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Is Modern Life Ruining Our Health?

Mobile Phone Addiction

Getting your fix can be a hard habit to break. How many times a day do you reach for your phone? Do you feel anxious without it? If so, you’re not alone. Diana James from Queensland University of Technology has studied problematic mobile phone use for many years and says that, although we depend on our phones, “constant connectivity is a big burden,” she explains.

“I call it emotional tethering you’re tethered to the phone and tethered to the technology and there’s no escape, which is both emotionally and physically draining.”

There are now more mobile phones in Australia than people, and when we start to rely on our phones as “adult pacifiers”, as one expert puts it, the health risks can be serious. Mobile phone users in James’ survey reported everything from dips in productivity to sleep deprivation (which is also linked to weight gain).

The jury is still out on whether mobile phones cause brain tumours (watch the video below for more), but some researchers insist children are more at risk.

Reduce Your Risk

By setting boundaries, says psychologist Jacqui Manning, from the Darling Street Health Centre in Sydney. “Establish a rule to switch your phone off at a certain time each night so you’re forced to have some wind-down time, instead of your brain always being ‘on-call’,” she explains, “and aim to switch it off or check it only once or twice on weekends, until that reduced usage becomes a habit.”

About 90 per cent of Australian children own a mobile phone by the time they’re 15, so if you’re a parent, you may also wish to limit your children’s mobile phone usage, says Manning.

H20 Hassles: Should We Bin the Bottled Water?

There’s been some hype about the dangers of plastics used in bottled water, babies’ bottles, cans and food containers, due to the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is an endocrine disrupter, and reports have suggested it may migrate into the contents of the plastic containers, and be passed onto us. The jury’s still out, but studies indicate low levels of BPA may have an effect on fertility, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is reviewing the levels.

Buy a glass or BPA-free water bottle instead of buying a bottle of water whenever you need one, says Massage. “I think we rely too much on bottled water, especially in Australia where we have very healthy tap water,” he says. Check out the range of bottles at www.bpa.freedrinkbottles.com.au.

Popping Pills

Health HabitsAre you taking medication instead of making crucial lifestyle changes? You’ve got a headache. Period pain. A sore knee. The flu. Before you can say Grey’s Anatomy, out comes the painkiller, a decongestant or a prescription antibiotic. We pop more than 40 million pills a day in this country, and medication use across Australia has risen 37 percent since 1993.

How much of that medication could be ditched if we made healthy lifestyle changes instead? A lot, predicts Dr Leon Massage. “Many medications only treat the symptoms and unless you absolutely have to soldier on, there might be better techniques to try first, like getting more rest, drinking more fluids, or taking the day off if you’re battling a cold or flu.

“Another common example of this involves drugs like Xenical a pricey weight-loss drug people take to give them diarrhoea if they eat too much fat. But Xenical only decreases fat absorption by 20 to 30 percent, so why not just lower your fat intake by that amount instead of eating a fatty meal, taking this drug, ending up on the toilet and paying for the privilege?”

Safe examples of weight loss supplements are HCG drops and Phen375. Both of these supplements are claimed to be made from natural ingredients which are at least safe for the human body.

By treating health issues with lifestyle changes, rather than just masking the symptoms with medication. Aim to take medication only when you absolutely need to and this includes antibiotics, which are abused by far too many people, warns Massage.

“Many GPs are put under pressure to prescribe antibiotics when patients don’t need them, which is causing a higher rate of antibiotic resistance. We’re reaching a stage where many antibiotics are becoming totally ineffective against the diseases they’re supposed to treat. So if you can avoid taking antibiotics, you should.”

Reverse Action

You can’t turn back the hands of time, but you can easily make amends by forming good health habits today.

Physical Inactivity

If you hate the idea of exercise, you’re at risk of so much more than getting fat, says exercise physiologist Dr Adam Fraser. “There’s a lot of research that highlights the impact of physical activity on chronic diseases, quality of life, longevity and even brain function,” he explains.

The good news: “Many of the health benefits of being physically active are immediate, ” Dr Fraser says. “They include improved sleep and mood, clearer thinking and an increase in energy levels.” He adds, “New research into the benefits of physical activity shows that finding an exercise you like and doing it regularly is the most important thing you can do for your health.”

What you can do: Aim for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week, but don’t despair if you can’t do that much. Any amount of exercise will be of massive benefit to your health, Dr Fraser says. Make a start and do whatever you can. Try to choose activities you enjoy, so you’re more likely to keep it up. For help, visit www.theglucoseclub.com.au or www.healthyactive.gov.au.

Smoking

Smoking is hazardous to your body and mind, and is linked to causing several diseases including cancer, heart disease and stroke. Giving up is the best thing you can do, even if it takes several attempts. The earlier you quit the easier it will be to reverse the damage but, according to Emma Dalglish from the Cancer Council Queensland’s tobacco program, it’s never too late to give up smoking.

