Authorities promote open-air gyms, alternative medicines to fight rising non-communicable diseases

A 45-year-old woman from Dhapasi, Kathmandu was diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes some six months ago. Doctors at the National Cardiac Center, who attended to the patient prescribed medicines and advised her to change her lifestyle and eating habits to control the ailments.

“The patient, who was worried about her health conditions, took the doctors’ advice seriously and joined a yoga class in the morning, made a drastic change in her eating habits, and engaged in physical activities,” said Dr Om Murti Anil, a senior cardiologist. “Her blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are now under control, and she has also reduced her weight. Now, she doesn’t need the high dose of medicines like in the past. ”

This was a common refrain among a few patients, who took doctors’ advice seriously, changed their lifestyles and eating habits, joined yoga classes, and increased physical activity, which helped them control high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Public health experts say changing eating habits, lessening body weight, and starting physical activities, including yoga and physical exercises, help control non-communicable diseases, which have emerged as a major public health problem in Nepal.

Studies show that non-communicable diseases have emerged as a serious public health issue in Nepal, accounting for around 80 percent of total deaths.

A 2019 study by the Nepal Health Research Council on the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases found that they accounted for 71 percent of the deaths in the country.

The study primarily focused on behavioural risk factors—tobacco and alcohol consumption—and biological risk factors—raised blood pressure, overweight, obesity, abnormal lipid prevalence, coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes.

The findings showed that the leading risk factor for death in 2019 was smoking, accounting for 17.7 percent deaths, followed by high systolic blood pressure at 12.3 percent, household air pollution at 11.2 percent, ambient air pollution at 9.3 percent, diabetes at 8 percent, as well as high cholesterol, kidney dysfunction.

Additionally, around 8 percent of the deaths were attributed to accidents, including road traffic accidents.

“For many patients, doctors have to increase the doses of medicines, as every time they come for follow-up, their reports often get worse,” said Anil. “To reduce weight, change lifestyle and eating habits, strong commitments are needed, and very few people have such determination.”

Many patients, despite knowing that they are at high risk of dying due to inactivity, do not change their lifestyle or start physical activity.

Doctors warn that non-communicable diseases—hypertension, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, among others—could lead to a public health crisis if not addressed immediately. They blame a sedentary lifestyle and the consumption of processed foods as chief culprits for the growing burden of non-communicable diseases and obesity.

They warn that people from all walks of life have been affected by the repercussions of changing lifestyles and food habits. Entire family members suffer if any member, particularly the breadwinner, faces serious health problems.

Experts say continuous awareness campaigns about the rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, and the start of yoga classes in community centres, schools, and open-air gyms could help lessen the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.

“Physical exercises not only help in managing the disease conditions but also lessen the risk of developing non-communicable diseases,” said Dr Munkarna Thapa, information officer at the Department of Ayurveda and Alternative Medicine. “Along with physical fitness, they contribute to the mental well-being of people.”

Meanwhile, department officials said that they have allocated a budget to promote open-air fitness centres, yoga classes, and alternatives, keeping in mind the growing burden of non-communicable diseases in society.

Open-air gyms have been set up in public places, and the public can use them free of charge. Apart from setting up outdoor gyms, imparting training to communities and school students and promoting healthy lifestyles to reduce the major risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases, Thapa said.

The department, which has already set up open-air fitness centres at the headquarters of all seven provinces, plans to set up 10 more such centres in the upcoming fiscal year. Several local units also have set up such facilities in their areas.


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