Non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke, and lung disease are some of the world’s leading causes of death (World Health Organisation, 2017). But did you know that as many as 80% of these deaths could be prevented through better self-care (SMASA, 2016)?
Looking after your health isn’t only a way to avoid dying prematurely; it also adds to your quality of life.
International Self-Care Day
International Self-Care Day is a worldwide initiative that takes place on 24 July (24/7) every year as a reminder that the benefits of and commitment to self-care is lifelong, and should be experienced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or 24/7. The global theme for International Self-Care Day this year is ‘Get better with Self-Care. In South Africa, the day is promoted by the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA) – the leading advocates of responsible self-care and self-medication (Self-Care 24/7, 2016).
Nicola Brink, Executive Director of SMASA, says, “South Africans must be encouraged to take care of themselves holistically, because self-care is all-encompassing. It includes activities that people undertake to improve their health and wellbeing, as well as the knowledge that they obtain and the advice they follow from healthcare professionals.”
The 7 pillars of self-care
Improving your own self-care can be difficult – especially if you’ve practised bad habits like smoking. But good self-care isn’t just about not being unhealthy. It’s broader than that.
To illustrate the scope of self-care, the International Self-Care Foundation (2017) has divided the concept into seven key pillars. By understanding these, you’ll be in a better position to target the areas of self-care most lacking in your life.
PILLAR 1: KNOWLEDGE & HEALTH LITERACY
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines this as “the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways to promote and maintain good health” (2017). Health literacy is also about:
- Understanding what determines good health
- Understanding information given by health professionals
- Knowing where to look for health information and how to use it
- Distinguishing good health info from bad
- Being familiar with common diseases, their causes, and how to prevent them
- Grasping the value of health screenings at key life points
- Understanding medicines and vaccines
- Recognising when to seek professional advice
- Understanding indirect influences on health, like food labelling
PILLAR 2: MENTAL WELLBEING, SELF-AWARENESS & AGENCY
This pillar has three key elements:
1. Mental wellbeing: Optimism, positive self-esteem, a sense of purpose and belonging, feeling supported, coping with stress, and being productive
2. Self-awareness: Applying your health knowledge and literacy (everything in pillar 1) to your personal circumstances
3. Agency: Your capacity and intention to act on matters regarding your health
Being strong in this pillar means being a balanced, positive, motivated, and functional person, with the capacity to love yourself and others. It also means knowing your:
- Family’s medical history
- Vaccination history
- Screening requirements
- Resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Weight, height and body mass index (BMI)
- Cholesterol levels
- Blood glucose level
- Mental and emotional status
- Stress levels and sleeping habits
- Oral health situation
- Day-to-day hygiene practices
- Level of physical activity
- Risk profile, e.g. smoking and drinking
PILLAR 3: PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Physical activity is moving your body and using your muscles, and it’s essential to good health; significantly reducing your risk of many non-communicable diseases. WHO (2017) states that, “physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.” Furthermore, activity improves mood and helps to control weight. Adults aged 18 to 64 should:
- Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week
- Perform aerobic activity in sessions of at least 10 minutes
- Perform strengthening activities using major muscle groups, 2 or more days a week
PILLAR 4: HEALTHY EATING
Our culture of over-eating and our high-calorie, low-nutrient diets have led to a global obesity epidemic: the primary source of diet-related morbidity (WHO, 2004). WHO recommends:
- Eating as much food as your body needs energetically
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts
- Limiting your intake of fats
- Eating fewer saturated fats and trans-fatty acids
- Eating fewer simple sugars
- Limiting your salt intake
PILLAR 5: RISK AVOIDANCE OR MITIGATION
This means avoiding behaviours that increase your chances of illness or death, by:
- Being vaccinated
- Not smoking
- Practising safe sex
- Drinking in moderation
- Protecting yourself from the sun
- Driving carefully
PILLAR 6: GOOD HYGIENE
Hygiene refers to the habits that help maintain your health and prevent the spread of diseases, including drinking sterilised water, washing your hands and body regularly, keeping your living area clean, and brushing your teeth.
PILLAR 7: RATIONAL & RESPONSIBLE USE OF SELF-CARE PRODUCTS & SERVICES
This means managing your health with activities, diets, medicines, products, or services. In terms of medicine use, the International Self-Care Foundation (2017) recommends that you:
- Always read the directions provided with your medicine
- Follow the instructions
- Ensure that your pharmacist or doctor explains everything you don’t understand
- Call your doctor immediately if you have a serious side effect
- Complete the treatment course
Furthermore, SMASA (2016) recommends that you:
- Keep medication out of reach and sight of children
- Choose a cool, dry storage environment for your medicines
- Keep medicines in their original packaging
- Check the expiry date on every box
- NEVER use expired or altered medicine
- Dispose safely of unused and expired medicine
Your wellbeing is your duty
Taking care of your health isn’t a luxury. As a mother, father, daughter, son, brother, sister, colleague, or friend, your wellbeing affects other people too. And that means the welfare of others depends on your looking after yourself.
Don’t be another WHO statistic. Look after yourself this International Self-Care Day, and every day after that. We don’t call it 24/7 for nothing.
The Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA) aims to promote self-care and to enable consumers to responsibly and appropriately self-medicate and self-treat primary ailments where possible. As such, SMASA represents companies involved in the provision, distribution and sale of healthcare products. SMASA also engages actively in legislative, regulatory and policy development.
- International Self-Care Foundation, ‘The Seven Pillars of Self-Care’ 2017. Available at: http://isfglobal.org/practise-self-care/the-seven-pillars-of-self-care/. Accessed on 19 July 2017.
- Self-Care 24/7, ‘International Self-Care Day’ 2016. Available at: http://selfcare247.co.za/international-self-care-day/. Accessed on 19 July 2017.
- SMASA, ‘Self-care’ 2016. Available at: http://smasa.za.com/self-care/. Accessed on 19 July 2017.
- The World Health Organization, ‘Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health’ 2011. Available at: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/physical-activity-recommendations-18-64years.pdf. Accessed on 19 July 2017.
- The World Health Organization, ‘Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health’ 2004. Available at: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/strategy/eb11344/strategy_english_web.pdf. Accessed on 19 July 2017.
- The World Health Organization, ‘Mortality and global health estimates’ 2017. Available at: http://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/en/. Accessed on 19 July 2017.
- The World Health Organization, ‘Physical activity’ 2017. Available at: http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/. Accessed on 19 July 2017.
- The World Health Organization, ‘Track 2: Health literacy and health behaviour’ 2017. Available at: http://www.who.int/healthpromotion/conferences/7gchp/track2/en/. Accessed on 19 July 2017.