- Times have changed; a woman is no longer only the custodian of the home.
- The woman’s role and lifestyles have shifted to also a breadwinner.
As our lifestyles have evolved, there has been gradual shift in disease patterns, with an increased prevalence in non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These ‘lifestyle illnesses’ – hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, type two diabetes and cancer – are affecting more women in the region.
“We are seeing an increase of NCDs, overtaking the number of infectious diseases in the hospital,” says Dr Sam Nthenya, Nairobi Women’s Hospital Chief Executive Officer. According to nutritionist Veronica Mahiga, the East African woman is becoming increasingly modern, with her lifestyle and priorities shifting from the family and health to financial and self-empowerment.
This decreased focus on the family means the woman is becoming less concerned with her well-being, taking on various health risks. What could you be doing to risk your health?
1. Lack of exercise
Too much time spent sitting at the office or in front of the television and minimal physical exercise can be dangerous. Coupled with eating fatty, starchy or sugary foods, lack of exercise increases the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, depression and other lifestyle diseases. “More women are being employed into sedentary roles where there is little physical activity,” says Dr Thenya.
Mahiga says the body needs regular exercise to function optimally. “The amount of exercise depends on the person and their schedule, but generally 20-40 minutes a day, or three to five times a week is advisable,” she recommends.
Both professionals recommend a combination of exercise, healthy diet, plenty of water and consistency as the rule of thumb for healthy well-being.
2. Not drinking enough water
The importance of drinking water can never be over-stated. Doctors and dieticians alike recommend a minimum intake of eight glasses of water a day. Too little water may lead to dehydration, which affects all bodily functions. Severe dehydration can cause death. Drinking water and exercising go hand in hand, says Mahiga. Drinking plenty of water will keep you feeling and looking great.
3. Eating too much salt
It is the cheapest and most easily available product and has an encyclopaedia of uses around the home. Most commonly used in the kitchen and on the dining table to add flavour to food, salt is a great and versatile seasoning if used properly. Taken in excess, however, salt can have dangerous health risks. Its high intake has been linked to increased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases, diabetes as well as kidney stones – a common problem, caused by a buildup of calcium in the kidneys.
According to Mahiga, too much salt in the diet also causes us to retain water causing our bodies to bloat. Women who suffer from bloating may see a benefit from salt reduction.
4. Extreme dieting
If you want to lose some weight, just try out that new diet where you starve all day and only eat proteins. Wrong! This common misconception about weight loss has misled countless of women and exposed them to various risks.
Extreme dieting has serious physical and mental consequences. Physically, the effects are fatigue, malnutrition, seizures and weight gain after the dieting. The mental include irritability, depression and vulnerability to other eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia. “Those extreme diets are neither effective nor realistic,” says the nutritionist, saying that when the diet is ‘over’ the weight creeps back on again. “Don’t be afraid of food, snack often. Consider every little thing that goes into your body and make it count,” advises Mahiga, adding that she uses a mix-and-match philosophy to her nutrition.
Smoking is another not-so-great habit and more women are picking it up. We have been drilled with the harmful effects of smoking for both men and women, with causal links between tobacco use, lung damage, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Some evidence even suggests an elevated smoking risk among women.
A 2011 study published in Harvard University’s Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who smoke are more likely to develop breast cancer than women who never picked up the habit. Researchers added that the risk was greatest among women who started smoking as teenagers and who kept it up for over 35 years – they were four times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Other risks include gum disease, rheumatoid arthritis and decreased bone density in older women, among others. There is only one solution to reducing the risks of smoking; that is to willingly kick the habit – there are plenty of ways to help one do so including nicotine gums, patches, electric cigarettes and medication.
6. Drinking alcohol excessively
There are some schools of thought that say moderate alcohol use may provide some health benefits, to the tune of reducing the risk of heart disease. This comes as a mixed message considering all the health risks involved with drinking alcohol. Although alcohol consumption has risks for both men and women, studies have shown that alcohol affects women differently than men.
Heavy alcohol consumption affects the entire body and can contribute to ailments such as high blood pressure, sleeping problems, depression, alcoholism, heart failure, bone density problems and poor nutrition, especially in older women. “It is unfortunate that there is not much awareness of the effects of alcohol in women, especially long term effects like osteoporosis,” says Mahiga.
A woman’s ability to get pregnant is also put in jeopardy and drinking during pregnancy can have serious harmful consequences on the unborn child. No amount of alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy. “Alcohol crosses the placental barrier and affects the baby in the uterus. If taken continuously during pregnancy, the baby may be born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome,” says Nthenya. Women who drink may also increase their risk of brain damage and certain cancers.
Some women, often between ages 45–65 are known to take low doses of aspirin as a preventive treatment for heart disease. A study published in the online journal Heart, revealed that aspirin does more harm than good by posing serious health risks to women.
The study found that in the majority of women who do not have heart disease, taking a low-dose aspirin treatment is not only ineffective but even harmful over the years. This is because of an increased risk of major gastrointestinal bleeding in the oesophagus, stomach, intestines or rectum which can lead to hospitalisation and require blood transfusion. Safer ways to protect your heart are through getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.
8. Microwaving in plastic
The microwave can be found in most urban households and has revolutionised cooking by speeding up the process. Often, when heating food in the microwave we are not mindful of the dish we use. Using plastics to warm up food in the microwave has been found to be a dangerous health risk because of the chemicals found in plastic. The chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been linked to cancer, premature puberty, birth defects and more. Heating plastics in the microwave may cause the BPA to leak into whatever you’re warming up.
Remember to use glass, ceramic or microwave safe dishes to reduce the health risks caused from the chemicals contained in plastics. Choose to get fit, keep hydrated, minimise the salt, eat and drink healthy and mindfully. Prevention is the cure, so why not invest in some microwave-safe equipment to keep you and yours protected.