“The lifestyle revision was necessary”, says Dr Alex Magaisa
“See what the influential people in Zimbabwe have to say about working out, eating well and loving their bodies and get inspired to stay health”
“I liken my role in raising health awareness to a cheerleader , I do not have to play the game for you or teach you how to play it , rather I cheer you on saying, you can do it go ahead and lose those kilograms” , says Dr Brighton Chireka
By Doc Beecee
In my endeavour to raise health awareness I have been interviewing some of the well known figures in our society . We are what we eat and do after that and it’s good to know what our public figures are doing to improve their health. I am humbled in that I have managed to interview over a dozen of people in our community and I will be featuring them one by one.
I had the opportunity to interview Dr Alex Magaisa who is a lawyer and academic, currently based at the University of Kent, where he teaches law. Magaisa holds a PhD in Law from the University of Warwick in the UK and is a regular writer on law and politics in Zimbabwe, which has earned him a profile as a thought-leader. Magaisa was part of the team that wrote the new Constitution of Zimbabwe and was the advisor to the then Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai between 2012-13. Read more of his work on his website MAGAISA’S WEBSITE
Before I go into the details about what he told me about his lifestyle, I would like to write a bit about Noncommunicable diseases which are mainly related to our lifestyle.
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, are not passed from person to person. They are of long duration and generally slow progression. The 4 main types of noncommunicable diseases are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. These diseases are often thought to be public health problems of significance only in high income countries. In reality, only 25% ( 10 million people each year ) of chronic disease deaths occur in high income countries – while 75% ( 28 million) occur in low and middle income countries, where most of the world’s population lives.
Who is at risk of such diseases?
All age groups and all regions are affected by NCDs. NCDs are often associated with older age groups, but evidence shows that 16 million of all deaths attributed to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) occur before the age of 70. Of these “premature” deaths, 82% occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Children, adults and the elderly are all vulnerable to the risk factors that contribute to noncommunicable diseases, whether from unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, exposure to tobacco smoke or the effects of the harmful use of alcohol.
Under the leadership of the WHO more than 190 countries agreed in 2011 on global mechanisms to reduce the avoidable NCD burden including a Global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013-2020. This plan aims to reduce the number of premature deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025 through nine voluntary global targets. The nine targets focus in part by addressing factors such as tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity that increase people’s risk of developing these diseases.
In my interviews I am mainly focussing on the diet, exercise and the mindset as these are the most important areas that if addressed can reduce the risk of developing NCDs.
This is what Dr Alex Magaisa had to say;
“At the end of 2013, I was diagnosed with a chronic heart condition, so I have no choice but to maintain a controlled diet. This means a low fat, low salt diet and generally a reduction in the intake of sugars. This also means a low intake of carbohydrates, so although I love Sadza, I now have to take it in much smaller quantities. Now it’s tea with milk but no sugar for me, please! This also meant I had to say goodbye to lager beers and a major reduction in alcohol-intake, although occasionally I can do a glass of fine red – but it has to be special. On the plus side, my knowledge of good wines has improved quite dramatically in the past two years. Everything in moderation. The lifestyle revision was necessary. I also eat a lot of vegetables, which has seen me take up an allotment where I grow my own vegetables like rape, spinach, pumpkin leaves, etc during the Spring and Summer. But I have also found new love for stuff like broccoli and cauliflower, though I am yet to be converted to Brussels Sprouts! Apart from giving me fresh vegetables, garden work also helps me to exercise as I do a lot of digging. Being a rural boy who grew up working the land, I find this to be a better and more productive form of exercise than lifting weights and running on the tread-mill at the gym! I also take a lot of fruit, but not much of those fruit juices, which I am told contain lots of sugars. By and large, I discovered that I can eat most of what I want, but do so in moderation. In the past, I would devour my favourite foods but now I have more discipline. I have also discovered that oft-times we eat not because we have to but because we want to and we are used to a certain routine. But when I was growing up in the village, we had discipline and we didn’t just eat. I have gone back to those days, re-discovered my discipline in eating food – eat only when it’s necessary, not just because the food is there.
On exercise as I have said, during the spring and summer I do a lot of work at my allotment. I enjoy it and it helps me work out while investing the labour into something that will provide me with a healthy meal. However, I also go to the gym, especially during the winter when I can do much work at the allotment. Because of my health condition, I have to pace myself well – so as not to overdo the exercise. I like the tread-mill and the cross-trainer and occasionally I do weights. I also do a lot of power-walking in my neighbourhood, jogging occasionally, but I hate running.
On stress management, I write! I find that writing is therapeutic. People ask me where I get the energy and time to write, but actually, I find it very therapeutic and relaxing. It is my way of expressing myself, talking to my fellow countrymen and women., speaking to the world. It means most of the time I am not thinking too much about problems, I am talking about them and trying to seek solutions. I’m a hopelessly optimistic person and I always see the best in people. I have time for other people and I try to communicate with people as much as I can” , says Dr Alex Magaisa
Wow I am inspired by Dr Alex Magaisa and I remember visiting him in our hospital in Kent when he was diagnosed with the heart condition. I hope you are called to action, so what can you do if you are concerned after reading this article? I advise you to see your doctor and discuss your concerns further, but I will give you general advice here which you can start using from now going forwards. You need to eat a healthy diet taking appropriate calories and right portions as well as reducing foods high in saturated fats. You need to have at least 2 days that you do not eat meat and also if you can manage it have a day that you fast for 12 hours. You need to increase your physical activity and keep well hydrated by drinking enough fluids depending on your body size. Have a support group or a church you go to , you are always welcome in the house of the Lord and you will have peace of mind.
Getting started is easier than you think. Changing a few daily habits can soon add up to a more active you. Be active every day. Every 10 minutes counts. If you don’t think you can squeeze anything else into your day, see if you can reduce the time you spend sitting still and free up time to be active. Stop smoking if you do and also reduce your alcohol intake for those who drink.
Not taking any action about your health is a decision in itself and you will have no one to blame. This health blog is here to stay and it will continue to raise awareness to make sure that you do not lack knowledge. The ball is now in your court to take action and l hope you have and will be activated by this article.
This article was compiled by Dr. Brighton Chireka who is a GP and a Patient Engagement Advocate (PEA) in Folkestone Kent, UK. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or read more on his blog DR CHIREKA’S BLOG