Good health is a window into everyone’s life and as a journalist, I’ve had the privilege over the years to listen to many stories of other people’s lives. Two topics that usually come up are health and jobs. Arguably, a good quality of life is not possible without good health and, as we get older, the reality of that becomes evident to just about all of us. Health issues also go to the heart of our personal concerns for those we love the most.
When I was editing Cleo magazine and later The Australian Women’s Weekly I soon discovered our readers had a huge interest in health issues and wanted better information not only on women’s health – breast cancer was a much in-demand topic – but the then major chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma and heart disease.
Anyone who watched ABC TV’s Paper Giants about the early years of Cleo magazine in the 1970s, would be aware that there was much to learn about women’s health in those days. Women were woefully ignorant about their bodies and their health. It was a steep learning curve that gave birth to my passion for advocating about health priorities.
One of my biggest health challenges happened in 1984 when the then Federal Minister for Health, Neal Blewett, asked me to head up the National Advisory Committee on Aids (NACAIDS) with the objective of increasing awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and changing the behaviour of those at risk.
I was involved in the development of one of the most talked about campaigns in Australian history; the Grim Reaper bowling down people as if they were ten pins at a bowling alley. When I first saw the Grim Reaper commercial it chilled me to the bone. It impacted on me and everyone that saw it. This style of campaign to change behaviours had never been done before. It is now a textbook case study in the role that campaigns can play in changing attitudes and behaviours.
What I find exciting as I learn more about health issues are the connections between different diseases. As President of Alzheimer’s Australia I am more aware than ever of the links between physical health and brain health. Effective management of our vascular health, controlling diabetes and obesity all contribute to brain health and the possible avoidance of dementia.
Much of my interest in health issues in recent years has focused on older people. I’m fortunate enough to work not only with Alzheimer's Australia but also Arthritis Australia and the Macular Degeneration Foundation of Australia.
Personally, I’ve always valued good health and I try to follow a healthy lifestyle. I do regular exercise and watch what I eat. My diet includes plenty of fish, vegetables especially green leafy ones, and fresh fruit. It would be wrong of me to “preach” to others if I didn’t practice what I advocate.
Our health isn’t something that should concern us only later in life. We need to keep socially, physically and mentally active throughout our entire lives if we are to benefit as we get older.
There is a remarkable body of evidence that shows there is much people can do to improve their physical and brain health. For instance, by quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption people can maintain not only a healthier body but a healthy brain.
Alzheimer's Australia’s new Your Brain Matters program encourages everyone to look after their brain health throughout their lives. As President, my goal is to promote as effectively as I can the important messages of what everyone can do to benefit their brain health. The simple steps we recommend are not all that difficult to follow and will help maximise the quality of people’s lives by helping them retain as much cognitive capacity as is possible as they grow older.
Visit fightdementia.org.au for more information.