We all want to live long, healthy lives. As an ageing population, we become more vulnerable to developing chronic diseases, especially from middle age. While we can’t stop the ageing process itself, we can slow its progression and minimise some of its impacts – and prevent some cases from occurring in the first place.
Chronic Diseases – What You Need to Know
Chronic diseases are health conditions that last for a year or longer and require ongoing medical attention and/or limit normal daily living activities. They are becoming more common worldwide.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare groups the ten most common, major chronic health conditions as follows:
- Back Pain
- Cardiovascular Disease (including high blood pressure, ischaemic heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and high cholesterol)
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Chronic Kidney Disease (often associated with diabetes and high blood pressure)
- Brain and Mental Health Conditions (including depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease)
For many people, different chronic health conditions exist together, and 20% of Australians, for example, experience two or more of these at the same time. 50% of Australians had a chronic disease in 2020-2021 and almost 90% of all deaths were associated with one of the abovementioned disease groups.
A lot of chronic diseases are caused by (or at least associated with) a small number of distinct lifestyle choices, including tobacco use and second-hand smoke, poor nutrition, excessive alcohol intake, and lack of exercise.
The good news is that many of these chronic diseases can be managed and even prevented.
7 Prevention Tips
Never smoking, or quitting if you already do, is among the biggest things you can do for your longevity and well-being. Smoking has been directly linked to a vast array of chronic diseases including heart disease, lung cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, bladder cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.
Maintain a Healthy Weight & Eat Well
Obesity has wide implications on health and well-being, from increasing risks of obstructive sleep apnoea to cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and many others. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, as well as limiting processed sugars, sodium, and saturated fats is important to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Manage Snoring and Insomnia
Getting enough good quality sleep most nights is important for both your physical and mental health. Sleeplessness or disrupted sleep can lead to weight gain, mood changes, issues with memory and focus, poor judgement and performance, and the development of chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Snoring is a major cause of disrupted sleep – and snoring due to obstructive sleep apnoea is dangerous. There are ways to reduce snoring and mitigate the risks.
Regular physical activity promotes a healthier body and mind and helps to prevent, delay, and manage many chronic diseases. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days per week, especially weight-bearing (e.g. walking) to reduce risks of issues from heart disease and diabetes to osteoporosis.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Many of us enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, a beer while watching the latest game, or a social drink with friends. There is nothing wrong with this – and a lot of research suggests that a single glass of red wine with dinner, for example, can have some health benefits.
The key to alcohol consumption is moderation. Excessive drinking not only has immediate effects, but over time can elevate your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, kidney problems, and certain cancers including breast cancer.
Get Appropriate Screening
There are numerous routine screening tests available for men and women, especially as we age. These can help prevent or identify diseases early enough to ensure that the risks are managed as much as possible and often, that a cure can be achieved.
For example, for healthy people without specific signs or symptoms or family history:
- Annual Skin Checks should commence at age 25
- Females should undergo cervical screening from age 25.
- Females should have a mammogram every two years from age 50; this service is available from age 40 if desired.
- Bowel screening should commence at age 50 for men and women.
- Males need to be screened for prostate cancer every 2 years from age 50; this may be commended from age 40 if desired.
- All Australians should see their dentist at least annually; oral cancer screening is part of a routine dental check-up and maintaining dental health has wider ramifications on the heart and other systems.
- All adults, especially in middle age and thereafter, should have an annual check-up to monitor blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and general well-being.
Furthermore, if you have a family history of certain cancers (e.g., melanoma, breast, ovarian, or bowel cancer), dementia, heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes, it’s important to talk to your doctor about specialised screening.
Consider Taking Supplements
Many Australians are deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, and even the most stringent attention to healthy eating might not be enough to ensure you get adequate amounts of these to function at your best. This is where taking appropriate, high-quality supplements can be so valuable.
For example, taking high-strength Vitamin C may be helpful to the body in a wide array of ways, including boosting the immune system, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals, helping manage high blood pressure, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, preventing gout attacks, and helping maintain healthy iron levels. From curcumin to B vitamins and even probiotics, the right supplements for you can enhance your health and well-being enormously.
Prevention is always better than cure! Awareness is key, and knowing how to minimise your risks of developing chronic health conditions, as well as areas in which you may be more vulnerable, is crucial for living your best life.