Do you consider yourself a healthy person?
Most young people define good health as the lack of diseases, but according to health practitioners, the state of being healthy goes deeper than that - it is a state of not only physical, but also mental and social well-being.
With the myriad of issues that most youth are dealing with – pressure to perform well in school, unemployment, pressure to excel at work, unhealthy romantic relationships, just to name a few, who has the time to think about their health?
Five youth reveal exactly where health lies in their list of priorities.
Murugi Wambui, 27
Career: Construction Industry
Murugi started making deliberate choices about her health when she reached teenage, though the desire to make her health a priority became more focused when she reached adulthood.
“When I started using make-up about three years ago, I discovered that there were genuine and counterfeit brands, with the latter costing less. Rather than buy the cheap ones, I save, sometimes up to four months, to ensure that I get the right product. Even then, before making a purchase, I research on the ingredients used in a particular product to find out if they would have any negative effect on my skin. I have seen friends who have had breakouts after using some products,” she says.
Her health, she says, is her first priority, and she in fact regularly takes various tests every year to ensure that she is free of disease.
“Just a few weeks ago, I went for a Pap smear to test cervical cancer. I also know my Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure and HIV status,” she says.
To keep her skin looking healthy, she takes lots of water and also exercises, though not as much as she would like.
“My greatest obstacle to leading an absolutely healthy life is junk food. I eat it often because it does not require lots of time to prepare and is easily available - I am trying to cut back on processed food by carrying packed lunch to work,” she says.
While her physical health is never far from her mind, Murugi says that she hasn’t always made the right choices when it comes to her emotional health.
“Four years ago, when I was 23, I got into a relationship that left me hurt and emotionally drained. It took me a long time to move on and eventually get back to my jovial self,” she says.
There was also a time when she was stressed at work, drained, she explains.
“I didn’t quite understand how the system worked and it quite stressful, thankfully, I was able to figure it out and now I am quite happy at work.”
One way she takes care of her emotional health is refraining from holding grudges or comparing herself to others. These, she says, can be a source of stress which could lead to depression.
To rejuvenate, she engages in relaxing activities such as nature trail walks or road trips at least once a month.
Sleep is also important to her, though she manages around five hours, rather than the seven doctors tend to recommend for an adult.
“I prefer to wake up early to avoid the early morning rush which is stressful, this way, I am also able to arrive at work in time. Sleeping fewer hours has never affected my productivity,” she says.
Murugi has a medical cover.
“I took it up about three years ago, and I think it’s one of the best decisions I ever made concerning my health.”
Joshua Nyantika, 25
Photographer and graphic designer
It took falling ill five years ago for Joshua to admit to himself that his priorities needed to change.
“I was at the University of Nairobi studying microprocessor technology and instrumentation, besides this, I was hustling as a photographer and a graphic designer too and was a member of various organisations,” he recounts.
Although the doctor could not tell what was wrong with him, deep inside, he knew that he had been driving himself too hard, and so he decided to let go of some of his responsibilities.
Recently, he took a BMI test and the doctor recommended that he start exercising to build muscle.
“I was advised to take up exercise but I am yet to start engaging in any serious physical activities. I think I still hold the notion that proper exercise means going to the gym or taking part in habitual activities such as daily runs,” he explains.
He considers himself a picky eater, but mostly goes for a balanced diet and only allows himself junk food on a few occasions.
“Some of my friends find it hard to hang out with me because I am that person who will say, ‘don’t eat that, it’s not good for your health’,” he laughs, disclosing that he only eats when hungry.
“I don’t take food just because it’s there.”
Besides watching what he eats, he doesn’t take drugs and is practicing abstinence. He also ensures that he sleeps for at least six hours every day.
“Before I discovered the value of sleep, I would go for sleepovers and spend the entire night chatting, now I value my sleep more.”
He deals with different personalities as he goes about his hustle, and there are those instances that he will feel wronged, in such cases, instead of harbouring negative thoughts, he talks it out – “I have very supportive family and friends that have helped me stay emotionally healthy.”
After completing his studies in February this year, one of the steps he is happy to have taken is registering for the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF).
Emma Nalianya, 22
Emma, a fourth-year student at Kenyatta University, says that enrolling to study a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery has positively impacted her in various ways.
“Before I started studying the course, my emotional health was poor – the practical experience I have had interacting with patients has made me a more compassionate person. It has also made me enthusiastic about preaching health and wellness to fellow students,” she says.
She however points out that her subject of study has many challenges, since it is a vast field with lots to learn, which can be overwhelming. To keep stress at bay, she has found a way to strike a balance between various aspects of life. “I enjoy writing during my free time, learning new languages and volunteering with different organisations, this makes my life more fulfilling.”