The good news: “Some of the benefits are almost immediate,” Dalglish says. Within 24 hours you have more oxygen and less carbon monoxide in your bloodstream; after a year your risk of dying of heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker; and in ten years your risk of lung cancer is halved. After 15 years your risk of heart attack and stroke is almost the same as a non-smoker.

What you can do: “Make a plan and use a method of quitting that’s safe and effective for you,” advises Dalglish. “It’s always best to speak to a health professional or call the Quitline on 131 848 for advice regarding medication, nicotine replacement and other things that can help you quit.” For more information on how to quit smoking, see your GP or visit www.quitnow.info.au.

Binge Drinking

If you regularly drink to get drunk, you are risking your health and increasing your chances of brain, heart, digestive and liver diseases. The short-term effects of an excessive drinking session include impaired judgement, increased likelihood of accidental injury (other than car accident) increased blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and fatty liver, says DrinkWise spokesman Dr Andrew Rochford.

The good news: “Your liver is an amazing organ and, if you take action soon enough to reduce your alcohol intake, it will repair itself,” says Dr Rochford, who adds that you don’t have to quit drinking altogether. “Alcohol in low doses, especially red wine, has some proven health benefits for your heart and the social aspect of responsible drinking can also be good for your health.”

What you can do: The new Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol recommend both males and females drink a maximum of 2 regular drinks each day over their lifetime, and no more than four standard drinks on a single social occasion. See your GP for advice on how best to cut down or quit. Visit www.drinkwise.com.au or www.drinkingnightmare.gov.au

Yo-yo Dieting

If you’ve lost weight only to put it back on, you’re certainly not alone. Extreme or fad diets which allow you to shed kilos quickly can be very seductive, says Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA) spokeswoman Tania Ferraretto. But, they don’t work and they can damage your health, increasing your risk of obesity and all its associated health risks, such as heart disease and diabetes.

The good news: Even if your weight has fluctuated your entire life, it’s never too late to change your body for the better and for the long term. “The trick is to eat a diet sufficiently low in kilojoules to encourage slow weight loss as well as one that meets your nutritional needs. Aim to lose no more than 1kg a week,” Ferraretto says. “In a couple of days, you’ll begin to feel the benefits.”

What you can do: “Instead of thinking about how much weight you want to lose by next month or next week, think about how you would like to look and feel by next summer or this time next year,” Ferraretto advises. “Make changes you can sustain in the long term and keep working at it, even if it all appears to be moving too slowly.”

Are You Telling Yourself Health Lies?

Are you convincing yourself that you’re healthier than you are? Martha Grupta talks to the experts about why you need to come clean.

US medical website survey found that 13 percent of people lie to their doctor, while almost a third of patients admit to ‘stretching the truth’ with a GP. The most common lies involved following the doctor’s orders, sticking to an exercise routine or diet, smoking, how much alcohol people drank and whether they were using alternative therapies and supplements. But what sort of health lies do we tell ourselves?

I’ve only put on a bit of weight

Two in three Australian adults are overweight or obese, but the 2010 Zurich Heart Foundation Heart Health Index found one in eight overweight Australians believe they’re healthy and don’t need to change their lifestyle.

Many people don’t notice their weight gradually creeping up, says Dr Ronald McCoy of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. “People can gain a kilogram a year, which doesn’t seem a lot, but add that up over 20 years and it’s significant,” he says.

Dr Cate Lombard of the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health says every excess kilogram increases our risk of diabetes by three to four per cent. “If you don’t stop weight gain then women get to mid-life and menopause and have a much higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular and gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer,” she says. “Cutting out about 50 calories (220kJ) a day will stop weight gain in most cases.”

I get enough exercise weight

But how much exercise do you do regularly? And how much of it is exercise that gets your heart working and makes you sweat? Not only will regular exercise keep your heart healthy, it will also help take care of your bone strength, help reduce the risk of diabetes, and help manage your weight.

The 2010 Zurich Heart Foundation Heart Health Index found close to 60 per cent of Australians don’t do the recommended five sessions of 30 minutes of physical activity per week. But 47 per cent of people mistakenly thought they were getting enough exercise to protect their health.

“With an Australian dying every 22 minutes from heart disease, we need to find ways to help Australians to prioritise their own health,” says Dr Lyn Roberts, national chief executive officer of the Heart Foundation.

So keep a record of how much physical activity you do for a week and see how it adds up. If you’re not fitting in half an hour throughout the day, schedule it in your diary. Blocking out time in your diary makes it seem more of a priority.

A few glasses of red wine with dinner every night is fine weight

Yes, a moderate amount of red wine can be beneficial. Red wine contains resveratrol which appears to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. But experts agree that if you drink more than the recommended amount (two standard glasses of wine a day and have one or two alcohol free days each week) it may start doing you harm.

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver points out that about 22 per cent of breast cancer cases may be linked to alcohol. This is partly due to the toxic effects of ingredients in alcohol, but Olver says it may also be due to the negative impact on hormones involved in some breast cancers. Excess alcohol can also lead to weight gain, and obesity is associated with breast and bowel cancers.