What can you do to reduce your risk of becoming another claim statistic? Here are five effective and proven ways for you to take control:

Healthy Diet

A balanced and nutritious diet is the foundation of good health. But sometimes our food choices are unwise, and these can lead to conditions which undermine our health. Over time their effects can even accumulate to endanger our lives. This is particularly the case with compounds called saturated fats which can cause plaque to build up in our arteries and lead to cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke. Certain foods contain high percentages of saturated fats, such as butter, cheese, full-cream milk, ice cream and fatty meats. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, can be good for you.

Here are some tips for a healthy diet:

  • Make a point of eating fruit daily.
  • Increase your portion size of vegetables.
  • If you drink full-cream milk, switch to a low fat variety.
  • Opt for high-fibre foods, including cereals and wholegrain breads.
  • If you use butter as a spread, switch to a vegetable oil spread instead.
  • Eat lean cuts of meat, instead of fatty ones such as sausages and meat patties.
  • Choose fish over meat, especially oily or fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and warehou.
  • Avoid adding salt to your food, especially to your meals at the table.
  • Avoid fast foods, particularly high-fat ones.
  • Give up drinking high-sugar soft drinks.
  • Keep your sweet tooth well in check.
  • Don’t binge drink.

A healthy diet can help prevent major illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and diabetes. For further information, advice and recipes for healthy eating, see the Healthy Food Guide.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for health of mind and body. Not only will it positively improve your health, but it will help you to prevent or mitigate a range of serious illnesses. Regular physical activity has such a wide range of health benefits that it is more than just an option.

As a rule, engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day, 60 minutes if you can. Whether it is a brisk walk, a run or a workout at the gym, make a habit of incorporating at least a moderate level of exercise into your daily routine. Exercising regularly will help you to:

  • Improve your mood and fend off depression.
  • Increase your energy levels and feelings of wellbeing.
  • Reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and particular types of cancer.
  • Increase your levels of ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol and decrease your levels of ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Prevent metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
  • Improve the strength and flexibility of your muscles.
  • Strengthen your bones and ward off arthritis.
  • Reduce your blood pressure and pulse rate.
  • Reduce your weight or prevent weight gain.
  • Decrease restlessness and improve your sleep.
  • Reduce your stress levels and help you to relax.
  • Improve the quality and span of your life.

Regardless of your weight, age or level of fitness, you can gain the benefits of regular physical exercise. To learn more, check out the range of physical activity resources produced by the Ministry of Health.

Weight Control

This may surprise you, but a survey1 of all 33 OECD member countries found that Kiwis are the third most obese, beaten only by the United States and Mexico. Worse still, a large study2 involving more than 75,000 people has for the first time found a direct link between obesity and heart disease. The measure of obesity used in each case was Body Mass Index (BMI), and in the latter study it was found that those who had a high BMI had a 26% greater chance of developing ischaemic heart disease. For each increase in BMI of 4 points, that risk increased by 52%.

Do you know your own BMI? You can calculate it now using our advanced BMI calculator.

The combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise is the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. If you do that, then you can expect to have a much reduced risk of developing:

  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Respiratory problems, including sleep apnoea.
  • Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.
  • Certain types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colon and endometrial cancers.
  • Dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol and fatty acids).
  • Liver and gallbladder disease, and gout.
  • Osteoarthritis.

The payoff for effective weight control is high. Learn more about healthy weight.

Stress Control

Stress amounts to too much of a good thing. What this means is that the underlying causes of stress are in themselves beneficial to us in the right doses, but they become harmful to us when we overdose. The day to day pressures we feel to perform, behave or to meet the demands of others usually spur us to actually perform, behave and to meet those demands, but at times those pressures can build to such an extent that they achieve exactly the opposite - in other words, they become counterproductive. When that happens we can end up paying a high price in terms of our health.

Stress which persists over an extended period of time (chronic stress) can cause a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, stomach ulcers, digestive problems, heart disease and stroke. That’s why it’s important not to simply allow stress to have free reign in our lives. You might be unable to control the cause of your stress, but you can control the way in which you respond to it. Stress management means taking control of your thoughts, your emotions, your timetable and your resources for combating stress, and taking the sting out of the effects of stress.

Here are some tips for managing stress:

  • Identify each cause of stress in your work and in your life.
  • Mentally list the ways in which you currently respond to stress.
  • Plan the use of your time, and deal with high-priority tasks early.
  • Learn to say ‘no’ when your responsibilities are already enough.
  • Practice avoiding people and situations which make you stress out.
  • Learn how to ‘mini-relax’, using techniques such as deep breathing.
  • Learn how to ‘max-relax’, with significant time devoted just to you.
  • Cut stressors down to size by adopting a big-picture perspective.
  • Talk to someone about it. A problem shared is a problem halved.
  • Instead of trying to control what you can’t change, just accept it.
  • Keep your batteries full with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
  • Don’t turn to unhealthy solutions to try and cope with stress.

Dealing effectively with stress is seen as an increasingly necessary skill in our busy and complex lives. Learn more about stress management, including stress-busting tips, relaxation and time management.

Periodic Check-ups

Periodic medical check-ups are important for two reasons. Firstly, they can identify risk factors which can lead to ill health, and secondly, they can catch problems in the early stages so that correcting them is much more straightforward. It is a far better thing to prevent health issues, or to identify them when they are easy to deal with, than it is to find yourself grappling with a serious medical condition.

The types of examinations and tests which periodic check-ups involve can include:

  • Your blood pressure.
  • Your weight and BMI.
  • A cardiovascular examination.
  • A prostate check for men.
  • Your cholesterol levels.
  • Screening for diabetes.
  • A liver function test.
  • A thyroid function test.
  • A kidney function test.
  • A blood cell analysis.

If you are apprehensive about seeing your doctor, just think how much more fearful it would be to have a life-threatening illness. If you haven’t had a check-up in a long while, it’s time you picked up the phone.


  1. OECD (Sassi, F et al), 22 September 2010. Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit not Fat, 2010. OECD: Paris.
  2. Nordestgaard, BG et al, 1 May 2012. The Effect of Elevated Body Mass Index on Ischemic Heart Disease Risk: Causal Estimates from a Mendelian Randomisation Approach, 2012. PLOS Medicine: Cambridge.