When it comes to her physical health, she watches what she eats.
“I know, for instance, that the type of food we eat can affect mood, so I am very cautious about what I eat. My menu varies, but I ensure that I take breakfast, mostly comprising of tea, bread and two eggs. I also take plenty of water throughout the day to keep hydrated.”
Sleep is also a priority to her, since, as she puts it, it boosts her mental and physical health.
“I have noticed that if I fail to get enough sleep, I am less productive the following day.”
Kelvin Karonji, 27
Founder: Tisement media- advertising and Marketing Agency
One of the habits that Kelvin has held onto for the past 10 months is going for BMI tests after every month. “My health is my first priority because I believe that you cannot do much if you are not healthy, so I watch my weight - every morning I run and skip.”
His path to better health was inspired by an unfortunate incident that happened early this year.
“I was with a friend in town when I started nose bleeding. My job as a marketer requires me to do a lot of walking, and I thought the fatigue was what might have caused the nose bleed.”
After this experience, he decided to start taking more water and get frequent rest. A couple of months later however, he had a similar experience that brought to the fore all other aspects of well-being that he had been ignoring.
“Three months ago, I woke up at around 3am with a severe headache and I had to see a doctor. The doctor gave me an injection that put me to sleep for about 10 hours,” he narrates.
Depending on what he was working on, he sometimes had to work late into the night, denying himself enough rest.
“I learnt the hard way not to overwork myself, now, I ensure that I have sufficient sleep, no less than six hours a night.” He is conscious about what he eats and deliberately avoids junk food. “I grew up with my dad, who made a point of cooking daily. Our main meal of the day was breakfast, which consisted of the previous night’s leftover meal or tea and sweet potatoes. I don’t remember a day that we ate junk food. I use the same approach, and should I crave something sugary like soda, I take hot water instead,” he says.
He is an introvert, and when he feels the need to get “stuff” off his system, he plays drums, composes music, plays video games or sometimes goes out for a run. “Occasionally, I go out alone to rejuvenate and think things through.”
Kadima Samwuel, 24
Student and videographer
Kadima, 24, is a fourth-year student at the University of Nairobi studying a bachelor of Science in astronomy and astrophysics. He is also a videographer and sells men’s suits on the side. With such a full plate, sleep is at the bottom of his to-do list.
“I only go to bed when I am done with my studies and work. On some nights, I sleep as few as two hours,” he says. He is aware that this is not good for his health, in fact, last year, he suffered burnout and had to give up one of his side-hustles, graphic design.
“Around that time, I had several tight deadlines to meet, I was editing a video and needed to design posters yet I still had classes to attend. It was overwhelming but I resolved to do it because I needed the money. One day, I woke up feeling uncharacteristically tired and also felt dizzy and weak. I knew then that I could not go on this way - I stopped offering graphic design services.
Growing up in Spain, a slum in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, Kadima says that he was not conscious of his health.
“I started taking drugs when I was about 16 years. I started with alcohol then advanced to miraa (khat) then bhang. This was the measure of being ‘cool’ where I lived. It did not occur to me that this behaviour was taking a toll on my health, even though I would have periodic headaches,” he says.
Although his choice to stop taking drugs was not inspired by the need to lead a healthy lifestyle, rather, by enlightenment, he is happy that he managed to overcome his addiction to drugs. When it comes to food, he admits that he is not really conscious about what he eats, neither does he have a regular eating schedule.
“I eat only when I am hungry and seldom do I take breakfast. Sometimes, I will eat lunch and then take tea in evening before going to bed. I however don’t take many fatty or sugary foods. Although I don’t eat a balanced diet on a regular basis, I try to eat healthy food,” he says.
He doesn’t go for regular health check-ups but is aware of his HIV status having tested four months ago.
“I was donating blood, and a test was one of the pre-requisites,” he explains, and adds, “The one time I had a voluntary HIV test was back in 2016. I was in my second year at the university and on some occasions, I wasn’t engaging in safe sex. I wanted to know my status because I was keen on abstinence,” he says.
He has never considered going for tests such as prostate cancer. He also no longer exercises, citing a demanding school and work schedule. “Once, I used to exercise regularly but I got busy and distracted, so I don’t do it anymore,” he explains.
Although he dreads getting ill or stressed, he says that he values success more than he does health. “Considering my poor background, I am motivated to work harder everyday - I pay my school fees, so I cannot afford to cut off any of my remaining sources of income,” he says.
He depends on the medical insurance offered to students by the university.