Don’t Let Preventable Health Conditions Erode Your Quality of Life
The simple choices we make every day play a much larger role than we often realize in our long term health and quality of life. Daily choices—like what we choose to eat and drink, or whether we go for a walk or relax and watch TV—play a large roll over time in our longer term health, medical expenses, and quality of life.
In a recent research report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the RAND Corporation drew the following observation about the typical American lifestyle: “Over the last several decades, an epidemic of “lifestyle diseases” has developed in the United States: Unhealthy lifestyles, such as inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and frequent alcohol consumption are driving up the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic pulmonary conditions. These chronic conditions have become a major burden as they lead to decreased quality of life, premature death, and increased health care cost.
Many of the most common diseases and leading causes of death in the U.S. are largely preventable, or could at least be pushed down the road several years by making just a few daily lifestyle changes, like eating healthy foods, getting 30-minutes of physical activity most days of the week, and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Heart disease continues to be America’s leading cause of death. However, living a healthy lifestyle is the best thing you can do to add more years to your life. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends seven simple things you can do to prevent or delay heart disease and allow you a longer, healthier life.2 Their “Simple 7”tips include the following:
Get Active – Roughly 70 percent of Americans don’t get enough physical activity. They recommend 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise. If you are not currently physically active, they recommend you start with walking. The results can you expect are a longer, healthier life. Exercise keeps your heart in good working condition by improving blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body weight, stress, and mood.
Control Cholesterol – Too much cholesterol leads to plaque in your blood vessels. Exercise, a proper body weight, and a healthy diet are keys to good cholesterol. Schedule a screening with your doctor to check your levels.
Eat Better – The AHA calls this your “best weapon” against heart disease. They recommend eating more heart healthy foods like whole grains, lean protein (like fish), vegetables, and fruit. You’ll likely also need to cut back on your less healthy choices (foods with unhealthy fats and/or high in added sugars). They recommend keeping a food journal to track your progress over time. Manage Blood Pressure – One in three Americans has hypertension, aka “the silent killer.” To improve it exercise, maintain a healthy weight, eat healthy, reduce sodium, limit alcohol, don’t smoke, and manage stress. If necessary, talk to your doctor about taking a hypertension medication.
Lose Weight – If you are in the American majority, one of the two-thirds with a few extra pounds, losing some weight will do your heart good. Extra pounds lead to hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a number of other undesired conditions. Losing just five to 10 pounds can have a significant impact on your long-term health. The AHA recommends tracking your calorie intake and balancing your intake with your level of physical activity.
Reduce Blood Sugar – If your fasting blood glucose is 100+ (pre-diabetes range) the AHA recommends cutting back on added sugars (soda, candy, dessert), exercising, and taking medication if prescribed.
Stop Smoking – Because tobacco use limits your lifespan and leads to a decreased quality of life, the AHA urges you to give quitting another try. Their quit smoking website can help you cope with urges and feelings of loss, recommends nicotine replacement therapy, and provides other quitting resources. Smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in America.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in three females and one in two males will develop cancer at some point in their life.3 Luckily, many in the U.S .survive cancer, but at a great cost. Cancer is currently the second leading cause of death in American and is on the rise. Globally, it is the leading cause of death. Additionally, The World Health Organization projects a global increase in cancers of 70 percent in the next two decades due to what they call the “five leading behavioral and dietary risks,” which are obesity, lack of fruits/vegetables, lack of exercise, tobacco use, and alcohol.4 The good news is that many of these cancers can be prevented by healthy, daily, lifestyle choices. Currently, about one-third of cancers are attributed to tobacco use and another third are attributed to excess body weight, poor nutrition, or lack of exercise. In other words, almost two out of three cancers can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle.
You and your family can decrease your risk of cancer. Multiple organizations specializing in cancer prevention agree on the following recommendations: If you use tobacco, do your best to quit. With recent changes under the Affordable Care Act, many insurance companies now offer free nicotine replacement therapies and counselling. Call your provider today to see what resources are available to you. For most users, it takes multiple attempts before you are ultimately successful, so stick with it for the long run.
