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Prolong life with healthy habits

Emily Ireland

Wairarapa people are expected to live to the ripe age of 81, a solid five years longer than our Hawke’s Bay counterparts, according to life expectancy statistics.

The Wairarapa Midweek obtained data from Statistics New Zealand showing the average life expectancy of people from District Health Boards around the country.

Of the 20 DHBs, Wairarapa ranked the 12th highest for its life expectancy at 81.4 years, based on information collated from 2015 to 2017.

Waitemata DHB has the longest life expectancy at 84.5 years followed by Capital & Coast at 83.4 years.

Hawke’s Bay DHB sits at the bottom of the list with a life expectancy of 75.8 years.

The Wairarapa data [tabled] shows how many years of life people have, statistically speaking, based on their age and gender.

A 28-year-old male living in Wairarapa has about 56 years of life left, compared with a female of the same age who has 59 years of life left.

On the other end of the spectrum, a male who has already reached the age of 90 could have another five years of life, compared to a female who would have four years, according to the statistics.

But long life is nothing without health, and Sherry James, a nurse at Whaiora says Wairarapa people should focus on three key things, across all ages, to stay in better health: nutrition, exercise, and sleep.

“Eat well, avoid as much sugar as you can, keep fit for your age, and sleep – across all ages, those are the key things.”

She said mental health was equally important.

Exercise

James said it is important to keep physically active – “sometimes people need to come into their medical centre and hear it directly from a health professional to motivate them to make that lifestyle change”.

In fact, some health professionals will give patients a “green prescription” involving ongoing support to increase their physical activity and improve nutrition.

This is facilitated through Sport Wellington.

There are however many ways people can get fit, James said.

For children, she recommended team sport participation.

“Your middle years child needs to exercise continuously for 20-30 minutes at a heart rate above resting level at least three times a week.

“As a guideline, the effort involved in continuous, brisk walking, is adequate to maintain fitness.”

She said a good exercise routine helped young people in “all aspects of growth”.

“Twelve per cent of children in pre-puberty years are overweight.

“Few of these youngsters are physically active.

“If kids start health exercise young, it will be easier for them to then understand the benefit of keeping active.”

Beyond childhood years, the benefits a healthy exercise routine was equally as important, James said.

“Unmanaged stress can cause muscle tightness which can contribute to headaches, stomach aches, and other types of discomfort.

“We know for adults, to relieve stress, we can go out for a walk or participate in some form of physical activity.

“There’s always some form of exercise that people can do – even for our older people who may have sore knees – they can go swimming at the pool.

“There’s always a way, it’s just finding out what that is.”

According to the Ministry of Health, staying active has many benefits, including having more energy, better posture and balance, stronger muscles and bones, having a raised self-esteem and feeling more relaxed.

The ministry recommends adults do at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate physical activity each week or one hour and fifteen minutes of rigorous activity spread throughout the week.

For extra health benefits, the ministry recommends five hours of moderate exercise a week, or two-and-a-half hours of vigorous exercise a week.

Older adults should do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days each week.

Children aged up to 17 years should do one hour of moderate or vigorous activity on five days or more per week.

Nutrition

James recommends children and adults eat regular meals at least three times each day.

These meals should be rich in vegetables and fruit, complemented by some breads, cereals, grains, and starchy vegetables, fish, meat, chicken, legumes, and eggs, milk, yoghurt, and cheese, and some oils and nuts.

Each day people should eat at least three servings of vegetables, and two servings of fruit.

Where possible, people should swap out processed foods for non-processed foods.

James said cooking classes are available at Whaiora for people wanting to learn how to incorporate healthier options into their family’s diets

“There are so many good meals that are easy to make quickly.”

Nutrition advice for babies and toddlers is that “breast milk is best”.

If a baby is not breastfeeding, it is recommended to use instant formula until the baby is 12 months old.

Start solid food at about six months old and change the variety, texture, and quantity of food as the baby grows.

The 5+ A Day Charitable Trust has a wealth of resources available online, including recipes, at www.5aday.co.nz

Sleep

James said as people get older, “you actually don’t sleep as much”.

“Elderly people quite often get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet.

“On average, they may sleep for five to six hours.”

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep a night for adults up to the age of 65, and 7–8 hours for those over 65.

“It is important to get a good eight hours sleep, but teenagers do need more – their bodies are growing,” James said.

She recommended teenagers slept for between eight and 10 hours each night and encouraged parents to put their teenagers’ mobile phones in a separate room at night to encourage a good sleeping pattern

“Sleep is a coping strategy. We need sleep to cope. It’s restorative, there are a lot of chemical changes going on, you digest food, and your body releases melatonin when you sleep.”

Oversleeping may indicate an underlying health condition, or could be a sign of depression, James said.

She said before going to sleep, people should sit quietly for 30 minutes and have a warm non-caffeinated drink.

“No phone, TV, or reading in this 30-minute window before bed.”

Mental health

James said to encourage good mental health, people needed to remember to “be kind to themselves”.

“If you can stop negative self-talk, you’ll feel better about yourself and will be more proactive in moving forward – but that takes practice.

“They say it takes 10,000 hours to be a master at something – practice shifting negative patterns from your life.”

James is a big believer in the power of mindfulness.

Two methods she recommends revolve around breathing.

“Interlock your fingers and hold your index fingers up with a gap.

“Focus until your fingers close, then place your hands on your lap and close your eyes.

“Focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth for one minute.”

Her second method requires sitting upright in a chair, placing your hands on your lap, and closing your eyes.

“Focus on breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth for five minutes, morning and evening.”

She also recommended people focus on three things at the end of each day they are grateful for to encourage positive thinking habits.

James helps pupils understand mental health and depression in particular through visits to schools.

“I start by asking them what they think depression is so that I know where they are at with their level of understanding.

“It’s a different world for young people.

“With social media, there’s no escape from their phone.

“People can contact them 24/7. That’s a real stress.

“For young people, time away from their phone or turning it off at night, is healthy.”

For young people wanting to understand mental health better for themselves or a friend, there is a website – www.piki.org.nz – with lots of resources and access to trained counsellors for free.

“Teenagers are on a journey of self-discovery – finding out who they are, experimenting with relationships, drugs, and alcohol – it’s vital they have the tools and support to deal with arising challenges at this time of their lives.”

When it came to mental health in older people, James said it was important that seniors in Wairarapa participated in social, economic, cultural, spiritual, and civic affairs.

“This is the time of your life to enjoy it what do you like, what are you involved in, what are your interests?”

She said sometimes older people visited their medical centre because they want social contact.

“It’s important that everyone feels they have something to contribute to society – that they have a purpose.”