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.