Risk factors of health

What comes to mind when you think of taking risks with your health - driving recklessly, or maybe abusing alcohol or illegal drugs? Those behaviours are certainly risky. However, many people have less dramatic behaviours that are just as dangerous in the long run. Tobacco use, unbalanced nutrition leading to obesity (too many calories and/or too much of one food group and not enough of the others) and a lack of physical activity are some of the key risk factors for the most common causes of death.

Certain health behaviours are known to be associated with increased mortality and morbidity for a number of conditions. Examples of known risk factors include smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, and exposure to UV radiation. Improvements in health status can result from behaviour changes in relation to these risk factors.

Many health risks have changed in the last century with antibiotics, clean drinking water, and waste care and treatment. Some of the most common causes of death, which can often be closely linked to lifestyle choices, today are:
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Infectious and parasitic diseases
  • Cancers
  • Ischaemic heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory disease and infections
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Accidents including drowning, falling, driving (many are alcohol-related)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Poisoning
Another very important risk factor today is obesity. Not only is it a health risk in itself – it also can lead to other problems with health such as heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory problems just to name a few. This is not a global risk, but it is certainly a problem for countries such as the U.S.A, Australia and a few other developed countries.

Being overweight or obese is associated with increased mortality and morbidity from a number of conditions including coronary heart disease, hypertension, non-insulin-dependant diabetes mellitus and degenerative joint disease. By reducing body mass index (BMI), which is a statistical measurement of a person’s ideal weight for their particular height, a person can increase their health and reduce the risk of developing diseases associated with obesity. You should note BMI measurements do not calculate a person’s percentage of body fat as commonly misinterpreted. The benefits of exercise go beyond the initial idea of weight loss.

Regular exercise is important in reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease by strengthening the heart muscle and decreasing resting blood pressure rate. In addition to cardiovascular benefits, regular exercise strengthens bone tissue and so can also reduce the risk of injury from falls and conditions such as osteoporosis later in life. Exercised muscle tissues need time and energy to recover and repair and so you continue to utilise energy stores after exercise is finished and even during sleep. This increases basal metabolism (the energy used by the body while at rest). You feel more energised after exercise as blood flow has increased to all vital organs and the skin carrying oxygen and other essential nutrients to cells.

A human health risk factor translates as something that increases a person’s chance for developing a disease. Disease can also be looked at dis-ease or stress. Stress occurs as a result of changes in your daily routine. It causes chemical changes in the brain and can have a direct affect on your health. Consider when you experience times of great happiness in your life. You may feel energetic, active yet calm. The chances are you are producing high levels of the hormones Serotonin and Melatonin. Melatonin acts as an anti-oxidant, mopping up harmful chemicals, also known as free radicals, which can be found in our blood; and it protects essential fatty-acids which make up parts of cells of the brain and nervous system, for example. Melatonin is also involved in the production of cells of the immune system, enabling you to fight infection as soon as you are at risk. So clearly if you feel good, your body produces hormones which lead to physical health and well-being. If you have low levels of serotonin (serotonin production is lowered as insulin levels rise – often as result of high levels of carbohydrate intake – this can be linked back to healthy nutritional balance) you may suffer from feeling depressed, irritable and even experience periods of insomnia.
By pushing the body to cope in times of stress, you often exhaust energy sources and this therefore results in a reduced ability of the body to deal with bacterial or viral infection or to repair tissue damage. Also heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart palpitations and stroke may be stress related cardiovascular conditions. Often people feel the effects of negative stress as fatigue, various aches and pains (often lower back complaints) and headaches. It can be quite simply put; stress is detrimental to a person’s physical health.
Stress on the human body can be as a result of psychological circumstances, chemical or mechanical. There are so many chemicals that create a health risk in our immediate environment and in the community. Today chemicals are a part of our household. Cleaning materials can pose a threat if not used properly. This is currently a somewhat divisive subject as it is often the case that people who believe they have been affected by chemicals bought from supermarkets and used in their homes, have not had their cases fully investigated.

It has been suggested that products that are meant to reduce the risk of disease from bacterial infection i.e. anti-bacterial household cleaners, can actually lead to greater, more serious health risks by creating a resistance in certain bacterial strains. Like antibiotic medication, anti-bacterial cleaners, work on the same principle of prohibiting bacterial growth (numbers) by damaging the bacterial cell itself to prevent reproduction. The problem faced is that some bacteria are becoming resistant to the chemicals which are meant to destroy them or prevent their growth. Scientists face problems in terms of creating new anti-bacterial agents to destroy the new strains which evolve. This means we are still subjected to the bacteria which exist in the home environment.

Also, some chemicals are harmless until mixed together. You may be mixing chemicals everyday during general cleaning of bathrooms and kitchens for example. It is the release of toxic gases during mixing which is dangerous. Or also contact with corrosive substances, found in many toilet cleaners, which may be damaging.

Herbicides and pesticides are also being investigated for causing problems if not used properly.
There are approximately 400 different pesticides used during the production process of the food we eat (in the non-organic commercial market). Many of these pesticides are considered to be carcinogenic, in other words, cancer causing. Toxins build up in the body in our tissues and accumulate to high, often dangerous levels. In everyday life, you may not feel the damaging effects of any such accumulation, but over time, disease and tissue degeneration, even neuro-developmental (brain) damage in children, can possibly be linked to toxic build-up and an inability of the body’s waste elimination system (blood and liver) to excrete those toxins at an adequate rate to maintain health and lower risk.

We must be aware of our environments both locally and globally so that they can continue to sustain and support us.

Health risks in our environment may also arise from improper architecture and planning. It is very important that buildings and offices be made safe. Most areas have codes or occupational safety policies and regulations to make sure that the environment is safe for individuals.

Health Risk and Physical Activity

People who are usually inactive can improve their health and well-being by becoming even moderately active on a regular basis. Also, physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits. It is important to also remember that greater health benefits can be achieved by increasing the amount (duration, frequency, or intensity) of physical activity.

Regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying from some of the leading causes of illness and death. Regular physical activity improves health in the following ways:
  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely.
  • Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
  • Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure.
  • Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Helps control weight.
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
  • Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about without falling.
  • Promotes psychological well-being.
Given the numerous health benefits of physical activity, the hazards of being inactive are clear. Physical inactivity is a serious, nationwide problem. Its scope poses a public health challenge for reducing the national burden of unnecessary illness and premature death.

To avoid soreness and injury, individuals contemplating an increase in physical activity should start out slowly and gradually build up to the desired amount to give the body time to adjust. People with chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity, or who are at high risk for these problems should first consult a physician before beginning a new program of physical activity. Also, men over age 40 and women over age 50 who plan to begin a new vigorous physical activity program should consult a physician first to be sure they do not have heart disease or other health problems.


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