The US National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) defines a chronic illness as a condition that persists for three months or more, though some can last for years or even for life. While chronic diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis and polycystic ovary syndrome are caused by problems with the body’s immune or hormonal system that are not yet completely explained, many serious long-term illnesses have been clearly linked to the sufferers’ lifestyle. The most important of these factors are tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol intake, poor diet and lack of exercise.
Poor Diet Can Lead to Obesity
Obesity is an increasing problem in the Western world. The NCHS estimates that one-third of adults in the USA are obese and one-fifth of 6−19-year-olds. Meanwhile, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that less than one-quarter of adults eat the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
Obesity is associated with a wide range of chronic illnesses.
- Fat is stored within the body in specialized cells called adipocytes. People who are obese have larger numbers of apidocytes, and this can lead to the development of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.
- Being obese can alter the way in which the body breaks down sugars ingested in food. These changes can result in type 2 diabetes, with complications including nerve damage, vascular disease and eyesight problems.
- Increased body weight places extra strain on the joints, leading to osteoarthritis, and can interfere with breathing during sleep, causing obstructive sleep apnoea.
Exercise for Good Health
Diet is one factor in obesity; the other is exercise. When a person eats more calories than he or she uses during daily activities, the result is a gain in weight. The best way to reverse this balance is to combine healthy eating with a regular exercise plan.
The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 2½ hours of moderate-intensity exercise every week for adults. However, a CDC study in 2007 showed that more than one-third of Americans did not meet this recommendation and almost one-quarter claimed to have had no exercise at all in the previous month.
Increased physical activity has been linked to many health benefits, including:
- reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes
- reduced risk of breast and colon cancer
- improved mood in people with depression
- better sleep.
Prevent Chronic Illness with Basic Lifestyle Changes
Among their many detrimental effects on health, lifestyle choices such as unhealthy eating and lack of exercise can lead to disabling chronic diseases and reduced life expectancy. Improving diet and exercise takes willpower and a firm commitment to change, but support is available online and from organizations such as Weight Watchers. However, it is always important to speak to a doctor before starting any new diet or exercise plan.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.