Updated: Oct 23
Chronic diseases make up the leading causes of death in the US and two out of every three adults has a chronic disease. A chronic disease is a broad term to describe a condition that lasts 1 year or longer and requires ongoing medical attention. Chronic diseases are caused by a lot of things, some risk factors are genetics and can’t be changed. However most chronic disease risk factors are behaviors that can be changed to decrease risk, and a lot of them are small changes.
1. Make sure you are eating enough fiber- the recommended fiber intake is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men, but the average US citizen only eats half of that. Research has found that those who eat a fiber-rich diet have lower risks of developing a chronic disease. High-fiber foods include fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, rice, and whole grain breads/bagels/pasta.
2. Increase your intake of plant-based foods- and decrease meat-based items. The biggest change you can make to decrease the risk of chronic disease is to follow the Mediterranean diet! This diet encompasses all the above changes as well as lifestyle changes like spending more time with family, eating dinner with loved ones more often, and including simple exercises every day. The diet itself focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and lean proteins, legumes, and olive oil, and decreases the focus on red meat and saturated fats.
3. Lower the amount of inflammation in your body- our diets play the biggest role in inflammation and unfortunately, the standard American diet contributes to high inflammation. Make sure you are eating fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean meats (over red meats), and nuts and seeds. Consuming more water and less sugary beverages also helps.
4. Increase exercise- this doesn’t have to be a drastic change like joining a gym and going multiple times a week. It can be as simple as parking farther away in parking lots, replacing your desk chair with a yoga ball, or taking a lap around your office every hour. All activity, even cleaning your house, counts as exercise!
5. Decrease tobacco use- smoking causes many different diseases but overall, it greatly contributes to an increase in chronic disease risk. Decreasing tobacco use is a start, but the goal should be complete omittance of it.
6. Decrease alcohol intake- alcohol also can lead to many different diseases including chronic disease. Decreasing intake to less than 5-7 standard drinks per week can help to reduce your risk. A standard drink is a 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.
7. Get more sleep- sleep deprivation is seen as a badge of honor in our society, but it just causes more disease risk. Too little sleep has been shown many times in research to be a risk factor for chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes heart disease, and a shorter life expectancy. 7-8 hours of sleep should be the goal, not a once-in-a-month occurrence when you’re lucky.
While these changes may seem like a lot right now, starting with the easiest one and working your way through them over a couple of months can help break them down and make them seem less daunting. Also remember, these changes are lifetime changes, not fad diets, so they are sustainable for a lifetime of healthy living!