In the United States, about half of all adults suffer from chronic health conditions, and about 26% of adults suffer from more than one. Conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, and heart disease are prevalent and extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, some lifestyle habits that contribute to chronic disease can have effects that go unnoticed in the short term — making them all the more dangerous.
Below, we will discuss six habits that increase your risk of developing serious chronic disease, as well as tips for lowering your risk.
Smoking has long been understood to be detrimental to your health. Not only is it proven to cause lung cancer, but it also causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. People who smoke traditional cigarettes are 2.6 times more likely to develop chronic lung disease compared to nonsmokers.
While some individuals believe that vaping allows them to smoke safely, as it turns out, both smoking and vaping present a very high risk of chronic lung disease. E-cigarettes are harmful on their own. Users who use only e-cigarettes were 1.3 times more likely to develop chronic lung disease than a person who didn’t smoke.
Not surprisingly, heavy smokers who both vape and smoke traditionally are much more likely to develop chronic lung disease — even when compared to people who smoke either cigarettes or vapes. Dual users, in the study linked above, were 3.3 times more likely to develop chronic lung disease.
Lower Your Risk
Obviously, avoiding smoking and vaping completely would significantly reduce your risks of chronic lung disease. Unfortunately, though, many smokers find quitting to be an overwhelming task. Since cigarettes are highly addictive for most users, you may find that using nicotine patches to help you wean yourself off smoking helps.
Another option is to slowly reduce the frequency of smoking or vaping. Even if you can’t quit just yet, one study shows that people who reduced smoking frequency reduced their risk of early death by 15%.
2) Heavy Drinking
Drinking small amounts of alcohol is not necessarily bad for you, however, heavy drinking is highly correlated to cardiovascular disease (CVD,) cancer, and overall mortality rates.
In this study, heavy alcohol drinkers (classified as drinking more than 12 servings of alcohol per week) experienced a substantial increase in their risks of CVD, cancer, and overall mortality when compared to light and moderate alcohol drinkers (classified as drinking 2-12 servings of alcohol per week).
Surprisingly, the lowest risk of alcohol-related chronic disease was found to be the group that drank 1-2 servings of alcohol per week — even lower risk than people who abstained completely from alcohol.
Lower Your Risk
If you are currently a heavy drinker, lowering your intake to less than 12 servings of alcohol per week could significantly lower your risk of chronic disease and death.
3) Poor Nutrition
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of poor nutrition might be overeating or eating many processed foods, which can lead to obesity. On the other hand, though, undereating and a lack of proper nutrition also contribute to chronic health problems. A study in the Clinical Nutrition Journal found interesting correlations between nutrition and multimorbidity (having multiple simultaneous chronic conditions).
Researchers discovered that greater consumption of fruits and vegetables lowered the risk of multimorbidity. Grain products, excluding rice and wheat, were also found to be highly correlated with a lower risk of multimorbidity as well as an intake of dietary fibers, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Some of the chronic diseases that poor nutrition puts you at risk of are obesity, CVD, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Lower Your Risk
If you want to lower your risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, lowering your intake of unhealthy processed foods, and increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a good place to start.
4) Insufficient Sleep
You have likely been told your whole life that getting enough sleep is important. You might wonder, though, what exactly are the risks of getting too little sleep? Unfortunately, while getting too little sleep is extremely common, it is also correlated with obesity and other chronic diseases.
Working night and early morning shifts have also been shown to significantly affect your sleep. If you work one of those shifts, it may be even more important to monitor your sleep schedule to ensure that you are catching enough Z’s.
New studies provide evidence that insufficient sleep enhances the drive to consume food and overeat. Other studies also suggest that short sleep duration increases the buildup of belly fat.
Obviously, the best way to lower your risk of sleep-related chronic disease is to sleep more. Unfortunately, we know that it isn’t that easy, especially for people working outside a typical 9-5.
Here are some tips that may help you get a better night’s sleep:
Avoiding caffeine before bed
Going to sleep at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning — even on weekends
Avoiding nicotine (this also decreases your risk of chronic health issues)
Refraining from the use of electronic devices in bed
Taking a magnesium supplement before bed
Getting regular exercise early in the day
Cutting back on long naps
5) Poorly Managed Stress
Stress has become the “new normal,” and almost everyone would report experiencing stress at some time every week. While stress may feel like mostly an emotional problem, the effects of chronic stress on your body can be very pronounced and put you at an increased risk of developing a chronic condition. There is evidence that links stress to the onset of major depression, CVD, and even cancer since chronic stress can suppress a proper immune response.
Reduce Your Risks
If you want to reduce stress in your everyday life, start by identifying the causes of your stress and avoiding them where possible. However, if you cannot easily avoid your stressors, you may benefit from stress management strategies. A qualified therapist or mental health professional can help you find ways to manage your chronic stress.
6) Physical Inactivity
With more people working from home than ever before, people are moving less than they ever have. When you just roll out of your bed to get your desk — and you have the option to order takeout every day — a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle can be hard to avoid.
Historically, physical activity, consuming food, and reproducing were the three cornerstones needed to sustain life. Now, with technological advancement, humans have essentially made physical activity optional — but not without consequences. Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases.
“Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety.” Source: WHO
Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that a lack of physical activity is a primary cause of most chronic diseases and likely, a major cause of most chronic disease-related death.
Reduce Your Risks
If you want to reduce your risk of developing chronic health problems due to lack of exercise, a good place to start would be to begin moving more. Even if you feel it’s difficult to find time to exercise, you can start by just standing up, walking, taking the stairs, and making other small choices to move more instead of being habitually sedentary.
Reducing Your Risk of Chronic Disease is Not Impossible
While the above six habits can greatly increase your risk of a large variety of chronic diseases and even death, all hope is not lost. Thankfully, you can greatly lower your risks by making small changes starting today.
If you cannot completely quit drinking or smoking, start by reducing your consumption. Once you become more aware of your habits, you can begin to take positive actions to correct them.
If you aren’t ready to overhaul your diet, you can start adding healthier foods little by little.
If you currently find it difficult to get enough sleep, you can make small adjustments to your nighttime routine that will make it easier to rest.
If you suffer from chronic stress, implementing a self-care routine that includes daily journaling, a thoughtful meditation practice, or regular appointments with a qualified mental health professional has been proven to reduce feelings of overwhelm.
If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you can start increasing your activity levels by making conscious decisions to stand and move more throughout the day.
Reducing your risk of chronic disease doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can make small changes over a long period of time to see real results.