In the U.S., a staggering 60% of adults live with a chronic disease. Right now, chronic disease is one of the leading causes of death in America, second only to COVID-19. While chronic diseases continue to grow at an alarming rate, fortunately, many of these conditions can be prevented or delayed through increased education and simple lifestyle changes.
An Overview of Major Chronic Diseases
Chronic diseases are ongoing conditions lasting a year or more that are generally incurable and negatively impact a person’s quality of life, without proper treatment. Let’s take a look at five common chronic diseases.
1. Heart disease and stroke: Cardiovascular disease (CVD), which includes heart disease and stroke, is the top killer worldwide. The most common cause of heart disease and stroke is a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which blocks blood flow to the heart or brain. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase the risk of these diseases.
2. Cancer: The National Cancer Institute states there are over 100 different types of cancer, and some of the most common include skin cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer. Cancer begins when abnormal cells multiply and grow, which can eventually invade surrounding tissue. Regular screenings can detect some cancers early, increasing the chance of successful treatment.
3. Diabetes: The three major types of diabetes include type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. With all three of these conditions, the body doesn’t make or use insulin efficiently, affecting blood sugar levels. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, and obesity is a major contributing factor.
4. COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that causes a blockage in the airways, making it difficult to breathe. COPD is usually a mix of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, so the acronym is used as an umbrella term to describe these conditions. Smoking is the most significant risk factor for COPD.
5. Alzheimer’s Disease: Dementia is a term used to describe deterioration in thinking, memory, and other cognitive abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and early symptoms include memory loss, such as continually forgetting names and recent events.
Tips to Prevent Chronic Disease
Chronic diseases commonly occur with age; however, they are highly preventable by making healthy lifestyle choices. In fact, an estimated 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable just by changing your daily habits. Here are several steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Eat a healthy diet. Making small changes to your diet can have a significant impact on your overall health. Start improving your diet with these five simple steps.
Switch to whole-grains when shopping for bread and pasta.
Avoid sugary drinks and limit foods with added sugar.
Consume more fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts, which contain high amounts of fiber.
Limit your sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day.
Replace foods high in saturated fats with unsaturated fats.
Exercise regularly. The CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. In addition to aerobic exercise, you should focus on muscle-strengthening activities (like lifting weights or using your own body weight for resistance) twice a week.
Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol intake. Smoking and excessive drinking contribute to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. These habits also increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Try these quick tips to help break the cycle.
Identify your triggers, such as specific social situations where you’re most likely to smoke or drink and make a plan to avoid them.
Gradually reduce the number of cigarettes or drinks you consume per day. Try to reduce your alcohol intake to no more than one alcoholic beverage per day for women and no more than two per day for men.
Join an in-person or online support group to help you stay accountable during your journey.
Manage stress. High stress levels are linked to increased blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases. Here are a few ways to calm your mind next time you’re feeling stressed out.
Keep a journal to help you identify your stressors and your reaction to them so you can detect common patterns.
Reframe negative thoughts into positive ones.
Work out regularly and practice mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, breathing techniques, or yoga.
Reduce your caffeine intake, especially right before bedtime.
Be sure to get an average of 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Get regular health screenings. Your doctor will recommend routine health screenings depending on your age, including physical exams, BMI checks, blood pressure screenings, cholesterol checks, and cancer screenings. These tests can uncover risk factors and early signs of chronic diseases, so don’t skip these essential screenings. Many chronic diseases can also be hereditary, so be sure to share your family health history with your doctor.