This essay cannot and should not be misconstrued to mean unlicensed practice of medicine; Writer is an educator, not a physician. Physicians are not gods and drugs are not all the answers to all of our health problems. Physicians and medicines play important parts in our well-being, however, they do not explain why Africans die early or the reason they do not live to be 100 or more. Each of us, while working with our family physicians and taking medications as prescribed, should take full responsibility for the quality of our lives and how long we live. Living long is not a privilege reserved exclusively for the rich. We all can live to be centenarians.
I am getting leery and weary of attending wake keeping each weekend for a Nigerian man or woman who died at a ridiculously young age. I have attended funerals in which, in their opening prayers, the pastors thanked God for allowing the deceased to live beyond "the 70 years Thou hast allotted us." Whoever tells you the Bible says God has allotted us 70 years to live , is telling you okwu asi (Igbo term for a fib or an untruth). That's a blatant lie! We can live up to 100 years and beyond if we learn how to maintain the structures that house our bodies. While I was in China, I once joked about wanting to chat with a dozen 100-year-old Chinese women to learn how some Chinese men I read about on the internet live very long lives. When my guide quickly said to me: "It is impossible," I asked : "Why do you say that, Fiona?" She responded: "Because Chinese men live for a very, very long time with their wives." Then, I asked: "What happens when the men die?" The guide's answer was startling: "Chinese men do not die." I thought it was impossible, really improbable to believe that there are people who do not die. Anyway, like the Chinese, some Americans, Japanese, and British are living to ripe old ages and dying at ages that are well over 100 years. Although a few Nigerians and other Africans do live fairly long lives, the majority of us Africans have a life expectancy much shorter than what is obtainable in the Western world. Why can't we in Nigeria (nay, Africa in general) live much longer than we are now doing? Is the problem nature or heredity? Is it nurture or environmental?
The 10 highest life expectancy countries are Japan ( 82.6 years), Hong Kong (82.2), Switzerland ( 82.1), Israel ( 82.0), Iceland 81.8 ),Australia (81.2), Singapore (81.0), Spain (80.9) Sweden (80.9) , and Macau ( 80.7). Countries with the lowest life expectancies composed by the World Health Organization are in Africa. They are Mozambique (53.52), Nigeria (53.52), Chad (51.50), Angola (51.50), Mali (52.50), Guinea Bissau (50.48). Swaziland (50.49), Somalia (50.48), Lesotho (50.49), Democratic Republic of the Congo (49,48), Central African Republic (48.47), and Sierra Leone (47.46)
There are some health habits that will improve the life expectancy of many of us in Africa:
Speak with your doctor: We Africans do not take advantage of preventive medicine that wards of diseases before they become full blown. It is easier to treat a disease when it beginning to develop than when it is aggressively destroying our bodies. Do you have yearly check-ups for cancer, prostate disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or any of the debilitating diseases that tend to cut our lives short? Take medications prescribed by your doctor as indicated, but remember drugs do not cure, and excessive dependence on chemicals is foolhardy. The human body is naturally equipped to heal and renew itself when properly cared for.
Don't retire from active life: Forget early retirement. Keep working on your job and don't give up work. The world is doing away with forced retirements of older people. Find things to do to occupy the time you spent in the office even if our government forces you to give up your paid employment at mandated retirement age. Research shows older workers have a wealth of experience that can be tapped into, and that retirement does not mean dying early at home. Volunteer work can occupy the time we spent on paid employment.
Keep your mind sharp and in good working condition: It's being said that "the mind is a terrible thing to waste." Keep the mind fully engaged at all times. The mind is the computer that powers your being. Your mind shall not be idle but must be engaged in learning new skills and tasks. Keep the mind sharp doing things that excite you, such as, farming, training to be a preacher, player of new instruments, service as role models for young people, traveler to unfamiliar places in Africa or foreign countries. Read world news and happenings around you. Connect to the internet. Don't travel the same way back and forth to work or church. Find 4 or 5 different routes to get to the same destination. Get lost and figure your way home. Don't rely on gadgets like GPS to help you find your way. I am enjoying getting lost in surrounding counties around my city and asking for directions from highway police, other motorists or gas station attendants. Hehe. I love being lost and spending an hour or two to find my way around. It is an adventure. Learn new language, such as Igbo, Yoruba, Fulani, or the Sign Languages. Enroll in computer enrichment classes.
