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If someone offered you a simple method to live longer, feel better, and be happier, you'd want to know more, wouldn't you? That's what the third annual Caribbean Wellness Day, Saturday Sept. 11, is all about: publicizing the simple steps that men, women, and children can take to live longer, healthier lives.

No one wants to have diabetes, heart disease, cancer or stroke. But an alarming number of people in the Caribbean suffer from one or more of these maladies. Indeed, these are the leading causes of illnesses and death in our region today. The good news is that some 40% to 80% of these illnesses can be prevented depending on four things: whether you smoke, what you eat, how active you are, and how you use alcohol.  

Take tobacco first. It is the single most preventable cause of death in the world and is responsible for 20 percent of all deaths in the Caribbean. It is the only consumer product that kills when used as intended by the manufacturer. It kills 50 percent of regular users, half of them between the ages of 35 and 69. What more do you need to know? If you smoke, you should stop. If you don't, be smart and don't start.

In the eating category, our main problems are too much salt and unhealthy food choices. People in the Caribbean consume more than twice the amount of salt that is good for them, contributing to high blood pressure, strokes, and other illnesses. Salt sneaks up on us. It is hidden in prepared foods, which also tend to have too much fat and sugar. When we eat those foods, we don't realize how much salt, fat, and sugar we're getting. We'd all be much better off returning to a more traditional Caribbean diet rich in fresh seafoods, fruits, and vegetables. And our meals would be more satisfying, too.

As for physical activity, the sad news is that half of Caribbeans are couch potatoes, i.e., we do virtually no physical activity at all. The good news is that exercising just 30 minutes a day can cut our risk of heart attack in half. And contrary to what many think, rather than making you tired, exercise makes you feel more youthful and energetic. Try it regularly for a while, and you'll see.

As for alcohol, unwise use of it contributes to motor vehicle injuries and deaths, domestic violence, mental health problems, and illnesses including liver disease and several types of cancer. Moderate use of alcohol, on the other hand, seems to help promote cardiovascular health.

Remember to check your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight regularly. If you have a problem with any of these risk factors, you should be seeing your doctor regularly about it, and you must take your medicines every day. Almost half of all persons prescribed blood pressure or cholesterol medicines stop taking them after 6 months. Don't get caught thinking that if you are feeling OK, you are safe.

High blood pressure is a silent killer, and is the leading risk factor for death in the region. Take your medicine and save your life.

So what to do on Sept. 12, Caribbean Wellness Day? It's the perfect day to say, "I love my body. I'd like it to last." Then get out, get going, and take the simple steps to make sure it does. 

Fact Sheets, Caribbean Wellness Day 2009

Hojas informativas Día del Bienestar Caribeño 2009