Lifestyle Diseases: Shifting the Burden of Responsibility
The lifestyle we lead is a big contributor toward the quality of our life. Stressors of modern day living, poor eating habits, sleep dispossession, sedentary lifestyle, drug abuse, tobacco smoking, and alcohol drinking contribute to many diseases. But what are these lifestyle diseases? "Lifestyle diseases characterize those diseases whose occurrence is primarily based on the daily habits of people and are a result of an inappropriate relationship of people with their environment (Sharma and Majumdar 109)." In an article published by MedicineNet, William C. Shiel, Jr. MD, states, "Lifestyle diseases include atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke; obesity and type 2 diabetes; and diseases associated with smoking and alcohol and drug abuse." Just as poor lifestyle choices can contribute to disease, proper dietary and lifestyle choices can contribute toward good health, prevent damage to the cardiovascular system, prevent cancers, and, reverse several cases of type 2 diabetes. Regular physical activity can help prevent a score of diseases like obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, colon cancer, and even premature mortality. Remarkably, even though these lifestyle diseases, namely, asthma, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, stroke, renal failure, depression and cancer are known to kill millions of people worldwide every year, very few people take action to actually get healthy by taking the burden of responsibility upon themselves. Becoming conscious of their nutrition intake, movement and stress levels, each and every one of us can live disease free and lead a healthy, fulfilling life.
Lifestyle diseases claim the lives of millions of people across the globe. In a data brief published by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Fryer et al state, "In 2009-2010, approximately 46.5% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over had at least one of three risk factors for CVD and stroke (5)." Fryer further asserts that cardiovascular disease alone costs the U.S. about $219 billion each year which includes the cost of health care services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death. As if that didn't get your attention, Journal of Cardiology & Current Research published that, "Cardiovascular diseases that include heart attacks and stroke account for 17.7 million deaths every year, making it the most lethal disease globally. Cancer kills around 8.8 million people each year, followed by respiratory diseases that claim around 3.9 million lives annually and diabetes that has an annual morbidity rate of 1.6 million (Tabish 1)." These jaw-dropping statistics display the gravity of the situation we have at hand, which if not addressed will continue to take a toll in the lives of millions of people in the world.
The numbers speak for themselves. Armed with this statistical overview of the severity of our human condition, it is imperative for us to not only look to our governments and health system for institutional action, but also take the burden of responsibility upon ourselves. Here a quote by Mahatma Gandhi seems particularly relevant, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world (Gandhi)." Can each and every one of us do our part in the face of this growing epidemic? Or are medical institutions, our government, school systems, medical organizations, and corporations responsible to implement measures to curb these lifestyle related diseases? Is each individual then to blame for conditions prevalent in their own lives? A lawsuit filed against McDonald's fast food restaurant bears testimony for the individual's frame of mind; Health Affairs reports, "In August 2002 a group of overweight children in New York City filed a class action lawsuit against McDonald's Corporation seeking compensation for obesity related health problems, improved nutritional labeling of McDonald's products, and funding for a program to educate consumers about the dangers of fast food (Mello et al 207)." This lawsuit displays a prevalent notion in our society that we must look externally for solutions to problems created by the choices we make. In general, we all want someone other than ourselves to blame, when we can just as easily turn our gaze inward and look within for solutions.
That's not to say that our nations institutional leadership and health authorities are off the hook to give us a supportive environment so we can be better equipped for success in this area. After all, change on a societal level must be asserted from the top down. Are our health policies proactively addressing this systemic issue or do they need to be revised? Further, can they give us a hand by funding appropriate research and development programs and foster cutting-edge technologies to aid us in furthering the healthy lifestyles cause? Maybe so. Upon further research, it appears that with rising awareness of lifestyle related diseases, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), a division of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has taken a stance to promote health and wellness programs nationally, in order to prevent chronic diseases. These programs are being implemented on a systemic level that show government and institutional engagement of public welfare in the form of policies and regulations that benefit the individual (How We Prevent Chronic Diseases & Promote Health). And yet, it is not enough. Institutional reform comes in the form of a revolution that is much needed and long overdue for a systemwide reboot. A detailed analysis of such institutional reform and upgrade is beyond the scope of this paper. However, until such a time that it happens, we can acknowledge the risks and stressors our modern lifestyles place on us and take steps on an individual level to incorporate basic lifestyle changes with or without external help.
