Are We Killing Ourselves through Poor Diets, Drinking and Lack of Exercise

Categories Lifestyle


Historically, energy-intensive activities like farming, hunting and gathering, kept our ancestors healthy. They were trimmer, fitter and had fewer joint problems. Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine once said that if we all had “the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health”

But today the phenomenon has changed, fueled by urbanization, people exercising less, the sedentary nature of modern work, and the popularity of processed food, which is full of salt and sugar.

Food for the table is just a refrigerator away. We have adopted a lifestyle of sedentary behavior, inactivity and laziness.

The World Health Organization projects that lifestyle diseases will become the biggest killer by 2030 and cause 75% of deaths – many of them premature and preventable. The epidemic includes heart and lung diseases, adult-onset diabetes, some cancers, stroke, high blood pressure and a range of other ills.

This post aims to highlight the new lifestyles that we have adopted; daily routines which have been shown through research to be killing us softly.

What we do is just change chairs the whole day. Sample this:

1. First we sit at the breakfast table

Our ancestors used to take a healthy breakfast which included fibre, protein and healthy fat and this gave them energy to carry out heavy jobs and made them feel full until the next meal. Examples included porridge, sweet potato, cassava, yams, arrow roots, ugali (maize or sorghum meal that is added to boiling water and heated until it turns into a dense block of maize/sorghum meal paste), githeri (cooked maize and bean mix – the beans may also be black beans or peas), irio (mashed paste mix of potatoes, maize, beans and some green vegetables). Today our breakfast comprises refined carbohydrates such as cereals, pancakes, bread, and pastries. These foods are low in fiber and are quickly broken down by the body into sugar.

2. We sit in the car

While our ancestors used to walk everywhere and all the time for very long distances, we have taken to driving everywhere and all the time even for distances shorter than 500 meters. The average commuter in Nairobi spends at least four hours a day heading to and from work. Studies have shown that unlike active commuters who walk or bike, driving is not only physically and psychologically stressful, it also makes one less social–attending fewer social events, family gatherings, or public events.

3. We take the elevator

Again, this deprives us the benefits of walking, or climbing the stairs. Stair climbing can be used as form of exercise that can have a powerful and positive impact on your health over time. It requires you to pull your weight against gravity, it requires more effort and its health benefits accrue more rapidly than walking.

4. We sit in the office

Some office duties will require you to be seated when performing them. This means that you spend most of your morning hours between eight o’clock and lunch time seated.

A break may be provided for at ten o’clock where tea and some snacks may be taken. The snacks will again most likely be processed junk food, instead of healthy foods like sweet potato and arrow roots.

5. We sit at the lunch table either away or we request for the lunch to come

The favorite food for majority of Kenyans is nyama choma (roast meat) and ugali. This may come with some kachumbari (fresh tomato and onion salad), and a soda (or beer).

Compare this with what our ancestors would eat: variety, fresh and straight from the gardens. Healthy foods that included ngwaci (sweet potato), mianga (cassava), ikwa (yams), nduma (arrow roots), ugali, githeri, irio or mukimo, ingokho (chicken), fish, wimbi (finger millet), muhia (sorghum), mathoroko (cow peas), malenge (pumpkin) and healthy vegetables that included miroo (Crotalaria sp), managu/dek/tsisaka (leaves of Solanum psedocapsicum), mrenda (Jute/Bush Ocra), kunde (black-eyed peas), minji (green peas), sukuma wiki (kale), thabai (stinging nettles) and terere/osuga/rinagu (African night shade).

6. We sit, again, in the office after lunch

Our ancestors would take lunch in the gardens and immediately continue with their farming activities until sunset. Today, young people in the rural areas do not return to work in the afternoons.

Meanwhile, we continue doing our jobs while seated in our offices. A short four o’clock tea break may be provided. The tea is taken with snacks which are again refined foods.

Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

7. It is now time to leave work

We sit in the car and either drive to the alcohol bar, to a date, or straight home. At home we sit on the sofa and either read the days news, or watch television or movies, work on our laptops, engage in social networking or play video games.

If we go for dates we shall sit and definitely eat junk food again for as long as the date lasts. Those who go to the drinking joints will sit, take their favorite brand, become hungry and order and eat nyama choma and ugali. After this they will continue drinking until bars close down at eleven o’clock when they will sit in a car and drive or be driven home.

8. And then, finally, we go to sleep

We go home and straight to bed, where we’re even more physically inactive. We snore our way until morning when we wake up, get out of bed and the routine restarts.


Today’s technological advances have ushered-in a new reality where we no longer need to do any physical activity. Even walking has become a luxury because the internet has made all services reachable from the comfort of our seats, including banking, shopping, socializing with friends, and even make a living. Now stir in the intensive marketing of fast food and you have the making of an epidemic.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “There is no feast that does not come to an end” and like it or not, all of us will one day sit down to a banquet of our consequences. There is still hope if we decide to adopt healthy lifestyles today.

The World Health Organisation recommends the reduction of the four risk factors for lifestyle diseases: lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco smoking.

Getting consistent activity throughout the day keeps our metabolism operating in high gear. Regular workouts such as by jogging or in a gym has been shown to be of help. Avoid driving as much as possible, climb those lifts, avoid eating junk and, if you must sit for long periods, ensure that you give yourself a break after every two hours.


  1. Christine M. Hoehner, Carolyn E. Barlow, Peg Allen, Mario Schootman. Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012. Volume 42, Issue 6, Pages 571–578.
  2. Kristoffer Mattisson, Carita Håkansson, and Kristina Jakobsson. Relationships Between Commuting and Social Capital Among Men and Women in Southern Sweden. Environment and Behavior 2015, Vol. 47(7) 734–753 © 2014 SAGE
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