Ways to Align: 9 Healthy Habits to Prevent Chronic Diseases
by Tiffany Joy Yamut, RN
Almost 50% (CDC) of individuals 55 and older have two or more chronic health conditions. While it is true that we cannot avoid aging, we do not have to develop chronic diseases. We can have control in this process by sculpting our behaviors.
Indeed we can make conscious decisions regarding our behaviors, even though we are often unaware of their source. Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease are tied to behaviors so much that we can protect ourselves from disease by improving them. Behavior change is no small task. The brain has forged these pathways often as a trigger to managing stress and trauma. Through a series of small steps, we can align our behaviors to promote health.
In this article, Tiffany Joy Yamut, RN, summarizes nine healthy habits to make this possible and prevent chronic diseases. I am a fan of information presented in short checklists, particularly regarding health. If you are interested in reading more on the topics discussed below, check out Your Health Forum for more in-depth articles. If you have any further questions on the material, please provide a comment or refer to the in-depth articles for more detail.
Christopher M. Cirino, DO MPH
Founder Your Health Forum
Did you know that your actions cause many chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity? Take, for example, living a sedentary lifestyle and following a poor diet that is high in sugar, fat, and unhealthy carbohydrates. These are risk factors for heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Bottom line: The choices we make, whether with food, movement, or any substance we take, can impact our bodies long-term. So how do you prevent chronic disease from happening?
The answer is simple: Small lifestyle habits. The key is to follow these tiny steps each day that will take you in the right direction. Start with the list of habits below.
You deserve the best in life, and that starts with a healthy body!
Table of Contents
#1 Choose whole foods over processed foods.
Study shows that processed foods, also known as “convenience foods,” contribute to obesity and heart disease due to their added sugars and saturated fat content. The more processed a food is, the more preservatives it contains.
Oftentimes, these added sugars include high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that is quickly absorbed into your body. When taken in excessive amounts, they cause insulin resistance.
Here’s a piece of advice: Focus on fresh, minimally processed foods. Make a healthy pantry list that fits your budget and schedule. This can include meats, leafy greens, and low-glycemic fruits.
#2 Move as a part of your routine.
Exercise plays such an important role in preventing premature death from chronic diseases. For example, in a large prospective study, expending 500kcal more per week increasing activity was linked to a 6% lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.
Sadly, only a few people exercise regularly. Ideally, we should be doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. This may sound intimidating, so here are some simple ways to get yourself to move more:
Instead of your usual television time, use it for fitness. Do a brisk walk around the block, ride an elliptical, or do yoga.
Rethink game nights with the family by having “active” games. Examples include a freeze dance game, hula hoop, and hopscotch.
Don’t live that far from your workplace? Bike to work each day.
Image credit: Unsplash
#3 Limit alcohol.
The CDC defines excessive drinking as the following:
Binge drinking – 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men on a single occasion.
Heavy drinking – 8 or more drinks for women and 15 or more drinks for men per week.
Over time, excessive drinking can put you at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It can even weaken your immune system and cause mental health problems. Whether you already have or still have not experienced the effects of your drinking habits, now is the best time to cut back.
The first step is to set a goal that will remind you to limit your drinking. It would be best if you had a WHY to get inspired. Next, avoid any triggers that cause you to crave drinking. This can include certain places or even too much stress.
More importantly, learn how to say NO. There will always be situations when people invite you to parties and expect you to drink like you used to. If you are not good at being direct with your friends, try to come up with an excuse such as: “I’m doing a presentation tomorrow, and I need to be in tiptop shape” or “I’m taking medication that interacts with alcohol.”
#4: Engage in a calming activity.
Stress does not just trigger negative emotions, but it can also affect your immune system at worst and trigger health problems. In fact, recent studies have discovered a link between stress and the development of tumors.
This is why stress-reducing activities are such important healthy habits. Learn to recognize stress, such as feeling overwhelmed, and do at least one of the following:
Play some chill music
Engage in a prayer or meditation session
Do progressive muscle relaxation
Soak yourself in a warm bath
Light a scented candle
Regular exercise is an effective technique for long-term stress management. It’s a great overall mood booster. For more information on the importance of destressing activity on health, refer to the linked article on mindfulness.
#5 Put your device away before bedtime.
