How can you live an extra 10 healthy years? How can you prevent and fight cancer? Do you know if you have heart disease, and, if so, what you can do about it?
The first three sessions of my monthly series on health care addressed these questions.
Each event began with an hour-long presentation from three to four health experts, with a second hour dedicated to questions and answers. The sessions are providing value to the community, but since not everyone can attend in person, I would like to share some of the key advice provided by the panelists.
Many non-communicable diseases, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, share similar risk factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, obesity, raised blood pressure and blood glucose.
Of particular concern to Dr. Marjorie Docherty is the increase in childhood obesity as well as inactivity and poor diet in children. She recommended avoiding juices or sweetened drinks, limiting non-schoolwork related "screen time" to less than one hour per day, and getting one hour of physical activity every day. For adults, she advised a minimum of 200 minutes of cardio exercise a week. She encouraged both adults and children to consume five veggie and three fruit portions per day, along with smaller plate sizes and decreased carbohydrate portions.
Dr. Larry Goldenberg asked us to learn all we can about the risks and benefits of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening for prostate cancer. He also recommended a heart-healthy lifestyle to decrease your chances of developing prostate cancer, colon cancer, dementia, breast cancer and other illnesses.
UBCO professor Joan Bottorff reminded us that reducing or quitting smoking is the single-most important thing anyone can do to add years of healthy living to their lives. Tobacco use is the biggest cause of preventable diseases and premature death in Canada. It is never too late to quit smoking.
Dr. Islam Mohammed turned the focus back to diet by recommending we increase consumption of vegetables and reduce meat and carbs. He also advised that getting your vitamins and other nutrients from whole foods is better for you than getting them from supplements.
We know that physical activity, good nutrition and maintaining a healthy body weight will reduce the risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, depression, diabetes, osteoporosis and about 20 per cent of cancers. Those healthy choices in life, even when those illnesses are present, can provide significant beneficial effects, and in some cases, reduce the need for medications.
Dr. Ron Cridland advised us not to wait for symptoms to occur before we do anything about it. A heart attack or sudden death often occurs without symptoms, and then it may be too late. Prevention is best, but he says if you do develop heart disease, don't just treat it - reverse it.
By changing to a healthier diet, getting physically active and quitting smoking, we could reduce cases of type 2 diabetes by 90 per cent, coronary heart disease by 80 per cent and cancers globally by one third.
Helping people prevent and reduce these common factors is why the ActNow BC program was created and why government continues to support the BC Healthy Living Alliance. Programs like the BC School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program, the expansion of smoke-free measures, and improving access to affordable fresh produce in all B.C. communities are also helping.
Recognizing that everyone is different and requires a unique plan to help eat better, exercise more and avoid unhealthy activities, I would like to share what works for me.
You've probably seen cigarette packages with shocking pictures. These are intended to remind us of the potential damage we are doing to our bodies and health by choosing to smoke.
Borrowing a page from the smoking campaign, I went online and downloaded a picture of an almost fully clogged artery and made it the wallpaper on my smart phone's home page. Every time I use my phone, I am reminded of the potential cumulative impact of individual decisions to eat poorly.
I can tell you, it has worked wonders.
I've replaced breakfast sandwiches with oatmeal and fruit. Instead of a burger and fries for lunch, I choose a turkey sandwich and salad, and that extra brownie no longer sees the inside of my stomach. I am lighter, stronger and healthier.
Prevention is working for me - I encourage you to share with others what works for you.
The overarching theme presented by most of our experts is that our health is mostly in our hands. It's never too early or too late to start - so start now.
My fourth panel on health topics, entitled Whole Person Approach to Prevention & Treatment of Chronic Illness will take place Feb. 16, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Rutland, at the Pearson Road Elementary School. I hope to see you there.
The fifth session, in March, will focus on the end of life. Speakers will talk about the different stages of dying, share stories on how different families and individuals prepare and experience death, and what we can do, as families, to prepare for this stage.
The sixth session, in April, will look at the future of health care. I've invited some health economists and industry experts to share their thoughts on where health care is going and how we can best accommodate the needs of our growing and aging population.
Norm Letnick is the MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country and a PhD candidate with UBC in health economics. He is also B.C.'s minister of agriculture.