GOOD HEALTH is something most of us take for granted. When it fails, it is often for reasons that could have been avoided. Protecting your health is mainly a matter of understanding what causes disease and other problems so that you can take appropriate steps to avoid them. Modern techniques of immunization and screening offer protection against a wide range of illnesses. By taking advantage of these and combining them with a healthy lifestyle, you can safeguard your health not only for the present but for the future as well.
Your health is partly determined by your genes, but it is also inextricably linked with your environment and lifestyle. Your chance of developing many diseases is determined at the moment of conception by the mix of genetic material that you inherit from your parents. If you inherit a specific faulty gene, such as the gene that causes cystic fibrosis, this will inevitably lead to the development of a disease. However, it is more common for a person’s genetic inheritance merely to predispose him or her to a disease or disorder that may develop later in life, such as diabetes mellitus. Even if you are genetically susceptible to a disease, your chance of developing it can be influenced by a number of other factors, many of which are related to the way you live. For example, lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, smoking, and alcohol consumption are important determinants of health. If you adopt a healthy lifestyle and have appropriate screening tests, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing the diseases that are common in your family. Your environment can also influence your health and susceptibility to certain diseases. For example, high levels of atmospheric pollution may worsen the symptoms of respiratory diseases such as asthma. Other determinants of health include age, gender, ethnicity, and occupation.
In recent years, there has been clear evidence that people can reduce their susceptibility to disease by targeting unhealthy aspects of their lifestyle. The fall in the numbers of deaths before the age of 65 from stroke, coronary artery disease, and certain types of cancer in the past 25 years has been largely attributed to a fall in the number of smokers and a better understanding of what makes a healthy diet. By contrast, the strains of modern living, such as the break-up of relationships, long working hours in stressful jobs, and loss of contact with family and friends, can affect mental and physical wellbeing. Nearly everyone is aware of the features that make up a healthy lifestyle, but too few people manage to act on this information. By adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and limiting your alcohol intake, you can bring about an almost instant improvement in your general health and reduce the risk of diseases developing in the future. Unhealthy habits can be difficult to break, especially if they do not seem to cause immediate damage to your health. Committing yourself to long-term changes such as giving up smoking or losing weight takes considerable willpower; you may find it easier if you seek support from family and friends.