There is so much to mention regarding summer holidays and health. I am going to list a few key messages basically because they just have to be acknowledged.
Following these messages there will be a section on health promotion. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
First a few messages about taking care of yourself over summer.
• If you are planning overseas travel please contact the Student Health Service (SHS) to discuss making a Travel Health appointment with one of the doctors.
• Take care of yourself and others by not drinking alcohol while you are driving, sailing or swimming. If you are driving long distances check that the car has a current Warrant of Fitness. Reduce your risk of being involved in a car accident by getting a good nights sleep before you start your journey, take rest breaks at least every two hours, get out of the car and have a walk, and drink fluids regularly. Drive at times when you are normally awake and if possible share the driving, research has shown that fatigue is one of the major causes of road traffic accidents.
• Try to minimise how long you are out in the sun between 11am and 4pm, use an SPF30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen. Wipe it on thickly at least 15 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply 15 minutes after the first application to ensure complete coverage. Reapply sunscreen after physical activity, swimming or towel drying, New Zealand has one of the highest incidence of Melanoma (the most serious and potentially fatal form of skin cancer) in the world.
• Safer sex, remember it is difficult to tell who has what. Condoms cost $3 on prescription, see the SHS, or for dams visit D.Vice.
There are many ways of looking at health promotion. Currently in the media there is a lot of information regarding lifestyle choices with different health agencies offering suggestions as to how to promote health, including the ones I have mentioned above. Other messages that many people will be familiar with include stop smoking, limit alcohol, maintain a healthy body weight, be physically active for at least thirty minutes a day, and monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Health advice like this is understandable especially when it is recognised that:
• 90% of adults in Aotearoa have elevated cholesterol levels.
• 75% of adults have blood pressure readings above the recommended level of 125\\75.
• We have high rates of sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia.
• Due to increasing levels of obesity there is a significant increase in the number of people living with Type II diabetes including teenagers and young adults.
It is reassuring that some health campaigns are making a real difference including the Quitline (0800 778 778), free fruit in schools programme, and free or low cost fees at medical centres.
When looking at health, sometimes it can be tempting to concentrate on individuals and on the physical body. When someone comes into to a consultation room it is a lot easier to check their blood pressure or their weight than to explore other aspects influencing their health. However, there are models of health promotion that do look beyond the physical. One model that is well known in Aotearoa is Te Whare Tapa Whaa (four sided-house) developed by Dr Mason Durie in the 1980’s. Te Whare Tapa Whaa is divided into four aspects all of which are important to hold the whare together. There is Taha Wairua, which focuses on the spiritual, Taha Hinengaro the mind, Taha Tinana the physical and Taha Whanau the family. Dr Mason Durie writes in his book, Whaiora Maori Health Development, that integration between these four aspects is necessary to promote health, the boundaries between the individual and their whanau, and indeed between the mind, spirit, thoughts, feelings and the body, are not clear-cut.
In an environment such as Victoria University, it is expected that there will many people using a lot of energy focusing on taha hinengaro, especially with assignment dates and examinations looming. This may be why at this time of year we see an increase in the number of students experiencing stress related conditions. It is difficult to cope when the whare is in need of some attention. The important thing to remember is the type of stress we are currently seeing on campus is frequently short lived. Once exams have finished everyone seems a lot calmer.
Perhaps after exams you may like to do some health promotion on yourself. As explained by Dr Durie, if you are able to do this you will be positively affecting lots of other people including your friends and whanau, which would be nice. The summer break offers an opportunity to address some imbalances in our lives. If study and work have been taking up most of your time you may like to consider caring for your body in a positive way. Catching up with relatives can be both enjoyable and helpful as it can strengthen links and foster feelings of belonging, which tends to make people feel happier and healthier. Taking time to look beyond the obvious and to consider spirituality is definitely another way to promote health. There are lots of ways to do this too whether is be through prayer, watching the sunrise or set, or going for a walk by the sea, in the hills or in a forest. Learning the names of our birds and fish, plants and trees, will also make you feel more connected with your environment and reduces feelings of isolation.