Incorporating such changes in our lives, begin with a shift in mindset. A changed mind marks the beginning of a personal revolution. There is nothing fiercer than a changed mind. Mindset shifts are key for seeking and incorporating change. These shifts could be as simple as making small changes in our diet & nutrition intake, which can over time amount to big results. Exercise helps but for some individuals, setting up an exercise routine is nothing short of a monumental task. In such cases, just getting up and simply moving counts for a whole lot. Moving can pave the way for greater transformation down the road. In his book, The Strangest Secret, Earl Nightingale spoke of success as being the progressive realization of a worthy ideal (11). In self-transformation, one simple rule prevails, and that is - When we see progress, we are motivated to take the next step. Progress can be as simple as consistent action over a period of time showing minute shifts in our individual reality. "If a man is working towards a predetermined goal and knows where he is going, that man is a success (Nightingale 11)." What's more, in identifying the stressors in our personal lives, one can come up with a stress management plan tailored to our self. Everyone is different, so a cookie cutter plan won't work for everyone. And it may not work if the individual is not self-motivated, but this could be our cue to reach out for help. At any given time, there are other's in the same boat as us. Making a choice to lead a healthy life does not have to be a lonely path. Finding and being a part of a Tribe of like-minded individuals is an important step toward finding one's sense of belonging. There are many resources in our community, workplace and schools that can give us direction on where to start. Some of these are listed below, along with a few tips that we can start on our own and implement within the comfort of our own homes.
The journey to self-transformation starts within. Instead of telling ourselves what we can't do, we can start with telling ourselves what we can do - and then implement that small change going forward. This will over time give way to better habits, and the negative ones will fade, and eventually fall off. According to Psychologist, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., in her book Mindset, "growth mindset is based on the belief in change." Her message is simple: Intelligence and abilities can be developed through study and learning rather than something fixed. Growth mindset is finding a way to use our abilities to substantiate change. Now that we, as a society have witnessed and acknowledged the fact that we have a major problem at hand, our growth, therefore, lies in self-transformation via education and partaking in the resources we can conjure up. By adopting a growth mindset, we can find our way out of this mess. The aftermath of consequences delivered by our lack of knowledge does not have to last forever. Once we learn to incorporate small changes in our dietary habits, for instance, taking time to meal prep, eating home cooked food, healthy snacking, or even taking a 30-minute brisk walk every day, we can make strides toward creating a lasting lifestyle change.
Although we must take the time to read, listen and educate ourselves, we can make small changes right now, that don't necessarily take too much effort to incorporate. For instance, we can download a free app like MapMyFitness on our mobile phone to track our daily food intake and even our daily activities. Apps like MapMyFitness can help create awareness of our caloric input vs output. In fact, dietary tracking is a mandatory part of multiple diabetes and weight management programs. A study conducted by researchers in West Virginia University on the effect of adherence of dietary tracking on weight loss, showed a linear relationship between weight loss and consistent tracking, and hence asserting the importance of frequent dietary tracking for consistent long-term weight loss success. Those who tracked intake at least 5 days of each week showed significant and sustained weight loss over time as compared to those who tracked fewer days or inconsistently during the program (Ingels, Misra, Stewart, Lucke-Wold, & Shawley-Brzoska). Calculating our Ideal body weight (IBW) and Body Mass Index (BMI) can further help to add a layer of dimension to understanding the imbalance in our diet. A BMI calculator is available at the CDC website, which can be a very useful tool to start the tracking habit. BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems ("Adult BMI Calculator").
If we lead a sedentary lifestyle, we can try setting up a 20-minute timer to get up and move so we can avoid sitting in front of the computer or the television for long periods of time. Move Your Way is one such promotional campaign for the publication "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans" published by Department of Health and Human Services in the United States. The 118-page booklet, already on its 2nd edition, helps people to live healthier lives through increased physical activity. The campaign provides tools and resources to implement Physical Activity Guidelines laid out in the booklet ("Move Your Way Campaign"). This remarkable resource puts out physical activity fact sheets and checklists in collaboration with CDC to distribute to various health care settings, recreation facilities, schools, workplaces, and community centers. The fact sheet for adults has information about why regular physical activity is important, what kinds of activity adults need, and how to get it. Similarly, there are fact sheets available to print for the elderly and children and also for health care providers ("Walk. Run. Dance. Play. What's Your Move?").
