Lifestyle | 21 Nov 2022 | By Sun International

Obesity: the new pandemic?

Woman on her daily run | Photo by Sun International

As diets decline and exercise falls by the wayside, the obesity health crisis rages the world over with dire consequences. What can we do to avoid becoming another statistic?

We managed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic only to see signs of another one on the horizon: obesity. Or did we? According to dietitians Jenna Selly from Core Nutrition and Lila Bruk from Lila Bruk & Associates Registered Dietitians, the lockdowns merely highlighted an existing health crisis made worse by enforced sedentary lifestyles.

Weighing the risks

Obesity is a global concern, especially in developing countries like South Africa. Half of all South African adults are either overweight (23%) or obese (27%), costing the country’s healthcare system R33 billion a year.  An astounding 2.8 million people die every year as a result.

The cost is a consequence of the number of health risks associated with being overweight or obese. Selly explains that the most noticeable impact of a poor diet is excessive abdominal fat, which leads to chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, poor heat regulation, and joint and back pain. She performs blood tests on patients to screen for additional comorbidities, as they “often have insulin resistance or diabetes, high cholesterol, micronutrient deficiencies, or a fatty liver”.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, these are the main health consequences of excessive weight:

  • A 32% higher risk of developing coronary artery disease when overweight and an 81% higher risk when obese.
  • The likelihood of stroke increases by 22% for the overweight and 64% for the obese.
  • People suffering from depression have a 58% higher risk of becoming obese, while those who are obese suffer a 55% higher risk of developing depression.
  • 25% of ovulatory infertility and 13.3% to 15.6% of sperm count and motility issues can be attributed to obesity.
  • The obese have a 42% higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, including musculoskeletal disorders and other health issues.

Excessive weight also carries with it the risk of various cancers and reduced libido.

Bin the junk

So what can you do? Although the statistics are demoralising, an unhealthy life is preventable since it’s the result of an unbalanced diet and a lack of exercise.

Start with your diet. Bruk advises “meal prepping as a practical option” for busy people. By planning and preparing your meals beforehand, you give yourself the time to prioritise healthy eating. This is important as the quality of our food is constantly compromised to keep pace with commercialisation and mass production, according to Selly. She adds that many of our foods contain sugar, “one of the most addictive drugs in the world”.

In short, your body will store the surplus energy as fat if you consume high-energy foods without burning off calories through exercise and physical activity.

Boost the effectiveness of meal prepping by choosing healthier foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein sources) and beverages.

If you want the changes to your diet to be more impactful, couple them with regular exercise, limited screen and other “sit” time, improved sleep, and reduced stress.

Lose the desk body

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a vast number of people create a culture of remote work. We have slowly returned to the office, but whether you’re earning that paycheck from home or the office, chances are you spend at least some time at a desk.

Sitting at your desk all day brings with it the risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and increased anxiety and stress. Selly recommends making “small changes to your lifestyle” by committing to 15 minutes of exercise a day, while Bruk advises finding time to be active even while working at your desk. Here are some other ways to wage war against weight in the workplace:

  • Take mini-breaks –get up at least once an hour to walk around to give your body a change of pace. 
  • Take advantage of lunch breaks – leverage your lunch breaks to get a workout at the nearest gym. Bring a colleague along – “Changing your lifestyle is easier “when you have someone supporting and encouraging you,” says Jenna.  
  • Skip the elevator – try taking the stairs when you get to work and park farther from work to get more steps in
  • Use downtime wisely – find ways to work active time into your home life. This could involve taking a group exercise class, hitting the gym early, or going for an evening walk. 

Prepare yourself for a long-term effort. Bruk explains that patients often want to adopt a healthy lifestyle after witnessing a friend’s weight-loss journey, yet rarely commit because they haven’t acknowledged the personal effort required.

Selly recommends using a yoga mat and resistance bands, which are affordable and can be used to complete a range of movements, if you can’t afford a gym membership.

The benefits of an active lifestyle are well worth the effort and dedication. People who exercise regularly see a reduction of 50% the risk of major illnesses and an increased production of endorphins (the happy hormone).

Aside from health benefits, you will see an improvement in your work quality as studies show that employees who workout experience an average performance boost of 15%, working more efficiently to meet deadlines.

Don’t drop the ball when you’re on  holiday. With the season just around the corner, you’ll be tempted to slip into bad habits that will affect your health. December holidays certainly present a challenge to try and stay healthy, but you can find a way to stay active even when taking time off.

Whether you’re taking a trip to the beach or staying at the Wild Coast Sun, The Table Bay or Sun City Resort, Sun International properties boast many exhilarating physical activities and dedicated on-site workout facilities to help you bounce back from those delicious Christmas meals. And you don’t have to lather your face in lard either – all outlets and restaurants have healthy options.

With all these positives of living a healthy lifestyle, adopt healthier behaviours today and start making changes for a better you.

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