March 3, 2014

Stick to Resolutions, Save Your Life: Preventing Chronic Disease

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

Nearly one in two Americans – that’s 157 million people – has at least one chronic medical condition

It’s a sad and unfortunate fact that the average length of time that people stick with New Year’s resolutions is an average of six weeks, and only 46 percent make it past six months, according to a University of Scranton study. If your resolutions include taking better care of your health, like 80 percent of those who make New Year’s resolutions, and your determination is waning, here’s some serious incentive to keep you going through 2014.

Would it be motivating to know that chronic illnesses, which cause about 70 percent of all deaths in the United States annually are mostly preventable with good health habits? These conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and arthritis, are “among the most common, costly and preventable of all health problems in the U.S.” according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nearly one in two Americans – that’s 157 million people – has at least one chronic medical condition, and that number is rising rapidly according to research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. By 2030, the number of Americans with one or more chronic conditions, meaning a health condition or disease that recurs or persists for months or for a person’s entire life, will increase 37 percent, or by 46 million victims.

But it’s not just about mortality; it’s about quality of life. Fifty eight percent of those suffering from chronic disease, which largely leads to pain and disability, are between the ages of 18 and 64.  According to the CDC’s report, “Chronic Diseases Are the Leading Causes of Death and Disability in the U.S.,” about one fourth of those with chronic conditions have daily activity limitations. Those with chronic conditions also suffer from psychological and social problems such as depression and anxiety – all of which result in a lower quality of life. 

Because diseases can take many years to develop, the best prevention is early prevention. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “primary prevention,” meaning preventing risk factors, is critical for evading chronic diseases. Not surprisingly, the organization’s paper “The Role of Nutrition in Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention,” says that healthy eating habits and a physically active lifestyle are “essential elements of primary prevention at every stage of life.”

Even if you already have a chronic condition such as heart disease or diabetes, you can enjoy a better quality of life and prolong your life by managing your illness, following a more healthful diet, getting more exercise and avoiding complications.

Heart disease, for example, which includes coronary heart disease, heart attacks, congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease, is the most prevalent and leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. according to CDC statistics. Risk factors can be reduced by quitting smoking, lowering cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight.

The American Heart Association’s article, “Preventing Heart Disease – At Any Age,” has recommendations for everyone from their 20s to their 60s. Another manageable risk factor is stress. “Long-term stress causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure that may damage the artery walls,” the association said. “Learning stress management techniques benefits your body and your quality of life.”

Experts say everyone needs a better plan than just resolving to “eat better and exercise more.”

Setting specific and realistic goals such as “lose two pounds a week until April” or “take two exercise classes a week” will yield better results, according to a University of Toledo Medical Center blog, “New Year’s Resolutions…How Long Will Yours Last?” Other suggestions include finding a strong and powerful motivator and making goals “a daily task but allow for imperfections.”

And yes, there is even an app for that! A The New York Times article, “How to Keep Your Resolutions,” describes an application that will forfeit money if you don’t achieve your goals. The application, available at stickK.com, a website, was developed by behavioral economists.

The good news is that all experts agree that it is never too late to start fresh including adopting healthy behaviors. So get back to your resolutions, beat the statistics and enjoy a long and healthy life!

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