There is a plethora of other small changes we can make in our lives which can be as simple as taking up reading, drinking plenty of water to flush out toxins from the body, or even incorporating robust activities like yoga, and meditation into your daily routine. According to Harvard Health, the benefits of Yoga extend way beyond the mat. Yoga not only gives you a better body image, but it can help you become a mindful eater, boost weight loss and metabolism, enhance your fitness levels, and have a positive effect on cardiovascular risk factors ("Yoga - Benefits Beyond the Mat")". Aside from the physical benefits, one of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress, which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind. As Natalie Nevins, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor, explains, "Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate, and Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a positive outlook on life ("Benefits of Yoga")." As an Iyengar Yoga Instructor myself, the art, science and practice of Yoga has made profound changes in my own life, not only in enhancing strength and flexibility but also in mental focus, and stress management. In addition to the practice of Yogic exercises, the practice of Pranayama or pranic breathing is highly recommended to increase the intake of oxygen in our bodies. Pranayama techniques in Yoga focus on regulating and balancing our breathing to improve our health. Studies have shown that increased oxygen levels in the brain increase focus and promote relaxation. In a journal article, the founder of Life Spa, Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP elaborates how intermittent hypoxia during the practice of Pranayama has numerous benefits including neuroplasticity, stem cell production, enhanced nitric oxide production and increased hemoglobin levels. (Douillard & Boshari).
So, whether you decide to take up Yoga, park your car further away from the grocery store entrance door to get your steps in for the day or take up reading or even take your friend up for salsa dancing on Sunday's, every little step is a step in the positive direction. The small-changes approach was originally designed to make small lifestyle changes to focus on gradual changes of weight loss as opposed to drastic changes, which typically don't last. This strategy has now evolved to be a comprehensive approach of small changes in diet and physical activity to combat obesity. The concept isn't that small changes will have greater impact than long changes, but that small changes are much better than larger weight loss approaches, which simply cannot be sustained when we're dealing with obesity (Kravitz 18-20).
None of the above suggestions are groundbreaking news to us. We've heard of some or all of them over a period of time from one source or another. Then why have we not availed? There is so much that can be done on the individual level to take charge of our own health that it behooves me that more people are not partaking in this personal revolution. Lifestyle diseases may be a threat to the socio-economic aspects of nations globally, but we can each, individually take appropriate actions for their management. It is a cataclysmic need of the present moment to understand that if we are to tackle this global epidemic, the position of power lies in our hands, and not authorities, or institutions. We need to take matters in our hands in order to give ourselves the necessary environment and tools to make a difference in our lives. Maybe it is time to acknowledge that the hero lies within each and every one of us. By looking inward, we can conquer the enemy without and each and by becoming conscious of our lifestyle, dietary intake, physical activity and stress levels, each and every one of us can live disease free healthy and fulfilling life.
"Adult BMI Calculator." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
"Benefits of Yoga." American Osteopathic Association
Douillard, John, and Naomi Boshari. "Pranayama & Breath Retention: The Science behind This Powerful Practice." Elephant Journal
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: Changing the Way You Think to Fulfil Your Potential.
Fryar, Cheryl & Chen, Te-Ching & Li, Xianfen. (2012). Prevalence of uncontrolled risk factors for cardiovascular disease: United States, 1999-2010. NCHS data brief.
Gandhi. Gandhi, an Autobiography; the Story of My Experiments with Truth. Translated from the Original in Gujarati by Mahadev Desai. Beacon Press; Navajivan, 1965
Harvard Health Publishing. "Yoga - Benefits Beyond the Mat." Harvard Health
"How We Prevent Chronic Diseases and Promote Health." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 July 2019
Ingels, John Spencer, et al. "The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time."
Kravitz, Len. Small Changes and the Obesity Epidemic, IDEA Fitness Journal, 2010
Mello, Michelle M., et al. "The McLawsuit: The Fast-Food Industry and Legal Accountability for Obesity." Health Affairs
"Move Your Way Campaign." Home of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Nightingale, Earl. The Strangest Secret; We Become What We Think About. Nightingale-Conant Corp.
Sharma, Mukesh, and P K Majumdar. "Occupational lifestyle diseases: An emerging issue." Indian journal of occupational and environmental medicine vol. 13,3 (2009)
Shiel Jr., William C. "Definition of Lifestyle Disease." MedicineNet, MedicineNet, 24 Jan. 2017
Tabish, S A. "Lifestyle Diseases: Consequences, Characteristics, Causes and Control." Journal of Cardiology & Current Research
"Walk. Run. Dance. Play. What's Your Move?" MoveYourWay