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Change For A Healthier Lifestyle: Lessons Learnt From The Healthiest Countries In The World

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By Shibika Suresh:

The constitution of India has charged every state with “raising the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties“. Till date, India faces many public health issues, like malnutrition, high infant mortality rate and obesity, most of which can be a direct result of poor fitness and lifestyle problems. The life expectancy at birth is just 64% for males and 67% for females. Norway, Japan and Netherlands are some of the healthiest countries in the world, in terms of a wholesome lifestyle. The following are some points which we can follow at an individual level, for improving our standard of living.

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JAPAN

Perhaps genetics dictate that the Japanese are naturally thinner than the rest of the world; it is more often than not the result of an active lifestyle. Japan’s healthcare system, kaihoken, is the envy of the world because they spend half as much on health as most of the countries do, and still manage to live longer. There is an old Japanese saying , “Hara hachi bunme”, according to which people should stop eating when they are 80 percent full. A completely-filled stomach does more harm than good. Portion control and eating a wide variety of foods are the foundation of a Japanese diet and boosts the intake of important vitamins and minerals. They consume a diet rich in fish and soy protein and low in fast food and processed snacks. A nutrition blog called ProteinPromo wirtes that the Japanese follow a culture of temperance and reserve, eating habits that emphasize small portions of low-fat, high-protein foods, and a love of nature and the outdoors. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that Japan has the highest healthy life expectancies for both males and females. Japan leads the world in population aged 80 and over (6.1% of Japan’s roughly 128 million people), population aged 60 and over (29.7%), and median age (44.4 years).

Remember: We should take time to eat, not rush through mealtime and most importantly not stuff ourselves beyond repair, which is usually what Indians tend to do. We must also try to increase the variety of our diet, like the Japanese, who aim to eat 30 — 40 different things every day.

NORWAY

Quaint backstreets, charming little houses, cherry fires and log cabins. Norway is the place to be to find the true spirit of adventure and for healthy living. For the past six years, it has held the top spot on the United Nations Human Development Report, which ranks quality of life, and not without reason. In Norway, all public hospitals are funded from the national budget and run by four Regional Health Authorities (RHA) owned by the Ministry of Health and Care Services. According to data gathered by the World Health Organization, in 2007, just 5.8 percent of Norwegian women were significantly overweight–making Norway’s people among the slimmest in the developed world. Moreover, fast food wasn’t available in abundance until recently, so the traditional Norwegian diet consisted of fish, meat, potatoes, and vegetables. And even now, dining out is relatively uncommon. Theirs is a culture that favours an active lifestyle. The development of infrastructure such as indoor stadiums and outdoor lighting encourage locals to get out and about even in the winter months. Physical activities like hiking, cycling, kayaking, skiing and fishing all form a part of the regular routines of the Norwegians. The sale of alcohol is also regulated by the government and is highly taxed, which makes it unaffordable for many people and thus contributes to their healthy lifestyle.

Remember: The intake of alcohol should be very limited. More physical activities should be inculcated in our daily routines. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking while talking on the telephone are some methods of doing the same.

THE NETHERLANDS

The Netherlands is a country where the numbers of bicycles are more than the number of people. This country provides valuable lessons for integrating more physical exercises into the lives of Indians. 40 per cent of the country travels by bike, those who drive a car are in the minority. Cycling is a way of life, and is popular because a continuous network of cycle paths are maintained, making it convenient and easy to get around town. It’s also efficient, energy saving and environmentally friendly! More than 1.3 million new bikes are sold annually from over 3,200 bike shops. The percentages of smokers and heavy drinkers have considerably declined in the past few years. The health care system, in comparison to other Western countries is quite effective.

Remember: The Netherlands is a small country which makes cycling a very practical form of transportation. In a country like India, this may not be feasible for travelling to far-off places. Leave the car at home and use public transport or walk to your destination on a more regular basis. This not only benefits the body but also the environment.

India is experiencing a rapid health transition, threatened both by an unfinished agenda of infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies and unsafe pregnancies as well as the challenge of escalating epidemics of non-communicable diseases. Apart from the efforts that the government is trying to put in, the people can also contribute tremendously by taking responsibility and altering their lifestyles, taking hints from healthier countries.

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  1. Raj

    Having actually stayed in Norway and The Netherlands, there is more to their well-being. In both these places, people mostly eat raw or semi-cooked food. Even though I am a non-vegetarian , I still had a very tough time eating raw and cold meat daily for breakfast. Their lunches and dinners consists of a small portion of bread/potatoes, a medium portion of salads and a large portion of boiled meat with very few spices and little oil. Given the mass fetish we have for vegetarianism in India, I don’t think it’s going to be very easy to adapt their cuisine. Note that they consume meat in each and every meal, except perhaps during their evening coffee.
    Alcohol , though taxed well, isn’t much of an issue. Alcohol is much more widely consumed in both these countries than in India. Beer is as costly there as it is in India, but the average salaries there are far higher, making beer very cheap to them.And by the way, beer is far healthier drink as compared to the sweet soft-drinks we have in India.
    Cycling and walking happens in India too, but it is unsafe and the paths are not good. Norway and the Netherlands have dedicated walking and cycling tracks. Nobody there rides a cycle nor walks on the main road. That is possible due to the very low population density. I doubt either of them are feasible in India, including walking around. It is simply too crowded and unsafe

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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