By far the most common problem with the British diet is excess. People in the UK tend to consume too much food, especially too much fat, salt, and sugar. Overconsumption of these nutrients has been linked to some of the main causes of death in the UK: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Making informed choices about your diet could improve your chance of avoiding these diseases.
The huge growth in the availability and popularity of fast food has led to a corresponding rise in poor eating habits because packaged snacks and meals often contain large amounts of ingredients that can be harmful. The first article in this section provides easy-to-follow guidelines on how to assess and improve your diet, explains how food energy is measured, and describes how each of the major food groups (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) contributes to your nutritional needs. Many people in the UK have a diet that provides more energy than they need, and, as a result, a significant percentage of the population is obese and suffers from health problems associated with being overweight. The second article explains how to determine your ideal weight and explores various methods of losing or gaining weight.
Exercise is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle. This idea is not a new one; the fact that physical activity is linked to good health can be traced back to the Greeks in the fifth century BC. Since then, research has proven that exercise prolongs life, protects health, and can reduce the risk of disease. Taking part in team sports also provides the opportunity for social contact.
Many people in developed countries lead a sedentary lifestyle, and too few people exercise regularly. By making a concerted effort to incorporate physical activity into your daily life, you can become significantly healthier.
The first article in this section outlines the overwhelming physical and psychological benefits of being active. Exercise also has an effect on other aspects of your lifestyle. For example, people who exercise tend to smoke less than those who do not. Developing a habit of regular physical activity may encourage you to give up smoking.
The second article provides practical guidelines for assessing how fit you are and improving your level of fitness.
The last article explores safe habits and routines to adopt when exercising to minimize the risk of injury.
Many people use alcohol, tobacco, or recreational drugs for pleasure. However, all of these substances may cause severe health problems. Knowledge of their harmful effects can help you to make informed choices about whether or not to use them.
Alcohol is safe in moderation, but having more than two or three drinks a day can pose short-term risks, from alcohol poisoning to traffic accidents. In the long term, excessive alcohol consumption causes serious problems, such as heart, liver, and brain disease, and can lead to alcohol dependence.
Tobacco smokers are exposed to over 4,000 chemicals, including nicotine, which is addictive, and other chemicals that increase susceptibility to cancer and to narrowing of the arteries, a cause of heart disease and stroke. The smoke may also have adverse effects on the health of people, particularly children, who live around a smoker.
All recreational drugs alter your state of mind; many, such as LSD and marijuana, can impair judgment and increase the risk of accidents. Drugs may be highly addictive and may cause death from overdose or side effects. Most recreational drugs are illegal.
Human beings are unique among animals in having the capacity for sexual desire even when the female is not fertile and in retaining desire into old age, long after conception has ceased to be possible. The explanation may be that sex helps to maintain partnerships. Regular sex also seems to improve cardiovascular fitness and prolong life. People who are involved in stable sexual relationships live longer than those without sexual partners.
A satisfying sexual relationship is an important part of life but not always easy to achieve, and sexual contact may be risky. In particular, casual sex and sex with multiple partners carry the risks of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The first article in the section covers the basic elements of a healthy sexual relationship. The article on safe sex discusses ways to reduce your risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections. The final article provides an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of contraception. Education about sex, pregnancy, and STIs is particularly important for teenagers, who often fail to make use of contraceptives and ignore advice about safe sex. In the UK, this has resulted in the highest rate of teenage conceptions in Western Europe.
Specific sexual problems and the symptoms and treatment of sexually transmitted infections are discussed in other sections of the guide (see Sexual problems, and Sexually transmitted infections), as are possible problems in conceiving (see Infertility)
Your physical and psychological health are closely linked. A long-term physical illness is likely to make you feel low, while a mental health disorder such as depression may cause physical symptoms. You can make changes in your lifestyle to improve your physical and psychological state so that you are better able to deal with the stresses and strains of daily life.
Some life events, such as a death in the family, inevitably cause stress. People’s reactions to such stressful events depend in part on personality and in part on other current causes of stress, such as financial problems. The more stress you have to face, the greater your risk of developing a psychiatric disorder.
To help you to identify problems at an early stage, this section starts with a discussion of the difference between the normal range of wellbeing and a mental health disorder. The next two articles provide advice on how to develop good sleep habits and on ways to identify and minimize stress. The final article explains the process of grieving and suggests ways in which you might cope with your feelings.
Specific psychiatric disorders are covered elsewhere (see Mental health disorders).
Although most deaths and disabilities are the result of disease, a substantial number have other causes. About 1 in 40 deaths in England and Wales is caused by an accident. At home, on the road, at work, during recreational activities, and when travelling, accidents result in injuries to millions of people every year.
Accidents are the most significant single cause of death in children and young adults and are a major cause of death and disability in elderly people. They are also a major cause of serious injury in people of all ages. For example, in 2007 nearly 3,000 people were killed, and about 28,000 were seriously injured, in traffic accidents in England and Wales alone. These injuries have substantial social and economic costs and may also have psychological effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The prevention of accidents has become a major concern for both medical and economic reasons. This section is designed to alert you to potentially dangerous circumstances in your everyday life, whether you are at work or at home. The first article addresses safety and health in your home and is followed by others on health and safety in the garden, in the sun, in and around water, with pets, at work, on the road, and when travelling.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.