Business of Well-being

How to Reduce Your Risk for Chronic Disease

Our recent economic meltdown demonstrates the tragic results of ignoring the fundamentals for a good economy. In a similar revelation, Americans are discovering that ignoring the fundamentals of good health leads to serious disease and even death.

The Study

The good news is that getting back to basics can significantly drop your risk for chronic disease. You've heard it before - don't smoke, lose weight, exercise, and maintain a good diet. The payoff, however, is huge. According to a recent study, people who followed all four of the basics lowered their risk for diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and cancer by 78%.

Dr. Earl Ford, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and his colleagues, completed a study of more than 23,000 middle-aged people who never smoked, were not obese, exercised at least 3 hours per week, and adhered to a healthy diet of a high intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains with low meat consumption.

Eight years later, as reported in the August 10/24, 2009 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, people with all four healthy lifestyle factors showed a 93% decreased risk for diabetes, 81% for heart attacks, 50% for strokes and 36% for cancer.

Finding Support

Most of us understand that these good habits make sense but why does it seem so few of us even try? Perhaps we ignore the basics in the hope that the American medical system will bail us out. The total annual economic cost for diabetes alone is an estimated $174 billion. While the American healthcare system has made great strides in treating complications of these diseases through kidney transplants, heart bypass surgeries and new chemotherapy, recent data shows a better alternative.

Prevention by following the basic health principles will be more effective than treating the complications. So what are we Americans to do? Isn't it time to confront the fact that although it won't be easy, can we really afford to put off adopting the good habits people in our culture used to have? Google "lose weight" and you receive over 47.2 million results.

In a very telling statistic, "keeping weight off" delivers an astounding 92.2 million results. It is clear; we are not getting to the root of the problem. Fortunately, we now have knowledge that looks at the gaps between healthy and destructive habits. Techniques such as motivational interviewing help reclaim good habits by identifying what's important to you and determining how ready you are for change.

The gap between knowing what to do and "doing" presents the greatest challenge. Few of us care for someone prescribing a change in our behavior. Through motivational interviewing and other techniques, you explore what fuels your ambivalence toward change.

Whether you choose support through your doctor, structured programs or online resources, success can only happen when you are an active participant in the process. You have the answers, but getting help making them happen could be the one thing that jumpstarts your new healthier long-term life.

Taking the First Step

Don't try to tackle everything at once. If you have high cholesterol and smoke, focus on changing one thing first. The challenge of a single step is far less daunting then the completion of a triathlon of steps. You will find that small victories motivate you to stay in it for the long haul. Isn't it time for you to take that first step? Do you not owe it to yourself to make the effort get back to basics?

About the Author

Jim Dudl, MD is the head of Diabetes for Kaiser Permanente and the Chief Wellness Officer at La Joya Perfecta, Costa Rica's premier affordable wellness center. Dr. Dudl is also an advisor to the US Government on preventative medicine for its 2009 $500 billion budget. Source reference:Ford ES, et al "Healthy living is the best revenge: Findings from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition -- Potsdam Study" Arch Intern Med 2009; 169(15): 1355-62. American Diabetes Association, "Diabetes Statistics," available at, accessed October 1, 2009.

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