By Virginia Mzunzu Kwizombe:
A healthy lifestyle is a way of living that helps you to enjoy all aspects of your life; physical, mental and social wellbeing. In this respect, “Health is not just the absence of disease”. The Coronavirus has caused a lot of changes in our daily lifestyles, including eating patterns, and hence it is important that we adapt in a healthy way that will make our bodies more resilient.
During Covid-19, it is important to be aware of false and misleading information and claims about foods preventing or curing Covid-19. It is important to know that no single food can supply all the nutrients required by the body for good health, and more specifically, no foods or dietary supplements can prevent or cure Covid-19 infection. However, maintaining a healthy diet is an important element in supporting a strong immune system, which helps alleviate symptoms and promote recovery from many diseases. Consequently, more than ever the call is upon all Malawians to make conscious healthy lifestyle choices! Below are some things that can be done to maintain a healthy lifestyle in these difficult times.
- Commit to eating a healthy diet based on a variety of foods
A healthy diet is important for everyone regardless of health status, that is to say good nutrition is very important before during and after an infection. Eating a variety of foods, regularly, and in the right amounts is the best formula for a healthy diet. Malawi promotes the six-food group model for a healthy diet, which comprises, starch, legumes, vegetables, fruits, fats, animal sources. However, in actuality Malawian diets are dominated by the staple food group which is made up of cereals (mainly maize), thus deficient of essential nutrients.
A healthy diet includes aspects of nutrient adequacy, dietary balance and moderation, and moreover, it is not about a single meal; it is about a balanced food choice over time that will make a difference. Below are key points regarding healthy diets:
- a) make a commitment to grow/buy and eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are among the most important foods for giving us enough vitamins including A, C, and D , and antioxidants which will help our bodies fight infections. The diet recommendation is that we should try to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This can include for example: a banana at breakfast, and an orange / tangerine /lemons /pawpaw and a piece of watermelon as snacks throughout the day, and a good portion of different vegetables(dark green veggies are more nutritious) at each meal. This is especially doable by taking advantage of the fruits and vegetables in season.
- b) Eat both animal and plant-based sources throughout the week
This is because they are high in proteins and iron, which will keep the immune system functioning properly. Fish , poultry offer healthy protein options as well as legumes such as beans which are also inexpensive source of protein and they keep for a long time.
c)For good health, commit to limiting intake of foods containing high amounts of fats, salt and sugars.
Sugary foods and drinks are high in energy, and hence best enjoyed in moderation, as an occasional treat. Many people drink a lot of their daily calories without realising it, which over time can lead to a lot of added weight which also has many health complications. A bottle of soft drink has over 150 calories, and over 7 teaspoons of sugar. Even 100% fruit juice has just as many sugars as soft drinks, thus it is better to eat a whole fruit, or limit juice consumption to 200mls per day. Instead of a soft drink/ juice, drink water instead. Drinking at least two litres of water a day is recommended to stay hydrated and support immune system functioning.
- d) Practice good hygiene practices when handling food to prevent any foodborne illnesses: Wash fruit, vegetables before use, and always wash hands with soap and water before preparing any food.
- Commit to doing More Physical Exercise
For optimal health, Physical activity is necessary to stimulate the body’s own natural maintenance and repair system. Physical activity will not only keep you in shape, but also has long term health benefits such as increased protection from heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes, which are increasingly becoming diseases of major public health concern in Malawi. Physical activity improves overall health well-being and is therefore not only important for those people who are overweight, but for people of all weight ranges and health conditions. The good thing is that we don’t have to be top athletes to get on the move! The World Health Organisation recommends that a person should do 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, and this can easily become part of our daily routine. Some ways of incorporating this could be:
Schedule daily morning or evening 30 minutes walks/jogs on five days of the week:
– Walking around your home or jogging on the spot, can help you remain active.
-Instead of taking kabaza (bicycle taxi) walk for 30 mins to your home or get of the minibus some stops away from your home, or Instead of driving to the shop or church take a walk ,but be sure to maintain at least a 1-meter distance from other people.
Take short active breaks during the day. Short bouts of physical activity add up to the weekly recommendation.
To ensure sustainability pick an activity you like; walking, running or dancing, gardening.
Remember: The only bad exercise is the exercise you won’t do!
Virginia Mzunzu Kwizombe holds a master’s degree in health Promotion from the University of Brighton, UK. She is passionate about teaching, encouraging and challenging others to become more aware of their nutrition and health lifestyle.