Attain and maintain a healthy body weight. At least nine cancers have been linked to excess body fat (prostate, ovarian, breast, endometrium, kidney, gallbladder, esophagus, pancreas, and colorectal). Cytokines are a protein produced by fat cells that increase inf lammation leading to increased risk of cancers. Additionally, excess body fat is also associated with increased levels of certain hormones known to accelerate the growth of cancer cells.
Dietary factors and recommendations that contribute to decreasing your risk of developing cancer include the following :Avoid sugary drinks; eat a mostly plant-based diet including a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes; limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meat; if you drink alcohol, limit your consumption.
Type 2 Diabetes
Lifestyle plays a significant role in the development of type 2diabetes, which accounts for roughly 90 to 95 percent of all casesof diabetes. It is currently estimated that 24 million Americansalready have the disease and another 60 million have prediabetes,putting them at high risk for the disorder. And futureestimates of diabetes are even grimmer. It is estimated that onein three of American kids born after the year 2000 will developthe disease at some point in their life and it may be as high asone in two for some higher risk minority populations.
Two lifestyle factors play a major role in the prevention oftype 2 diabetes—maintaining a healthy body weight and gettingregular physical activity. The Diabetes Prevention Program, astudy of over 3,000 overweight individuals with pre-diabetesillustrates the power of lifestyle choices in preventing diabetes.Participants in this study were given a goal to lose 7 percentof their body weight and exercise 150 minutes each week. Tomeasure their success, they were compared to a group using apopular diabetes medication along with a control group. Thosein the lifestyle group significantly out-performed the other twogroups and saw a 58 percent decrease in risk for developing type2 diabetes.
Physical Activity appears to be a significant, largely untapped resource in the fight against diabetes. Physical activity decreases blood glucose and improves insulin sensitivity, two important measurements in preventing or controlling type 2 diabetes. While all forms of physical activity are helpful, the combination of cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, biking, etc.) with weight training appear to have the greatest affect. To prevent or manage type 2 diabetes, the American College for Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of two and half hours of physical activity each week, at a moderate to vigorous intensity.7
It remains that many of our top killers are influenced by our daily lifestyle choices. Not only do those choices affect your long-term health, but they can also have economic implications. When individuals, families, and even companies or communities make simple, consistent, lifestyle changes, health can improve and healthcare costs can be attenuated. For example, a recent study of employer workplace wellness programs found that employers with comprehensive wellness programs saved around $3 in medical costs for every dollar they invested in a corporate wellness program. And according to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, wellness programs are an excellent way to mitigate the rising costs associated with healthcare. However, the success of a wellness program (and any healthy living program) ultimately depends on you taking command of your healthcare, and not allowing it to control you. What you choose to do today will at least, in part determine your future health, productivity, medical expenses, and quality of life. For a longer, healthier life, remember and follow these simple steps today:
- Go for a walk (or other form of exercise)
- Eat some healthy plants (fruit, vegetable, and whole grains) and lean proteins
- Avoid tobacco, and products with large amounts of added sugars
For more information about how a wellness program can help you and your company, contact Gary Larsen at firstname.lastname@example.org , Stacy Deru email@example.com, or visit www. moreton.com.
1 RAND Corporation. Workplace Wellness Programs Study. Mattke, S. et al.2013
2 American Heart Association: Life’s Simple 7 Action Plan. http://mylifecheck.heart.org/
3 American Cancer Society: Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Caner. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/lifetime-probability-of-developing-or-dying-from-cancer
4 World Health Organization Fact Sheets: Cancer Fact Sheet N0297 updated November 2014 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/
5 American Institute for Cancer Research. Obesity: Nice cancers, 335 Cases Daily. AICR ’s Cancer Research Update. November 19, 2014
6 World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC:
7 Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes: American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: Joint Position Statement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2010, Volume 42, Issue 12, pp 2282 – 2303 8 Baicker, K., Cutler, D., Song, Z. Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings. Health Affairs Vol. 33 NO. 12 December 2014. http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/29/2/304.full