Topping the list of reported unhealthy behaviors were:
• Lack of exercise (50 percent)
• Smoking (39 percent)
• Alcohol drinking (31 percent)
• Lack of sleep or rest (5 percent)
• Overindulgence, or eating of a high-fat, high-salt diet (2 percent).
This is not something to brush off. “Six of the top 10 killers of Filipinos, namely heart, vascular (e.g., stroke) and chronic lung diseases; cancer; accidents; and diabetes, can be attributed to poor lifestyle choices,” Dr. Reyes says.
Two of the most common vices are the most addicting—cigarettes and alcohol—making quitting a struggle. But others need considerable willpower to overcome, too.
Even if difficult, “quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your heart,” says Dr. Reyes. Smoking is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke (brain attack). It constricts the blood vessel, increases blood pressure, and thickens the blood—a perfect setting for heart attack or stroke.
And if cardiovascular diseases don’t get you, then cancer might. According to Dr. Paulo Tioleco, a cancer specialist at the Angeles University Foundation Medical Center, Angeles City, Pampanga, “Cigarette smoke contains over 60 cancer-causing chemicals. It is the leading cause of lung cancer, the leading cancer killer in the Philippines. Notably, most lung cancer victims are men.”
While one to two drinks every day can significantly lower the risk of heart disease, drinking is a double-edged sword. Alcohol impairs your mental judgment, making it hard to stop with just two drinks. In addition, long-term alcoholism also leads to heart disease because the high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream prove toxic to the heart muscles in a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
Alcohol consumption can also lead to cancer of the mouth, windpipe, and esophagus. It also causes cirrhosis, a form of liver scarring that is strongly associated with liver cancer, Dr. Tioleco points out.
Being obese or overweight is another major risk for heart disease. It also leads to diabetes and sleep apnea. Diabetes is a condition wherein your blood sugar rises above normal levels, causing the excess sugar to do long-term damage to the blood vessels of the heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves, among others. Sleep apnea is characterized by the cessation of breathing for periods at a time during sleep. It can happen in obese people because the excess fat tissues surrounding the neck collapse the airways. Dr. Reyes says that sleep apnea leads to fatigue, impaired mental function, mood problems, and aggravates heart disease and high blood pressure.
Being fat can also lead to arthritis. If you are 20 pounds overweight, your joints will bear an additional 20 pounds of pressure. Sooner or later, your joints will give way and arthritis will set in.
While obesity is partly due to genetics and, on occasion, to other medical conditions, most cases are caused by poor lifestyle choices. Very simply, if you consume more calories than you burn in physical activity, you pack on excess pounds.