‘new year’s resolutions’.

The obvious purpose of such resolutions is to hopefully change us and make us into better people. Better is of course a relative term. For people that have the capacity for introspection, there is always something that can be improved upon. This improvement can be about all sorts of things but most people make resolutions that are about health issues and or about social and professional issues. And yes most people would like to look better and feel better and if possible even work better.

Since I am not in the business of giving moral advice so I will restrict myself to one statement that might be considered as advice related to morality. Before we can pursue any method to make us better we have to be truthful about the person looking back at us in the mirror.

Many New Year’s resolutions are about health. It is important to have a good idea about your ‘present’ state of health before attempting any drastic changes in your life-style.

For any resolutions to be successfully carried out, they must be based on truthful self-assessment. Then that perhaps is the first resolution we should all make: Be true to yourself. And I will say that truth if it becomes a habit, it can change us and those around us for ‘the better’.

Many New Year’s resolutions are about health. It is important to have a good idea about your ‘present’ state of health before attempting any drastic changes in your life-style. For ‘older’ people, it is important to know what if anything is wrong. So for starters get a medical checkup and appropriate blood tests including those for Hepatitis C. Most medical problems if detected early can be treated very effectively. ‘Early detection’ is one of the most important points all physicians stress.

This is particularly true of most types of cancer. There are some common cancers for which early detection is quite possible. These include breast and cervical cancer in women, colon cancer that can be detected by colonoscopy (a look into the large intestine) and prostate cancer in men that can be detected by a blood test (PSA). Even though it is not a major problem in our part of the world, skin cancer is also easy to detect and treat in its early stages.

High blood pressure and diabetes (high blood sugar) are two problems that are quite common in Pakistan. Both don’t make us feel sick until it is much too late. And both of these conditions are easy to detect early and easy to treat early. And interestingly the two things that help in controlling both these conditions are probably on almost every to-do resolution list for the New Year. These of course are, exercise (more?) and lose weight.

In coronary artery disease (heart artery blockages) that is the commonest cause of death in adults; many different situations can predispose a person to this problem. These include inherited tendency, abnormal amounts of fat in the blood, obesity, high blood sugar, smoking, high blood pressure and possibly what we eat. In other words, control or ‘modification’ of many of these different factors can decrease the possibility of developing this problem. Here I want to say that even if all of the above issues are controlled or even absent, artery blockages can still occur though less frequently.

People that have a greater risk of developing these blockages particularly include people that have diabetes, high blood pressure and a high amount of bad cholesterol in the blood. Many such people will benefit from the regular use of special medicines to lower blood cholesterol levels and keep them low. These medicines are called ‘statins’. And yes, an aspirin a day also does keep the doctor away.

So now to what most people really want to know about. First, how to lose weight and, second, about exercise. About losing weight, slow and steady is the way to go. Binge diets work but any weight loss from them is almost always temporary. My advice about these fad diets that promise a lot of weight loss over a short period of time is that these should only be used before important functions like marriage. That reminds me of a cartoon I saw many years ago. A woman looking ‘gorgeous’ in her wedding dress is thinking to herself, now I can eat whatever I want.

Most successful weight loss programmes are really about changing the way we eat. The bottom line is very simple. It is all about calories we consume and the calories we use up. If the calories we consume are more than what we need, the extra calories will be stored in our body as fat. And if we use up more calories than we consume, we will lose weight. In essence the only real way to lose weight is to eat less. Exercise is only of marginal help in weight loss but a major factor in better overall health.

About exercise, two basic points. First, if you haven’t really been very active for a while, before starting a vigorous exercise programme do get yourself checked out. This might include getting a heart ‘stress test’. Second, as far as basic improvement in health is concerned a brisk half an hour ‘walk’ five times a week is probably good enough. But more strenuous exercise has other benefits that include the possibility that it might prolong life. For ordinary mortals, expensive ‘gym subscriptions’ are rarely used and are probably a total waste of money.

Some fifty years ago, ‘new agers’ were into things like meditation or what was sarcastically referred to as ‘navel gazing’. Today it is back but is now called ‘being ‘mindful’. So stuff like being mindful and of course that old standard, yoga are back again. And since all the ‘new agers’ are now old agers and experts, these things have become quite accepted. Do they help? If nothing else they definitely make stress more tolerable.

Many if not all cigarette smokes resolve every year to give up smoking. More people will get sick or die from diseases that are related to cigarette smoking than almost any other type of addiction. Cigarettes are extremely difficult to give up. Electronic cigarettes (vaping) might be a better alternative from a health perspective and there is some evidence that vaping might help people give up cigarettes altogether. It is also important to realise that smoking is not only bad for the smokers but also is bad for the people around them including spouses and children.

About alcohol, there is no evidence that occasional or ‘moderate’ drinking is bad for health. But the transition from moderate to excessive is often just a drink away. For this reason a resolution to give up drinking is not a bad idea. As far as addicts that use ‘hard’ drugs are concerned, I think few of them are amenable to New Year resolutions.

Syed Mansoor Hussain

syed mansoor hussain
The author has served as Professor and Chairman, Department of Cardiac Surgery, King Edward Medical University.

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