• Erica

In Sickness or in Health: When Faced with a Choice, What’s Yours?

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Are you dealing with obesity or excess weight? What about heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol? How about type 2 diabetes? The best way that I know to live your best life is to take care of yourself. Invest in your health! Do not short change yourself. Living an unhealthy lifestyle will cost you more in the long run. Choose health. Choose better quality of life. Reduce your risk of several chronic diseases. The diseases I am referencing are often termed lifestyle diseases as they are largely caused by choices we make and are preventable. Poor nutrition, lack of activity, smoking, and excessive alcohol drinking increase disease risk. These diseases include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, in addition to some cancers. Having these conditions can also lead to other health issues, so it very important to control them once you have them. In this article, I am going to describe lifestyle choices that increase the risk of chronic diseases, as well as discuss some of the diseases caused by our lifestyle choices.

Activities that Increase the Risks of Chronic Diseases

Poor nutrition: The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelinesput forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services state that a healthy diet consists of eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while decreasing meat consumption. It also includes consuming low fat or nonfat dairy products. Mostly fruits and vegetables, in addition to whole grains, are encouraged as it is associated with decreased risk of several chronic diseases. However, a large majority of people are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables. Meat consumption is associated with increased risk of some of the same chronic diseases that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains decrease the risk. The  guidelines encourage a variety of healthy protein sources, mostly from plants. Our diets in the U.S. are high in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar which increase the risk of several diseases. These diseases include obesity (According to the CDC, 72 % of adults are classified at overweight or obese.), heart disease and stroke, as well as type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Lack of activity: The Department of Health and Human Services states in the The Physical Activity Guidelinesthat adults should get 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week with at least 2 days of moderate (or greater intensity) muscle strengthening exercises involving all major muscle groups. Moderate activity includes exercises like brisk walking, cycling (less than 10 miles per hour), recreational swimming and water aerobics, gardening and housework, dancing (ballroom, line dancing), doubles tennis, active yoga. Vigorous activity includes running, cycling (faster than 10 miles per hour), swimming laps, heavy yard work, intense dancing, singles tennis, hiking uphill, and jumping rope. Also noted is that more health benefit is seen even beyond the recommended 300 minutes of moderate activity. A vast majority of us are not meeting these goals as only 26% of men, 19% of women, and 20% of adolescents report enough activity to meet the activity goals.

Tobacco use: According to the CDC, smoking tobacco and secondhand smoke exposure increases the risk of a variety of chronic diseases. Besides causing lung diseases, it increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes to name a few. It increases the risk of premature birth in pregnant women and sudden infant death syndrome in babies. In children, it augments the risk of abnormal lung function, lung infections, ear infections, and more severe asthma attacks. 

Excessive alcohol consumption: The CDC calls excessive alcohol consumption binge drinking, heavy drinking, and alcohol consumption by pregnant women or people under the age of 21. The organization defines binge drinking as 4+ drinks for a woman or 5+ drinks for a man on any one occasion. Heavy drinking is consuming more than 8 drinks per week for a woman or 15 drinks per week for a man. These types of risky alcohol consumption increase the risk of liver disease, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, certain cancers, violence, injury, poisoning, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases. In pregnancy, it can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy) and increases risk of miscarriages, premature birth, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome. 

Chronic Diseases Caused by Poor Lifestyle

Heart Disease & Stroke: Heart disease includes heart and blood vessel-related conditions. High blood pressure, heart attacks, blockages in the blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary artery disease), and congestive heart failure are some of the diseases that fit into this category. During a heart attack, there is insufficient blood flow to an area of the heart, resulting in heart muscle death. There are a variety of consequences, such as abnormal heart rhythms, leaky heart valves, congestive heart failure (where the heart no longer pumps effectively), and even death. A stroke occurs when part of the brain does not receive adequate blood supply and dies. A variety of consequences can ensue but depend on the area of the brain affected. Strokes can leave a person unable to move areas of their bodies, speak clearly, think clearly, see, and can also result in death. The bottom line is that these conditions can leave you with a poor quality of life. Choices we make can increase and decrease our risk of heart disease and stroke. Partaking in risky lifestyle behavior, like poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol drinking, increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Poor health choices can also lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, diabetes, and obesity, which also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Some Cancers: Excess body weight also increases the risk of 13 types of cancers, including cancer of the uterus, breast in postmenopausal women, and colon. According to the CDC, these cancers make up 40% of cancers diagnosed. Eating a healthy diet (high in fruits, vegetables, & whole grains while low in meat intake) and maintaining regular physical activity are big contributors that can prevent weight issues. Smoking tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of some cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, bladder, kidneys, pancreas, cervix, colon, liver, stomach, and a certain type of leukemia (a blood cancer). Excessive alcohol consumption, described above, raises the risk of breast, liver, esophagus, stomach, colon, and cancers of the head and neck. You can reduce your risk of a few other cancers as well. Protect yourself from UV exposure with sunscreen, clothing, and avoiding tanning beds to reduce your risk of skin cancer. Some infectious diseases contribute to cancer risks as well. HPV increases the risk of cervical, rectal, vaginal, penile, anal, and some cancers of the head and neck. There is a vaccine for HPV. Hepatitis B & C increase the risk for liver cancers. There is a vaccine for hepatitis B.  While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, the CDC recommends that people born between 1945-1965  be tested as there are treatments that can eliminate the virus and prevent further damage.

Type 2 Diabetes: The CDCstates that 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and another 84 million have pre-diabetes. These conditions signify that your body is not controlling the sugar levels in your blood properly. Pre-diabetes means your blood sugar is higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not high enough to diagnosis you with diabetes. Needless to say, people with pre-diabetes are at increased risk of developing diabetes, as well as heart disease and strokes. Diabetes comes with serious consequences if not very well controlled. It increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also can cause kidney damage, eye damage, nerve, and blood vessel damage. There is also increased infection risk. The kidney damage in diabetes can become so severe that your kidneys no longer work, meaning dialysis becomes a necessary task in order to sustain life. Eye damage from diabetes can become so severe that you can lose your eyesight. Nerve damage can cause pain as well as loss of normal sensation. When injuries occur, they may not be sensed in areas where there is significant nerve damage resulting in more severe injuries. The nerve damage can also affect other organs. For example, nerves to the stomach can be damaged resulting in food not emptying properly from the stomach. Food can linger in the stomach for days. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Blood vessel damage increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and loss of limb, as they can no longer effectively deliver blood to the appropriate areas. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a poor quality of life.

Obesity: There are varying degrees of excess weight. These are determined by a person's weight in relation to his or her height, called body mass index or abbreviated BMI. For example 185 pounds may be an appropriate weight for someone who is 6 feet tall, but not someone who is 5 feet 3 inches tall. The BMI of the person who is 6 feet tall will be lower than the person whose height is 5’3”. To be called overweight, BMI exceeds 25 kg/m2. While obesity occurs when BMI exceeds 30kg/m2. Excess weight can largely be attributed to poor diet and lack of exercise. Some medical conditions and medications can also result in excess weight. Obesity increases your risk of multiple conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obstructive sleep apnea (condition where a person stops breathing during sleep resulting in low oxygen levels and untreated resulting in organ damage), and certain cancers to name a few. 

These diseases are largely preventable with the choices that we make everyday in the way we treat our bodies. Let's treat our bodies better so that our bodies can be at their bests. How to do it? Eat well, get active, and stick with it.

For more information on how to improve your health, check out www.getfitward.com and check out our Fitward Guide tab.

Always striving to help,


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