Health

Health minister does more than talk

BY ROCHELLE WILLIAMS

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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'Minister Moves', 'Dr Fit Tufton' and 'Minister of Fitness' are just some of the names ascribed to Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, who is credited as being a minister who 'walks the talk' in the lifestyle habits he advocates.

Dr Tufton, who launched the 'Jamaica Moves' campaign in April, tells JIS News that he has always been interested in health and fitness.

“I used to exercise, but not as much as I do now,” he notes.

However, he says that since becoming health minister, he is even more mindful of how a healthy diet and exercise can impact overall health and transform the country's public health sector.

“I feel I have an obligation as minister of health to show people that it is possible. Although I am not starting from zero, I am doing more now because of the position that I hold and because I want to showcase the importance of exercise,” he says.

“At my age, I have a personal interest in my health and lifestyle... and so I am keen on ensuring that I eat right and engage in regular exercise. I like walking and jogging. I think more clearly, I rest better, and I am not as stressed, and I also feel better about myself,” he notes further.

The husband and father of three says that his goal is simply to be as healthy as possible so he can spend more time with his family.

“My goal is not to be a muscleman or fitness buff. What I try to do and also what I think all Jamaicans should do is to be consistent in committing to some sort of physical activity, and ensure you get periodic check-ups so you know what to avoid or to eat more of,” the health minister advises.

Revealing how he maintains a healthy lifestyle, Dr Tufton says he follows a strict exercise schedule and practises portion control — consuming several small, balanced meals daily.

He replaces sweet drinks with copious amounts of water and consumes green juices, which are replete with essential vitamins and minerals.

He admits that although he indulges in the occasional sweet treat, his preference being dark chocolate, he tries to maintain a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, and avoids processed foods as much as possible.

Dr Tufton tells JIS News that even with his hectic schedule, he ensures that regular exercise is part of his daily regimen, which he notes is an effective “stress buster”.

He says he enjoys early morning runs around the football field in his neighbourhood, and ensures that he gets annual health checks.

Dr Tufton says he also participates in the numerous running events held across the island.

“When I first started, I was a little intimidated until I got into it. Although I am way at the back of the pack — I am doing about 35 minutes for a 5K — when I started I couldn't do the 1K, now I can do the 5K, so I'm making progress,” he laughs.

The health minister says his entire family is with him on the fitness journey, eating healthy meals and engaging in physical activities.

Through the Jamaica Moves campaign, the minister is appealing to Jamaicans in every sector of society to join the fitness revolution.

The national physical activity and nutrition-change agenda seeks to educate individuals on the risk factors associated with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), in an effort to encourage them to lead healthier lives.

Under the theme 'More Moments, More Memories, More Life', the programme focuses on building supportive environments to facilitate increased physical activity and proper nutrition.

One component of the campaign is the 'Jamaica Moves Get Moving Corporate Challenge', which was launched in July and encourages organisations to become health ambassadors in promoting healthy lifestyle habits among staff.

Dr Tufton notes that his vision is for a healthy Jamaican population which, he argues, will relieve the stress on the health system caused by the prevalence of NCDs.

NCDs such as diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers account for 70 per cent of total deaths in Jamaica, 35 per cent of which occur in people below the age of 70 years.

Recent statistics indicate that 25 per cent of Jamaicans between 15 and 74 years old have hypertension, and an estimated eight per cent or almost 150,000 Jamaicans suffer from diabetes.

“The more persons take preventive steps to safeguard their health, such as engaging in physical activity, the fewer visits they will have to make to health facilities due to these NCDs. This investment in their health will ultimately improve the overall quality of life,” he contends.

Jamaicans are buying into the campaign, with several community groups and business places establishing weight loss and fitness teams.

Special projects manager for National Baking Company Tiffany Wong, who accepted the minister's fitness challenge, participating in the 'Jamaica Moves Get Moving Challenge' held throughout the month of April, credits him for leading by example.

'Get Moving' challenged individuals to lead by example and commit to 10,000 documented steps per day over four weeks.

“He's trying to show everyone, 'If I can do it, you can too'... I think he's doing a wonderful thing by using physical activity to teach people about NCDs and how to combat them,” Wong notes.

Wong says her company fully supports the Jamaica Moves campaign, launching the 'National Baking Company Moves' on July 21.

“I think this (exercise) is cheaper than medication and is good for maintaining health... It is true that even half an hour per day can make a difference. If I am inspired to move even though I am not naturally a very physical person, anyone can,” she says.

Director of Running Events Limited Alfred Francis lauds the minister for his proactive approach to public health.

“We have a minister who walks the talk and leads from the front. That is essential, because once you are exemplary in what you do and show a sincerity of purpose, people will look up to you and will follow you,” Francis points out.

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