Ask The Expert: How To Reduce Risk Of Diseases With A Healthy Lifestyle

More than following a balanced diet, it’s also important to manage stress, exercise regularly, and maintain a normal weight.

By Sasha Gonzales        23 November 2021

Diseases like prostate cancer, heart disease, stroke and fatty liver affect thousands of men in Singapore every year. According to the National University Heart Centre Singapore (NUHCS), heart disease tends to be particularly a male problem, attributable to an unhealthy lifestyle, smoking, stress, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Prostate cancer, too, is associated with smoking, obesity, and a high-fat, low-fibre diet.

Alexander Mearns, a health coach and the founder of holistic lifestyle centre LEVITISE, shares some advice for reducing your risk of developing these illnesses and improving your physical and emotional health in a holistic way.   

Q: How much do lifestyle habits influence the development of heart disease, stroke, fatty liver and prostate cancer?

Alexander: These are indeed lifestyle diseases, meaning that they tend to be the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits. Many men do have poor lifestyle habits, for example, they consume too much sugar, alcohol, and deep-fried foods that have been cooked in vegetable seed oils like canola and sunflower. A high-fat diet can lead to obesity and clog the arteries, increasing one’s risk of heart disease and stroke. We’re seeing more prostate cancer too, which may be attributed to too much oestrogen in the body due to environmental toxins. High levels of oestrogen can affect male hormones and the prostate gland.

Other unhealthy lifestyle habits and conditions, such as stress, a lack of sleep, overwork, insufficient exercise and obesity, may also contribute to the risk of developing these diseases.

Q: What’s the ideal diet to help men reduce their risk of these illnesses?

Alexander: My view is that the best diet is natural and organic, not unlike what our grandparents or great-grandparents ate. Before the availability of convenience, packaged and processed foods, people consumed organic rice, veggies and fruit that weren’t laden with pesticides, fish that was caught in the wild, and meat that did not contain antibiotics. The quality of what we put into our mouths is so important. Much of the food many of us eat these days contains way too many toxins that can harm our health.

Q: Can the consumption of cow’s milk increase the risk of prostate cancer? Is plant milk a good substitute for cow’s milk?

Alexander: Milk is quite high in insulin growth factor 1, which can lead to the development of some diseases, especially if it’s bad-quality milk and you consume too much of it. Also, according to the Ministry of Health, many Asians, with the exception of Indians, tend to be lactose intolerant, so dairy products may not be ideal.

I wouldn’t recommend plant “milk”. Nut milks contain phytates and lectins, not to mention the fact that they’re enzymatically “dead”, and some varieties also contain quite a bit of oil and sugar.   

Q: How important is exercise when it comes to reducing the risk of common illnesses?

Alexander: Exercise is important because it lowers stress, keeps you strong and improves heart health. Ideally, you’d want to do two or three strength training sessions a week. By strength training I don’t mean bodybuilding but rather, functional based movements. You should also aim to do cardiovascular exercise regularly. This may include two 30-minute runs or a couple of long walks per week.

Q: How can maintaining a healthy weight help men reduce their risk of these illnesses?

Alexander: Being overweight or obese is not healthy as it increases the risk of all-cause mortality. If you want to reduce your risk of serious illnesses, you should try to maintain a normal weight or lose weight if you’re overweight or obese.

Q: How important are rest, stress management and regular medical screenings to help men stay healthy throughout their life?

Alexander: Rest is important for our physical, mental and emotional health, so try not to push your mind and body too hard and remember to take breaks every now and again. Stress management is a big part of this, too, so avoid overworking and find time for activities that can help reduce your stress levels. As for medical screenings, these can certainly be useful if you’re experiencing certain symptoms or don’t quite feel 100 per cent. Getting these problems checked out may give you peace of mind.

Note: Please consult your GP or physician before starting on a new diet plan.

Do you think lifestyle choices help prevent diseases? Share your thoughts with us at magnsman@sph.com.sg!