Opinion: small changes can make a big difference


By James Reeder, Suffolk County Council Cabinet Member for Health and Prevention.

James ReederWhether we are out celebrating with friends or unwinding at home, it can be all too easy for one alcoholic drink to lead to another, then another… I’m sure we can all think of a recent example of a time when this has happened to us – but what harm can it do?

Last week Suffolk County Council’s Public Health team launched a campaign looking at our relationship with alcohol. The campaign is spearheaded by four characters who talk through short films about their own drinking habits.

We constantly get told that too much is bad for us – but what does that actually mean? How much is too much? National guidelines advise drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. This is the equivalent of six pints of average strength beer or six glasses of wine. It is best to spread units evenly across three days or more, with several alcohol-free days each week.

You may not always feel drunk, but regularly drinking above the guideline amount can have an impact on mental as well as physical health. Evidence suggests direct links between alcohol and heart and liver disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. It can also influence the quality of sleep, not least take its toll on your physical appearance over time. On top of that, the price can quickly add up - the average UK adult spends between £700.00 and £1,000.00 per year on alcohol. If you think about it, would you prefer to spend that money on something else, like a family day out, a ticket to the match or a new outfit?

I was shocked when I found out just how many calories are in alcohol – did you know, for example that just two glasses of wine have the same number of calories as eating a 4oz beef burger? And a pint of beer or glass of wine has the same number of calories as a large slice of chocolate cake.

The campaign offers tips and advice about how you can cut down without feeling that you’re missing out. On a night out – why not seek out lower alcohol alternatives, make every other drink alcohol-free, or at home – pour yourself one glass, then put that bottle away! Did you know that you drink more slowly when you're sitting than when you're standing? So, pull up a chair, take it easy and savour your drink.

These small changes can help you to feel much better the next morning and in the longer term, reduce your risk of developing long-term conditions and health problems.

Small changes really can make a big difference - this message is true of so many aspects of our lives. Whether it’s swapping sugary sweets for a healthier snack, cutting down on cigarettes, or exercising more regularly, small, manageable changes can help you to feel happier and healthier.

The first Move Suffolk week saw thousands of people across the county taking up new activities, getting active and making physical activity part of their daily routine. We were also fortunate to have the Women’s Tour race through our county earlier this month, with 94 of the world’s top female riders here in Suffolk.

We know that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and happier life. Physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, and developing longer-term conditions such as depression heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The more activity you do, the better, and taking part in activities such as sports and exercise will make you even healthier.

The easiest way to get moving is to make activity part of everyday life, for example by walking or cycling instead of using the car to get around, using the stairs instead of the lift.

If you already exercise regularly, why not try something new? You may find a new passion or hobby.

I myself attended several events during Move Suffolk week, including the Sporting memories and Golden Games events. Inspired by what I saw, I am walking much more often and I always make sure I take the stairs rather than the lift. I am finding the more I do, the more energy I have!

Last week also saw the launch of Elmer’s Big Parade, and with it, our elephant, Big Ballet Bertha’s Dance Challenge. Head over to www.mostactivecounty.com/bigballetbertha to learn the dance for yourself, and do come and visit Bertha outside Endeavour House, Ipswich!

Visit www.healthysuffolk.org.uk/smallchanges to watch the films. If you were inspired by the Women’s Tour, why not try one of the popular Women on Wheels events across the county? You can find an event near you at www.wowsuffolk.org.uk.