Self-care is an Underestimated Weapon to Combat 21st Century Killer Diseases

On 24 July, around the world, people will celebrate Self-Care.  Why is this important? And why should you care? Non-Communicable Diseases

(NCDs) – cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases lead to 63% of annual deaths worldwide. NCDs are global killers and major health challenge. They affect individuals as well as society with an economic burden estimated to reach $30 trillion over the next 20 years.  Yet the good news is that NCDs are preventable to a large extent through better self-care – up to 80% of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes and over a third of cancers could be prevented.

Self-care is a holistic and very powerful concept. It involves making healthy lifestyle choices ranging from regular exercise, healthy eating, good hygiene, avoiding risky behaviour such as smoking, but also getting vaccinated, using sunscreen and the rational use of self-care products, services and medicines. This should go hand in hand with improving our health knowledge and becoming more aware of physical and mental conditions. When practiced 24/7 self-care makes a huge difference to our wellbeing and results not only in higher self-esteem but also in improved wellness and longer life expectancy.

Although there has been some progress in recognizing the crucial role of self-care in the prevention of NCDs, it is still not sufficiently appreciated by the general public globally.

Part of the problem is that self-care is also not seen as integral part of health care systems, which are currently oriented to disease treatment. Prevention focuses on diseases and not encouraging ‘wellness’. We need to look on a global and national level to reform health systems to shift from treating the citizens as passive victims of diseases to active shapers of their own well-being.  We should support behavioural change by creating self-care friendly policies – from town planning, through to transport and education. This will not only help to save lives but also to reduce the burden on healthcare systems.

Exchanging and promoting best practices among different countries should be a part of the way forward as well. We already see some optimistic tendencies. In 2011 the International Self-Care movement, which celebrates 24 July as International Self-Care Day to remind us all of the benefits of self-care, was launched in China and has since spread to Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Nigeria. Interesting activities are also taking place in Australia, the United States and in the United Kingdom.

As the challenge is global the International Self-Care movement also called on the UN to recognize Self-Care Day on 24 July each year.

This could largely help to raise awareness and encourage people to be active participants in their own self-care and also motivate governments to create self-care friendly policies.

In the meantime we all need to take responsibility for our wellness as we all have a right to health but we also have a responsibility to play our part in it. It is good for helping us to avoid becoming a burden to families, our society and ourselves. It is not difficult – one step at a time and ultimately we can all contribute to combating the killer diseases of the 21st century.

We encourage everybody to join the self-care movement starting today, and invite you to embrace the benefits of self-care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Where better to start than in the island where the positive benefits of a holistic approach to life where so successfully portrayed in “Eat, Pray, Love”!

Dr Zhenyu Guo, the Chairman of the International Self-Care Foundation and initiator of the first Self-Care Day in China in 2012.

Filed under: Opinion

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