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Here are some health tips for the holidays

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By LUKOYE ATWOLI
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Kenyans love a party. Anyone with any amount of resources will over the next week or so be demonstrating their purchasing power and hosting family and friends for food and drink.

Indeed a few weeks ago Kenyans were ranked among the most generous people in the world. We do not spare any effort in putting on a celebration, and Christmas and New Year holidays are the high points of partying in this country.

My message this Sunday is simple. Over the past few years, as our life expectancy has gradually increased, the complexion of the burden of disease in this country has also evolved.

By 2013, about a third of the years lost to disability due to illness were attributed to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Today it is estimated that these disorders, including cancer and mental disorders like depression, are the leading cause of morbidity in this country.

Numerous studies have been conducted, and the evidence is mounting that implicates a number of modifiable risk factors for these chronic conditions.

The most obvious risk factors are related to substance use, with alcohol and tobacco being linked to the development of numerous chronic diseases.

These holidays are characterised by plenty of time spent using substances of our choice with various formulations of alcohol and tobacco products being the most popular.

Unfortunately, these substances are also directly linked to conditions such as cancers, liver and kidney disease, mental disorders, and disorders of the digestive and respiratory tracts.

Another risk factor for chronic disease is inadequate physical activity. During holidays we tend to sit for a long time as we indulge in our favourite pastimes. Studies have linked long periods of inactivity to a variety of chronic conditions especially heart disease and mental disorders.

A fixed regimen of physical activity, such as a brisk 20-to-30-minute walk every day, can significantly reduce one’s risk of chronic illness and improve overall physical and mental health.

A final factor that must be exposed in the chronic disease causation chain is diet. During holiday seasons we tend to eat lots of meat, lots of fat, lots of sugar and carbohydrates, and, for some people, lots of salt.

All these have a role to play in increasing the risk of chronic disease, and experts recommend moderate intakes of these foods, with higher intake of vegetables and fruits as well as whole grain.

Our overindulgence over the holidays might cause changes in our physical and mental health that will be difficult to reverse in the new year.

We all have to become aware of the chronic disease risk factors and do all in our power to minimise their impact on our health status. We must avoid tobacco at all costs, minimise alcohol use, ensure adequate physical exercise, and have a balanced diet. These holidays are a good time to try out healthier lifestyles with the intention of maintaining them in the new year.

This will not only guarantee a more enjoyable holiday season, but also set you up for a healthier life going forward. Happy holidays!

Atwoli is an associate professor of psychiatry and dean, Moi University School of Medicine. [email protected]

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