We may not be able to live forever, but with smart lifestyle choices, it’s possible to reduce our risk of chronic illnesses and extend our lifespans. We invite Cheong Pak Leng, a medical expert in Macao, to share a few tips to maintain our physical and mental health.
Macao has one of the longest life expectancies globally, with men living 80.8 years and women 86.7 years on average, according to data platform Statista. But many health concerns – stress, anxiety, drinking, overeating – that have long plagued modern metropolises around the world have taken root, leading to an increase in chronic diseases in Macao.
Diabetes, for example, rose by 7.7 per cent from 2012 to 2016. Likewise, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and various types of cancer are also on the rise, according to a 2019 report by the Commission for the Prevention and Control of Chronic Diseases. Such illnesses can dramatically reduce your lifespan: lung cancer, for instance, was the leading cause of death in Macao in for the past 10 years.
While some health issues are genetic, lifestyle factors can play a role in managing your risk factors. To guide those who want to extend their twilight years, or simply lead as healthy a life as possible, we asked Cheong Pak Leng, an assistant professor at Kiang Wu Nursing College of Macau, to weigh in.
How can Macao residents avoid chronic diseases and live a longer, healthier life? Cheong offers six essential tips:
1. Get moving for heart health
“According to the World Health Organization, a healthy adult should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity [such as brisk walking and swimming] or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity [such as running and aerobic dancing] each week,” says Cheong.
“These activities get your heart rate up and improve cardiorespiratory fitness, which helps maintain a moderate weight and reduces the risk of diabetes and stroke. You can start by setting a reachable goal then gradually work up towards the recommended amount.”
2. Eat whole foods
“In Macao, street food and beverages that may be bad for our health are everywhere. For instance, bubble tea generally has a high sugar content and contains considerable calories. If you consume it regularly, you could put yourself at risk of obesity. Meanwhile, popular cuisine such as spicy hot pot and skewers are high in salt and fat. Excessive intake will increase the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
“Therefore, we need to be more selective about what we eat. I’d recommend making a few diet changes to improve your health: Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, such as bubble tea and soft drinks. Eat the right amount of fruit and vegetables.
“Opt for whole grain rice such as brown rice and wild rice – unlike white rice, their bran and germ [the parts of the grain densest in nutrients] retain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. With a more balanced, clean diet, you can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and bowel cancer.”
3. Avoid tobacco and alcohol
“Many studies have linked alcohol and tobacco to chronic health issues, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In the case of alcohol, I do not believe in ‘healthy’ drinking. Alcohol has been classified as Group 1 carcinogen and can cause ongoing harm to our health.
“And there is still a lot of controversy surrounding the studies about how alcohol [like red wine] can improve health. Therefore, if you do not have the habit of drinking anyways, don’t start it.
“We should also be aware of the impact of smoking because it is harmful not only to the smokers. Non-smokers exposed to second- and third-hand smoke may also inhale nicotine and toxic chemicals the same way smokers do. This can also increase the risk of developing cancer.”
4. Schedule regular medical check-ups
“If doctors detect a chronic disease early, they can arrange prompt treatment and prevent diseases from progressing. For example, when colorectal cancer is found early before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 per cent.
“Therefore, we need to pay close attention to our physical health condition and monitor various health indicators such as weight, blood glucose and blood pressure. These measures are extremely important for the prevention and early detection of chronic diseases. If you haven’t done any of these yet, get started now.”
5. Invest in your mental health
“Living a healthy life doesn’t merely mean living without diseases. It’s an integrated state of physical, mental and social wellbeing. Therefore, in addition to our physical health, we should be more attentive to our mental and emotional needs.
“As for social wellbeing, which is often linked to good relationships with friends and family members, we should also care for the wellbeing of the people around us, because in return, people will do the same thing for us.”
6. Be more social
“Seniors who live alone are especially prone to psychological or emotional problems, such as late-life depression, because they are always at home, in solitude and have less contact with the outside world.
“Not only should we try to spend more time with the older members of our families, but we should also support and encourage them to engage with society.
“For instance, they could join the activities organised by the governments or local NGOs, and get involved in the community. This will improve their social life and benefit their overall mental health, which will in turn lead to a longer life.”
“Look out for signs of stress, anxiety and depression such as headaches, fatigue, stomach aches, changes in appetite or trouble sleeping. Do not hesitate to seek professional help whenever necessary. Poor mental health is the most direct cause of mental illness. Severe mental illness affects people’s daily work or study, and even puts their lives at risk.