In the United States, four in ten people live with at least two or more long-term or chronic diseases. These diseases include many such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, each of them associated with negative health consequences. Since more people are being diagnosed and living with multiple chronic conditions, it has a significant impact on shortening the lifespan of individuals afflicted with them.
However, for those with multiple chronic health conditions there’s good news – living a healthy lifestyle is associated with a 6.3 years longer lifespan for men and 7.6 years for women. This information comes from a study published in Plos Medicine believed to be the first study researching if the risk of death associated with an individual’s combined risk factors depends on the presence of multiple chronic health conditions.
Study on chronic conditions
The study analyzed data collected between 2006 and 2010 from more than 480,000 adults (median age of 58 years) in the United Kingdom’s Biobank. Even after 2010, these individuals were followed up until 2016. A total of 36 chronic conditions were assessed along with four self-reported lifestyle factors which included physical activity, smoking, diet, and alcohol consumption.
What the study found was that living a healthier lifestyle was consistently associated with a longer life expectancy across various individual risk factors regardless of a person having multiple chronic conditions. The lifestyle factor associated with the largest survival benefit was for those who did not smoke. If a person who was 45 years of age smoked, they would have an estimated 5 to 6 years shorter life expectancy than someone else of the same age who was a non-smoker.
This study solidifies the advice and recommendations from various health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that emphasize and promote the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. Individuals who consistently and routinely practice basic good health habits will tend to have better disease outcomes than those not adhering to this advice.
Advice for a healthy lifestyle
Besides refraining from smoking, here are three other healthy lifestyle habits to embrace and how they help individuals with chronic diseases:
- Eating a healthy diet – Eating a nutritious diet has a tremendous impact on one’s health. Not only can it prevent certain life-threatening illnesses like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis, but healthy diets also improve those conditions if a person already has them. For example, healthy eating helps prevent obesity, the number one nutritional reason for disease. Obesity is a major risk factor for many conditions like type two diabetes, heart disease, and more. Eating foods loaded with sugar, fats, and calories can add extra weight weakening your bones and making your organs work harder. This automatically increases the risk of health problems in the future.
Choosing unhealthy foods lacking in nutrients can lead to certain diseases. If a person is consuming inadequate calcium, bones become weak and brittle leading to osteoporosis. Or eating too many foods high in saturated fat can lead to cardiovascular disease and high blood cholesterol.
That’s why eating the right foods can help individuals feel better improving the likelihood of boosting physical activity, also known for disease prevention. Making good food choices also boosts “good” cholesterol while reducing unhealthy “bad” cholesterol. This directly impacts the risk of heart disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and high blood pressure by helping blood flow more easily improving these chronic health conditions.
- Regular physical activity – Anyone with a chronic disease and their doctor’s permission should rely on exercise to help manage symptoms and improve their health. It’s important to include a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility moves. Aerobic exercise is at type of movement that increases a person’s heart rate for a sustained length of time helping improve heart health, endurance, and aids in weight loss. There are many different forms of exercise that are considered aerobic – walking, bicycling, swimming, dancing, playing tennis, or jogging.
Strength training or lifting weights can improve muscle strength and endurance making it easier to do daily activities. It also slows disease-related declines in muscle strength and improves stability to the joints.
Flexibility exercises such as basic stretching, yoga, or Pilates, help improve the optimal range of motion of the joints for better functioning, improves balance helping to reduce the risk of falls.
- Refrain from excessive alcohol consumption – Abuse of alcohol has been associated with many different types of negative health issues and damage to numerous organs in the body. Determining the physical impairments to these organs depends on several factors such as length of time a person abuses alcohol and how much is typically consumed, whether the alcohol use was in conjunction with other drugs, and other factors such as a person’s dietary habits, exercise, and the presence of other health conditions
Organs particularly impacted by alcohol use are the brain, heart, and liver. In the brain, alcohol use is associated with damage to the neurons in all areas of this organ and alteration of neural pathways activity to the brain. This can result in an increased risk of developing neurological diseases such as seizures, stroke, and dementia.
Negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption
Some of the potential heart or cardiovascular issues associated with alcohol intake include increasing the risk of developing high blood pressure. Individuals who stop drinking and take on other healthy lifestyle habits can reduce this risk relatively quickly. Heavy drinking is also associated with weakening the heart muscle reducing its effectiveness in pumping blood. An irregular heartbeat or arrhythmias is also associated with chronic alcohol abuse while individuals who drink moderately or heavy are at an increased risk for death due to heart attack.
Excessive alcohol use also affects the liver. Drinking large amounts of alcohol results in the liver having to metabolize the alcohol in order to rid the toxin from the body. This makes the liver work excessively hard to perform other functions it has when a person drinks large amounts of alcohol. Being overworked causes the liver to lose its efficiency as damage results in producing scar tissue and fatty deposits in the organ. Once scar tissue develops, the liver is unable to work properly which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
The best advice when it comes to alcohol use is to either drink in moderation if at all or to refrain completely if unable to moderate use of it.