Move around: Don't sit around inactive like fat Buddha and allow your body to degenerate or atrophy. Don't be imprisoned by arthritis or obesity due to difficulties associated with inaction and laziness. Relive the soccer games you had played, the athletics, running, basketball, jumping, and walking around you did to impress the guy or gal you are now married to. Take your wife or fiancé to a large mall or airport and walk until you are out of breath. Walking is the best and safest exercise one can take. Please take the children with you so you run after them to battle with their fidgety behavior. Walk for at least 2 miles or more each day in your neighborhood. Join the YMCA and do the aerobics.
Eat healthy diets: Foods high in fibers (tuwo, corn, millet, collards, cabbage) cleanse the body of cholesterol and fat-building impurities in our body. Avoid food containing too much starch or sugar to ward off diabetes, stroke, unhealthy prostates, colon cancer, etc Eat green vegetables each day. Enjoy eating your vegetables raw or half-cooked to obtain essential vitamins. Drink half gallon of clean water daily.
Floss your teeth daily: Floss your teeth daily by passing strong threads between your teeth to dislodge rotten foods that might be blocking your arteries and flow of life-giving blood throughout your body.
Have at least six hours of sleep each day: Get no less than 6 hours of good restful sleep undisturbed by fear or uncertainty. An hour or less of quick naps in daytime will do the body lots of good.
Watch out for stress that kills: Why do we stay fretful, anxious, neurotic, or stressed out worrying about things that are beyond our control and that can lead to heart attacks or heart failures? Banish fear and dreadful worrying from our lives. Let go of anger. Forgive those who offend you. Forgive yourself when you make stupid mistakes you shouldn't have made. Apologize readily and quickly to people who have offended.
Treat your body as if it were a loan from God: We do not own the body that houses our soul and mind. It is a loan, a temporary abode that should be maintained while we are on this earth. Treat your body as the White House or Aso Rock mansion where the President lives. Love that body with plenty of good food consisting of sweet fruits (mangoes, bananas, guavas, apples, oranges, plantains, etc), and vegetables (cabbages, okras, onions, lettuce; nuts (groundnuts, cashews, palm kernels) with plenty of clean water. Add fish to our diet, and include vitamins, such as omega-3 and selenium. We ought to keep our body weight down and not be too obese; fatness incites diseases such as strokes and diabetes.
Stay connected with other people: Don't be like the ostrich that buries its head in the sand oblivious of the happenings in the world. Connect with friends and family members. I like the get-together of the Old Secondary School Boys , Yoruba Club and the Igbo Union have to eat, dance till 4am, and converse until there is nothing else to talk about. Remember the Tennis Club at recreation centers. Healthy people call each other up on telephones, visit each other's homes, and attend each other's birthday parties, churches or mosques. You may visit friends' homes to show support when tragedies hit. People who live long often contribute money to help out with friends' funerals. They volunteer and do community work whenever needed.
Play like a crazy man/woman: Remember smashing ping pong/tennis balls at tournaments in your younger age. Have a carpenter to construct a wooden Ping Pong table or buy one. Wake spouse up at 5am to smash her/him until you are ready to go back to bed. Keep the small white balls and table tennis bats ready on the table. Take life easy. Have a good sense of humor Always have kind words to say to people and a willingness to render selfless help. It does not cost you a kobo to smile. Laugh at yourself and at the mistakes you make. Laugh heartily.
Run from alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and marijuana/Indian hemp: These mess up your mind and keep you addicted and imprisoned in a dependent mood. Isn't it like being imprisoned at Kiri Kiri or Federal Penitentiary? It appears alcohol has destroyed many African lives and ruined numerous careers and marriages.