Chronic diseases kill more than 1.7 million people each year, just in the United States. Chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are in many ways preventable, based on healthy lifestyle choices.
The risks of chronic conditions have come into focus worldwide because many of these conditions are linked to worse outcomes and higher mortality rates among people who contract covid-19.
While having a chronic disease doesn’t make you more likely to contract the illness than a healthy person, it can make it much more challenging for your body to fight it if you have one or more than one of these diseases.
Understanding chronic diseases and what contributes to them can help you make better health decisions in your everyday life.
What is a Chronic Disease?
According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, a chronic disease is one lasting for three months or more.
A chronic disease may be manageable with medication or, in some cases, reversible with lifestyle choices, but it’s generally considered incurable. Chronic diseases are often preventable.
Chronic disease is the leading cause of death as well as disability in the U.S., and the following are other important things to know about these conditions:
- It’s estimated that 45% of the American population has at least one chronic disease—that means around 133 million Americans live with one of these diseases.
- Seven out of every ten deaths in the U.S. are attributed to chronic diseases.
- Along with high death rates, chronic diseases significantly impact many people’s quality of life.
- 42% of Americans have at least two chronic conditions.
Chronic conditions include:
- Heart disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Chronic kidney disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Mental health conditions such as depression can also be considered a chronic disorder.
Lifestyle Choices and Chronic Disease
Lifestyle choices are linked to the development of almost all chronic diseases.
Consuming too much alcohol, having a sedentary lifestyle with a lack of physical activity, chronic stress, and smoking are all related to chronic disease. Poor diet is as well.
Changing Your Diet
Beyond quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol, changing your diet is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease or reverse the symptoms.
Processed foods and packaged foods, as well as things like baked goods, are some of the worst culprits for chronic disease. The goal of your diet should be to eat foods that reduce inflammation because unhealthy foods trigger inflammation. Inflammation is in turn linked to chronic diseases.
- Limit red meat as well as processed meat like hot dogs or sausage
- Cut out soda and beverages sweetened with sugar
- Limit refined carbohydrates like white bread
- Significantly limit fried foods
- Eat fatty fish including tuna and salmon
- Eat lots of vegetables and especially tomatoes and green leafy vegetables
- Have fruits including blueberries, oranges, and cherries
- Nuts like almonds and walnuts can fight inflammation
Healthy foods tend to be high in antioxidants, as well as something called polyphenols. Polyphenols are in plant-based foods and they have protective properties.
Moving to a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet can not only reduce your risk of chronic disease but can improve your overall quality of life.
Stop Being Sedentary
A sedentary lifestyle has, unfortunately, become very common in America. Many people work desk jobs and then spend a lot of time watching TV or using devices.
Being sedentary is one of the top contributors to chronic disease, and it can be tough to overcome this kind of lifestyle if it’s what you’re used to.
It’s possible to stop being sedentary, but it can take some adjustment.
Adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should aim to get moderate exercise for at least 60 minutes a day, but that doesn’t mean you have to be doing an actual workout to get that. It could include yard work, housework, or walking.
A good starting point if you’re sedentary and want to be more active is to start using a step counter. This will show you how many activities you can burn just doing everyday activities.
Along with aerobic activity, strength training is also an important component in the fight against chronic disease.
If you are 65 or older, you should make exercising a priority as well because it can reduce your risk of disease and also help stop cognitive decline.
Chronic constant stress levels are linked to inflammation and chronic diseases. Work on finding healthy ways to manage your stress, such as:
- Exercising: Getting enough physical activity is going to give you a win in all areas of combating chronic disease. When you regularly exercise, you’re boosting the neurotransmitters in your brain that help you feel happy and uplifted, so you can work on dealing with stress. The more physically healthy your body is, the better it can combat stress.
- Learn relaxation techniques: There are a variety of relaxation practices you might be able to engage in to help you. For example, tai-chi is gentle on the body and people of all ages do it. Meditation is a good way to relieve stress, as is yoga.
- Eat well: As you’ve probably started to see, all of the ways you can prevent chronic disease are linked to one another. Having a healthy diet helps you have a healthy body. A healthy body is well-equipped to deal with stress.
- Set limits: Don’t overextend yourself with work or family commitments and learn how to say no.
- Find a hobby: You should have a hobby or something you enjoy doing and always make time for it.
- Stay social: Social connection is critical to reduce stress and also to stay mentally sharp. Spend time with the people you love whenever you get the chance.
Finally, if you have trouble managing stress even with lifestyle changes, a therapist may be able to help you find healthy coping mechanisms.