The US spends significantly more in health care than any other nation. On average each American spends $7,000 annually on medical expenses. Given this, you would assume the average American must be in excellent heath, right? Unfortunately the average life expectancy is far below other nations that spend less on health care. As a nation, more than 80% of our health care spending is on people with chronic health conditions. These conditions have drastically compromised overall quality of life and continue to climb as the nations leading cause of death and disability. Chronic disease are among the most common and costly of all health problems, but they are also among the most preventable.
Many chronic conditions are caused by a list of modifiable risk behaviors: lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor oral hygiene. All of which can be changed through preventive measures to decrease probability.
Prevention needs to be pushed to the forefront for many. We must rethink our entire health care system by approaching health promotion activities that encourage healthy living while limiting the initial onset of chronic conditions. Not only does this reduce risk of these chronic conditions but it improves quality of life and longevity. Genetics and specific risk factors play a part in some of these conditions but the purpose is reducing risk and probability. It’s really easy to get caught up in being young when our general recovery process is more efficient and most of our internal organs and tissues are working at high capacity. To be most effective, this must occur in multiple areas of life and across an individuals lifespan. However, its never to late to make health a priority with modifiable health risk behaviors and lifestyle guidelines:
- Physical Activity. Regular physical activity is one of the most important things a person can do. Physical activity increases longevity, assists with healthy weight management, improves insulin resistance, strengthens bones and increases dense muscle tissues. All of which reduce risk for chronic conditions.
- Nutrition. It’s undeniable that a well-balanced diet goes hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet, high in micronutrients helps prevent, delay and manage chronic disease. Aside from that, emphasis on good nutrition improves mood and reduces stress, which play a part in mental health and reducing inflammation. Nutrition is critical for reducing risk and increasing longevity .
- Oral Health/Hygiene. Your mouth is a window into what’s going on in the rest of your body, often serving as a helpful vantage point for detecting the early signs of systemic disease and nutritional deficiencies. It also serves as the entry point to your digestive system, a part of the process in good digestive health. Your mouth contains hundreds of bacteria which help regulate a healthy environment. The bacteria from your mouth normally don’t enter your bloodstream. However, with an abnormal balance of bacteria it has potential to invade your bloodstream. If you have a healthy immune system, the presence of oral bacteria in your bloodstream causes no problems. However, if your immune system is weakened, because of a specific disease, oral bacteria in your bloodstream may cause you to develop issues in another part of the body. The connection between oral health and overall health and well-being cannot be ignored. Elimination risk can be as simple as prevention and maintenance of your oral habits. Daily brushing and flossing in conjunction with routine cleanings keep bad bacteria under control, allowing the body to use it’s natural defense efficiently.
- Elimination of tobacco & alcohol. Both being key indicators of health outcomes. We know that excessive tobacco and alcohol, or a prolonged history of tobacco and alcohol use is associated with a wide range of health and social problems.
- Sleep. Sleep is a vital life piece that is overlooked towards disease and prevention. Sleep is a recovery process. Consistent lack of sleep is directly associated with long term health consequences, including chronic medical conditions. In addition to that sleep is directly linked to increased stress, increased blood pressure and increased inflammation which is a key proponent in shortened life expectancy. Understanding how lack of sleep affects your health is crucial.
- Stress Management. Long term activation of the stress response (i.e. chronic stress) results in overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that eventually disrupt all your body’s processes and put you at risk for chronic diseases. Managing chronic stress is a key proponent to decreasing inflammation and eliminating risk. Learning to identify what your stressors are is the first step, then adjusting behaviors and navigating options that eliminate that. This can be accomplished through many things – emphasis on movement, good nutrition, meditation etc.
- Know your family history. Understanding your family history and how it affects your risk for disease is an incredibly important way to protect your health. If you are conscious of your individual risk, you can make adjustments to affect it.
The power of prevention should be our primary focus. If we shifted our efforts towards preventative measures, even slightly, the outcome is significant. We have all the evidence of the ‘power of prevention’ but despite this our health care system has primarily focused on discovering treatments and cures for disease, rather than prevention. We must be individually accountable for behaviors that put us at higher risk for these conditions. If we improve outcomes and increase life expectancy, it will be due to changing health and wellness behaviors, not from spending trillions of dollars on treating chronic diseases. The positive, you have control of it, prevention starts with you.