There are many reasons why sleep is essential for your health. It helps with appetite control and gives you the energy and motivation to exercise for weight loss.
According to 15 studies, which included 474, 684 male and female participants, insufficient sleep increases the risk of developing or dying from heart disease.
Keeping your phone or electronic device away before sleep is a simple yet powerful way to get more quality sleep at night. It minimizes your exposure to blue light which can prevent you from falling asleep easily.
With your device far from you, your mind will be able to relax better.
Image credit: Pexels
#6 Go for a medical checkup regularly.
Most people only see a doctor when they feel ill. Even if you don’t, you can lower your risk of getting a disease by getting regular health checks. This is a form of preventive healthcare and is recommended for all stages of life!
Get an annual physical exam. This should include an interview of your lifestyle habits, a blood pressure check, and cervical cancer screening (for women above 21 years).
#7 Keep a food journal or diary.
Are you noting down what you’re eating and drinking each day?
A food journal or diary is a useful tool for tracking your dietary habits and identifying foods and beverages that make you feel sick. Also, it can help you become more aware of situations that contribute to mindless eating. This is especially important if you’re trying to lose weight and avoid obesity.
Here are the pieces of information that you should find in your food diary:
The food or drink you’ve consumed
Time of the day
Who you were with
Location (at home, restaurant, office, etc.)
Mood before eating
To make this work to your advantage, make sure to bring your diary with you wherever you go. Get one that conveniently fits in your pouch. Alternatively, you can use a free app if you prefer to go paperless.
#8 Spend time in nature.
Time spent outdoors is good for you. A 2018 study showed how it could make you more physically active and lower your risk of chronic disease. In the study, they defined sedentary time as time spent sitting or reclining.
Natural environments are the best places to be. This includes your local park, the woods, at the beach, hiking trails, and even your own garden.
There are so many fun things to do alone or with your family outside! It can be as simple as going for a brisk walk. If you’re passionate about fitness, for example, yoga or HIIT workouts, do them in nature for a scenery change.
#9 Participate in a health and wellness group.
This is one of the most important healthy habits. No matter what goal you set, whether to achieve blood sugar control or better brain health, it helps to be part of a community. That community will keep you accountable. If you’re feeling off on some days, group members will be there to support and listen. You don’t have to go alone. Not sure what group to join? There are plenty of options. Hospitals offer many groups, or they can also be independent and found on social media.
Image credit: Pexels
For example, in my health journey of reversing PCOS and avoiding diabetes, I follow relevant people on Instagram. These include doctors, authors, reputable websites, and individuals who are on the same path.
So, my Instagram feed is populated with these helpful pieces of content that keep me motivated! Just be aware that there are also risks in joining online groups, such as misinformation and negativity from other people.
Making Healthy Habits Stick
Now that we’ve identified our 9 health-boosting habits, how can you make these habits stick for good? (Because consistency is what gets you results!) Here are 3 tips:
Ditch perfectionism. An all-or-nothing mindset is your biggest enemy to progress. Because the truth is, not every day will be great! For example, there are times when you get sick, and so you’re not able to work out. Or one afternoon, you felt so stressed at work, and you sought a “comfort food” in the form of a pizza! Keep moving forward – that’s the most important thing.
Focus on one habit at a time. You probably want to master several habits. But before you’re able to, you need to start with just one habit. Create a specific plan for that habit. How are you going to implement it? At what time of the day? Where? What will be your trigger?
Envision the future. Most importantly, remind yourself of the ultimate result of your efforts. Visualization taps into your subconscious mind, helping you stick to the necessary steps to achieve your health goals.
Chronic diseases affect people in many ways, from a loss of function to death at worst. It doesn’t have to include you or your family. So, starting today, be proactive about your health. I hope that you can implement at least one and make a habit out of it! Don’t let illness interfere with living a long, joyful life. Keep working on these nine healthy habits to optimize your health.
For more information on healthy habits, refer to the Your Health Forum Journey to Health podcast and other articles on YHF. If you enjoyed this article, please share it to your friends and colleagues! Dr. Cirino
Here is a wonderful habit to start: kayaking with an inflatable raft. We purchased both the one-person and the two-person kayaks and recently tried them on a local river in Portland, Oregon. It was an enjoyable experience!