Chronic diseases are the leading cause of ill health in developed countries and a major public health issue. They affect almost 30% of the US population and are the cause of 76% of all healthcare costs incurred by elderly adults and their families. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies obesity as an epidemic, while cancer and cardiovascular diseases are the leading killers of older adults.
Sedentary Lifestyle Causes Chronic Diseases
Several studies have linked physical inactivity with an elevated risk of developing chronic diseases. At the same time, there is a substantial body of work indicating that leading a healthy lifestyle reduces the incidence of chronic health problems.
Physical exercise is effective against type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure. They improve physiological stability by increasing glucose metabolism, sensitivity to insulin, and heart pump rate. Physical activity also enhances the vitality of blood vessels while reducing the risk of hypertension.
Research suggests that leading a sedentary life causes bone loss and weakness, muscle wasting, reduced heart activity, insulin resistance, and reduced physical output. While all these are symptoms of aging, reduced physical activity exacerbates them.
On the other hand, a healthy lifestyle with physical exercise improves muscle strength and function even among the frailest of elders. It also improves mobility and the likelihood of engaging in spontaneous manual work. Physically active elders also have a higher capacity for independence because they can execute activities of daily living and have a lower risk of falls.
Genes Are Just One of the Factors
Even though some people have a genetic makeup that predisposes them to chronic diseases, very few conditions are directly attributable to genetic defects alone. Most chronic conditions are caused by a culmination of several factors.
Moreover, there is a strong indication that some genes may change in response to a person’s lifestyle and environment. Thus, it could be that certain genes become overexpressed in obese individuals when compared to people with a healthy weight. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of chronic diseases in people with genetic predispositions.
How to Mitigate Lifestyle Diseases
Even though many people are aware of the importance of exercise in maintaining a healthy body, around 70% of the American population leads a sedentary lifestyle. Part of the reason for the reluctance to engage in physical activity is that people associate exercise with intense physical activity such as spending long hours jogging or going through strenuous programs at health clubs. Other people fear that they may have to learn new skills or buy specialized equipment.
However, exercise need not be intense or involve specialized programs. You can engage in moderate exercises such as brisk walking, cycling, or taking care of your garden yourself instead of using hired hands. You can leave your car at a public park and walk home or ride your bike around the neighborhood during your free time. You can also climb the stairs instead of using lifts at work or public buildings. Another strategy is organising outdoor activities for the whole family because they create several opportunities for physical exercise.
Proper nutrition reduces the risk of chronic disease. You can improve your diet by reducing the intake of junk foods and red meat. At the same time, increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and food in its natural form. Take plenty of nuts, spices, legumes, and whole-grain cereals. Fruits and spices contain enzymes and vitamins that fight free radicals, while cereals contain organic acids that prevent damage to the heart and blood vessels. Most of these foods also contain essential nutrients and phytochemicals that combat the inflammations associated with conditions such as high blood pressure.
Although there are many medications available to combat conditions associated with old age, there is also overwhelming research evidence indicating that physical activity and proper nutrition reduces the risk of such diseases. Even though genes may predispose people to a certain condition, they are just one of the many factors that cause it. Finally, exercises need not be intensive as simple activities such as walking and riding can improve physical functioning.
Stuart works with Dr Felix, a leading online pharmacy in the UK which offers a diverse range of treatments and medical advice.