Chronic illnesses have been brought to the forefront of many of our minds during the coronavirus pandemic for several reasons. Some are related to health, and others are more logistical.For example, some of the most common chronic illnesses in the U.S., such as type II diabetes are linked to more severe outcomes in people who contract coronavirus.
People with chronic illnesses have had trouble getting their regular, routine medical care because of coronavirus disruptions, and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in short- and long-term disability claims.
For a lot of people, the coronavirus pandemic has shed light on the importance of personal accountability in your health, and many chronic illnesses are preventable or even reversible. This goes against what we commonly think of with chronic illnesses, which is that they never go away.
Even if you can’t fully reverse a chronic illness, you can manage the symptoms and keep it well-controlled if you take certain steps in your daily life. Some of the most common chronic illnesses in the U.S. include heart disease, colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression, asthma, and chronic kidney disease.
Eliminate Processed Foods
If you do one thing in 2020 to change your health, whether you have a chronic illness or you hope to prevent one from developing, it should be the elimination of processed foods.
Processed foods, including baked items, are high in trans fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients. Processed foods are believed to be one of the major contributors to obesity and chronic illness, not just in the U.S. but around the world.
Unfortunately, processed foods also make up anywhere from 25 to 60% of people’s daily energy intake throughout the world. Specific examples of processed foods include frozen meals, baked goods, and packaged bread, cereals, crackers and chips, instant soups and noodles, certain meats like sausage and chicken nuggets, and sodas and other sweetened beverages.
There was a large-scale study of more than 100,000 adults. It found eating 10% more highly processed foods was associated with a 10% increase in heart disease and cerebrovascular disorders.
Along with processed foods playing a major role in obesity, they also lead to high insulin levels. Some people find that following something more similar to an ancestral way of eating helps them lose weight and manage chronic conditions, although this is something to speak with your doctor about.
The idea of these types of eating is to cut back on things like grains, particularly in processed foods, and focus more on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods. Quality of food is also important. You should try to buy fresh produce and high-quality proteins. Overall, anything you can do that’s going to help you lose weight can have a big impact on chronic illness risk.
Losing even as little as 5 to 10% of your overall weight can have tremendous benefits for your health.
Get Your Blood Pressure Under Control
High blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for chronic diseases, including heart attack. You should plan to monitor your blood pressure at home regularly and work to control it. One way to control blood pressure is with the use of medications, but you can also reduce it through diet and exercise.
Move Your Body
It’s going to be tough, if not impossible, to reduce your risk of chronic disease without incorporating physical activity into your life. Just walking more can go a long way, so think about getting a wearable step-tracker. This will help you see how much you currently move and what you need to do to reach your goals.
Start slow if you’re incorporating exercise into your life, and don’t think that it has to be all or nothing to be helpful. Just gradually doing a few minutes of exercise a day can help you make it a routine. When it becomes a routine or a habit, it’s easier to stick with.
Don’t overwhelm yourself because then you’re more likely to get frustrated and stop exercising.
Focus On Getting More, Better-Quality Sleep
Sleep is what repairs our bodies and helps us maintain optimal health. Too many people either aren’t getting enough of it, or they’re getting poor quality sleep. Not getting enough sleep can cause fatigue and worsen symptoms of chronic illness, along with impacting mental health.
Insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk of chronic illnesses like depression, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. The route to better sleep can be unique for everyone, but in general, try to create a cool, quiet, and comfortable bedroom environment.
Put away the electronics several hours before you plan to head to bed. You might want to charge your phone in another room so that you’re not tempted to scroll when you should be sleeping. Make sleep a routine and a priority.
Reduce Chemical Exposure
There are chemicals and toxins all around us, and learning to identify and avoid at least some of them can reduce the likelihood that you develop a chronic disease. Many toxins that we’re exposed to daily are carcinogens.
If you smoke, stopping is one big way to reduce your toxin exposure.
Other things you can do include:
- Filtering the water you drink
- Avoid processed meats which have cancer-causing substances
- Not dry cleaning your clothes
Eliminate or Cut Back On Alcohol
Heavy alcohol use is linked to many chronic diseases such as chronic kidney disease, and consuming any alcohol can increase your cancer risk. Finally, stress is a big component of your overall health and it can contribute to the development of chronic diseases or make symptoms worse. Think about ways that you can reduce stress that work for you.
Maybe for you putting your phone away and spending more time away from the news and social media will lower your stress. Perhaps finding things you enjoy doing will help you, or maybe setting boundaries in your life.
Your mental health is intrinsically linked to your physical health, and it’s important to keep that in mind.