If you’re the picture of healthy living during the week, but let it all slide on the weekend, you may be wasting all your good efforts – and putting yourself in danger. Beware these weekend health woes.

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: you make healthy choices all week long, whether it’s exercising regularly, eating healthily, watching your alcohol intake or taking your meds on time. But as soon as the weekend arrives, all your common sense flies out the window – often along with your good health.

“For some people, weekends are synonymous with indulgence. Alcohol and unhealthy foods replace well-balanced meals, while exercise is replaced with long naps or falling into a vegetative trance in front of the TV,” says Dr Owen Wiese, a medical doctor from Cape Town and Health24.com’s resident doctor.

Dr Wiese notes that although it’s not a sin to take a break after a frenetic work week, weekend overindulgences might quickly set you back a kilogram or two – and that’s just with fast foods, the haute cuisine of weekends for millions of people around the globe.

According to the Enhanced Media Metrics Australia report (published on Goodfood.com.au) Australians make 51.5 million visits to fast-food restaurants every month. If you consider that fast foods are linked to a higher total energy intake – with more saturated fat, carbohydrates and sugar, along with a lower intake of micronutrients – you’ll realise that going the fast-food route too often may be detrimental to your health.

What’s more, indulging in pizza, burgers and fries over the weekend isn’t the only weekend habit that could cost you dearly…

Recreational drugs
For many people, weekends are synonymous with partying and clubbing – and where there are parties, there are very often drugs. If you value your health or your life, it’s best to steer clear of drugs.

According to the Australian Government’s National Drug Campaign, heavy use of some drugs can damage the liver, brain, lungs, throat and stomach. In addition, drug use increases your risk for infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/Aids, sexually transmitted infections, injuries, accidents, stress, depression and psychosis.

The Australian Federal Police makes other important points: “In contrast to prescription drugs, illegal drugs aren’t manufactured in controlled environments under strict standards of quality. In other words, you never know what quality and quantity you’re ingesting, or with what cheaper poison an unscrupulous dealer may have diluted the drug.”

They continue: “Some of the side effects of illegal drugs could actually limit your ability to have the 'good time' you might have thought the drug was going to provide. The side-effects multiply, compound and can cause permanent damage the more frequently you take the drugs.”

Most of us can enjoy a pint or two without losing control or putting our life at risk. However, if you frequently engage in weekend binge drinking, you may be looking for trouble. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, this typically happens when men consume five or more drinks, and when women consume four or more drinks in the space of about two hours.

If you binge drink, you may not be alcohol dependent, but you could be in very real danger. “Binge drinking is associated with many health problems,” says the CDC. This includes unintentional injuries, alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, foetal-alcohol spectrum disorders, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, neurological damage, sexual dysfunction, and poor control of diabetes.

Lack of sleep
Whether you’re having a marathon session in front of the TV, cramming for that big test on Monday, or drinking with your friends until the small hours of the morning, lack of sleep can harm your health and may even kill you in the long run.

“Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy,” says experts at Britain’s National Health Services (NHS).

Not taking your meds
Another result of relaxing or partying hard over the weekend may be that you forget to take your chronic medication.

“Chronic medication is essential to ensure chronic illnesses are well controlled,” says Dr Wiese, adding that forgetting to do so could land you in a hospital emergency room.

“Not taking your meds may not have immediate side effects in some instances, as for example in the case of cholesterol medication,” he continues. “But in other cases, such as with diabetes medication, it’s a very bad idea. You run the risk of hyperglycaemic (abnormally high blood glucose) and hypoglycaemic (abnormally low blood glucose) episodes.”

Ending up in hospital
And ending up in a hospital emergency room over the weekend as a result of skipping your chronic meds, or using alcohol or drugs, is in itself risky.

When you take into account that service delivery and care at health facilities is sometimes sub- standard over weekends and holidays, it’s best to keep a good check on your health on Fridays,

Saturdays and Sundays.
According to a study published in the Journal of The Royal Society of Medicine (2012), healthcare systems organise services differently over the weekend period compared to weekdays, and there is some evidence that this may affect the quality of care and the outcomes of patients.

“A number of studies have identified an increased risk of death associated with weekend emergency admissions,” the researchers write.

Stay healthy with these tips
Now that you know the risks, you may be wondering how you can enjoy your weekends without turning them into disasters. Dr Wiese offers these valuable tips:

    • Try not to spend a lot of time lazing in front of the television – you’re not getting any exercise and may end up eating unhealthy junk food.

    • The occasional take-away on a movie night is definitely not the end of the world, but try not to make it a habit.

    • Keep hydrated by having a pitcher of water and a glass on within easy reach.

    • Stick to your sleeping patterns. If you normally go to bed at 9pm during the week, try not to go to bed at midnight over weekends, unless you absolutely have to.

    • Plan weekend activities that don’t include too much drinking at parties.

    • Stay away from illegal substances, especially when on chronic medication.

    • Relax! After a busy week, spending time on the sofa with a novel may be just what you need. Although you’re not physically active, you’re still stimulating your brain.


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