Risky business

What would you classify as risky behaviour? How about sky-diving or reckless driving?

These are activities that many of us think of as dangerous — but what about some of our lifestyle choices?

Results of a new survey entitled “Are you a risk taker?” suggest that our perspective is a little “off” when it comes to identifying the real threats to our health and happiness. While the majority of people over the age of 40 don’t consider themselves risk takers, more than half of them are actually guilty of two or more risky behaviours.

Says who? The survey, conducted by Global Market Insite (GMI) on behalf of Bayer, polled 301 Canadians who are age 40 and above about their experiences, perceptions and recognition of risky behaviours. The results suggest a disconnect between what they think will harm them and what actually will — and they’re overlooking important lifestyle choices as a result. For example:

– Zoomers believe that sky-diving is riskier than avoiding blood pressure and cholesterol checks. In fact, 53 per cent of respondents didn’t think skipping those checks was a high risk behaviour, but 65 per cent agreed that jumping out of an airplane was.

– Eighty-five per cent of Zoomers wear a seat belt, but only 60 per cent get regular health screenings.

– Only 60 per cent of Zoomers felt that not taking prescribed medications correctly was risky, and 30 per cent reported occasionally or regularly forgetting to take their meds.

– Only 31 per cent felt that not exercising regularly was harmful.

How do these numbers shape up with the actual risks? According to the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada, the leading causes of death in Canada are circulatory diseases (heart disease and stroke) and cancer. The survey findings suggest that people still aren’t addressing the behaviours that will reduce their risk of — and in many cases prevent — these diseases.

“There are a lot of Zoomers out there risking their health,” reported Dr. Akbar Panju, Division Director of General Internal Medicine at Hamilton’s McMaster University, in his keynote address at this year’s CARP Conference on Aging and Longevity. “These results should be a wake-up call; Zoomers can’t overlook the important simple and manageable lifestyle choices that emphasize good health and well- being that may lessen their health risks.”

But how informed are Zoomers? Dr. Panju’s statistics are troubling:

– One third of people die from heart disease, and another third from cancer.

– at least 80 per cent of all people have one risk factor for heart disease

– 41 per cent have two risk factors

– 10 per cent have three or more risk factors

Worse yet, Dr. Panju warns that many people still don’t have the information they need to protect themselves. This “knowledge gap” encompasses some 60 per cent of people.

So what’s a person to do? Some factors, like age and family history, we can’t control — but the rest is up to us. It’s the lifestyle choices we make now that will make the difference in preventing the onset of disease.

“It’s time for Canadians to recognize the actual risks they’re taking with their health behaviours and choose to be proactive when it comes to their overall health,” said Dr. Panju in a press release. “Zoomers are a vital, active group, but they need to pay better attention to health risks the same way they understand the importance of wearing a seatbelt.”

Zoom in on prevention

So what do health experts like Dr. Panju suggest we do to reduce our risk? It’s all about changing our focus — and our lifestyles — to zoom in on prevention:

– Get regular screenings and check-ups

– Exercise regularly

– Maintain a healthy weight

– Each more fruits and vegetables

– Don’t abuse alcohol

– Learn to recognize the warning signs of heart attacks (this is especially important for women, who often present with different symptoms than men)

In short, the message is to look after yourself and your body. Making some simple changes and talking to your doctor about your risks is a good place to start. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth the investment of your time and effort. Otherwise, Dr. Panju has a rather dire warning for those who complain their lives are too hectic to focus their health:

“Either find the time, or you’re run out of time — permanently.”

Read the press release about the survey and Dr. Panju’s talk here.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Jeff McDonald

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