Lifestyle-related chronic diseases are conditions primarily caused by unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices, as opposed to infectious agents that cause communicable diseases. Chronic diseases or non-communicable diseases develop over a long time and persist throughout a person’s life. They are also a significant contributor to mortality and morbidity rates, as well as high healthcare costs across the world.
Understanding Prevalent Lifestyle-Related Chronic Diseases
Some non-communicable diseases are more prevalent than others. The National Library of Medicine reports that hypertension and diabetes are the most common chronic diseases, accounting for 38% and 31% of all chronic diseases, respectively.
Hypertension is one of many cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, and coronary heart disease. The most common risk factors for chronic diseases include smoking, poor diet high in salt, saturated and trans fats, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption, and obesity.
Type-2 diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body utilizes sugar or glucose as a source of energy and how it stores it. While it can start mild, long-term and unmanaged diabetes can cause serious damage. Some of its risk factors include lack of exercise, being overweight or obese, genetics, and a poor diet. It is also often characterized by insulin resistance, where the cells in the body do not respond to insulin.
Obesity is another prevalent chronic disease characterized by an excess or abnormal accumulation of fat. It is classified as such once it presents health risks. Obesity is closely linked to various other chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
While genetics play a role, lifestyle factors and unhealthy behaviors can cause certain cancers. These factors and behaviors include smoking, poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity. The most common types of cancer associated with these factors include lung, colorectal, and breast cancer.
Other lifestyle-related chronic diseases worth a mention include:
- Chronic respiratory diseases, often exacerbated by smoking and exposure to environmental pollutants.
- Chronic kidney caused by uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension
- Neurological disorders like some forms of dementia linked to factors like a lack of physical exercise, poor diet, and various cardiovascular disease risk factors
- Mental health disorders caused by factors like sleep quality, lack of physical exercise, and stress
The Role of Preventive Care
Preventive care is care that helps with the detection of certain diseases, including chronic diseases and medical problems, before they develop and become serious issues. It includes regular checkups and screenings done yearly or according to set timetables by the doctors and past research.
In addition to its health and wellness benefits, preventive care also helps lower the cost of healthcare. This is because certain diseases and different health conditions get harder and much costlier to treat if they are not detected early and treatment started immediately.
Preventive care is so impactful that some providers give their members rewards for receiving it. In addition to getting preventative care, these programs reward members for lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and drinking and increasing physical activity.
Changing Key Lifestyle Factors to Prevent Chronic Diseases
Making specific changes to one’s lifestyle and behaviors can greatly reduce the risk of and prevent lifestyle-related chronic diseases.
Changing your diet to prevent chronic diseases entails eating a balanced diet, limiting processed foods, and controlling portion sizes. A balanced diet consists of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins (such as fish, poultry, legumes, and nuts), whole grains, and healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados.
Reducing your intake of refined grains, sugary snacks and drinks, and processed meats high in sodium and unhealthy fats can help you limit processed foods. Smaller portions can help prevent overeating, a key component of weight gain and obesity.
Increasing Physical activity
Busy lives leading to sedentary lifestyles are the key reason many do not exercise enough. The good news is that you do not have to train like a top athlete to see the benefits of physical activity. Stay with 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises so your body can get used to moving.
You can then switch to more moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or slightly less vigorous-intensity exercise per week. Also, consider incorporating lifting weights or muscle-strengthening activities two to three times per week into your exercise regime.
You should also try to find opportunities to be active throughout the day, especially if you have little time to exercise. Exercises like taking the stairs, walking, cycling to work, and gardening can help.
Address Tobacco and Alcohol Use
Tobacco contains numerous chemicals known to increase the risk of many chronic diseases significantly. If you smoke, seek help or support to quit smoking.
Drinking too much can harm your health, with alcohol being a direct or indirect cause of over 140,000 deaths in the United States between 2015 and 2019.
If you choose to drink, you should limit yourself to one drink per day if you are a woman and two drinks per day if you are a man. You should also seek help if you drink more than eight drinks per week if you are a woman, or 15 if you are a man because that could point to additional underlying issues.
Employ Strategies for Weight Management
If you are eating a balanced diet with the right nutrients and exercising, you are already doing more to keep a healthy weight than most people. One thing to note here is that healthy weight differs between individuals, and you should speak to your doctor to find out your ideal weight. You can then lose some weight or gain some depending on where you currently are. Gaining weight has some benefits, but only to some point.
Lifestyle-related diseases have long-term effects on your mental, physical, and emotional, health and wellbeing. Although some are genetic, there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of chronic diseases. Some places to start include becoming physically active, switching to a healthier diet, reducing or eliminating alcohol and tobacco use, and talking to your physician about a healthy weight and how to maintain it.