How healthy are you, really?

By Claire Isaac | Presented by AIA Vitality

Contribution by Madeline Calfas

Heads up, ACT readers: According to a recent survey, your lifestyle is one of the healthiest in the country! In the inaugural AIA Vitality Wellbeing Index report, you score big on physical activity, you're non-smoking and you've ditched those sugary drinks. Take a – flexible and well-hydrated – bow.

For the rest of us, well… it could be time for a friendly wake-up call, because the lifestyle choices we make now will contribute to our wellbeing long-term.

Lifestyle is often the driver of non-communicable diseases (think cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer) which are responsible for 90 per cent of premature deaths in Australia and New Zealand – and, according to the World Health Organization, may make you more susceptible to COVID-19.

The good news is that a bit of preventative healthcare can help. "Proactive preventative healthcare means taking small steps now to improve and maintain all aspects of your life," explains preventative health expert Dr Zac Turner.

"By having a lifestyle focus which considers the impact of exercise, diet, smoking and alcohol, it can enable great health outcomes."

While the ACT is ahead of the rest of the country with 18 per cent of the population meeting the physical activity guidelines, the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is something we can all aim for.

Trainer and co-founder of Sydney's Flow Athletic, Ben Lucas, agrees. "A moderate intensity is an intensity that makes you work hard enough to burn off three to six times more energy per minute than when you are sitting," he says.

"Take a very brisk walk, ride a bike at a medium effort, do some light toning/strength training that doesn't involve the heaviest weights or some high intensity interval training."

Victoria tops the country on nutrition, the survey revealed, while NSW is all over the recommended daily fruit guidelines, and Tasmania has the most veggie eaters.

But it's not hard for every Australian to get on track. Integrative medicine practitioner Madeline Calfas says the biggest no-no is sugar, which can lead to health issues like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

"The best way to ensure you truly have a healthy diet is to follow the J.E.R.F. protocol: Just Eat Real Food," she advises. "By minimising foods that don't come from a packet, you can not only avoid hidden sugars, but you are also avoiding preservatives and additives that can wreak havoc in our bodies."

Smoking? Stop, or at least start cutting down, says Dr Turner. "If you go from 20 a day to 13, then nine, to six and then three, for example, over a three-month period there will be a significant improvement in your health," he says. "If you stop all together, in five to seven years you will get your lungs back to a pre-smoking state."

As for how much is OK when it comes to your favourite tipple, lifetime alcohol guidelines say we shouldn't consume more than two standard drinks a day.

"Drinking every day, or binge drinking more than four standard drinks on one day, means that you are putting your body at risk of alcohol-related illness such as fatty liver disease, diabetes, heart disease and depression," explains Calfas.

"Also, try to reduce the number of sugary drinks and cocktails you consume – it's not just the alcohol that's the issue here."

Got all that? Turns out this preventative health lark is actually quite straightforward.

"Yes," agrees Dr Turner. "It's really all about keeping healthy people healthy."

And that's important no matter where you live.

AIA, with AIA Vitality, is on a mission to get all Australians making the small changes they need to become the healthier version of themselves. Head to aia.com.au/onelife for more healthy-living inspiration.