We are a peculiar people, we Americans. We love to worry and fret and speculate about the mysterious "what-ifs" that bombard us on the TV news and talk radio. The latest being the solar flares or sun spots that are hurling through space right at our lovely blue planet.
And we still occasionally hear the lone voices whispering about a resurgent of some 18th century plague that threatens to wipe us out, or climate changes that may very well affect global agriculture. Folks, we really should be waking up to the real monsters that threaten to drag us to an early grave: Chronic disease.
A chronic disease is longstanding, ongoing, continual and incurable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov, chronic diseases are the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, with heart disease taking the prize for the No. 1 all-time killer. Cancer being No. 2. And rounding out the top five in order: stroke, respiratory disease and diabetes.
Nearly half of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic illness. Early death is more likely for those with one of these chronic diseases. Not just concern for length of life, but the symptoms associated with disabling chronic disease extend the suffering and pain which equates to very poor quality of life.
Not only do we seem to ignore the human element involved here, but also the monetary element. Seventy-five cents out of EVERY health-care dollar spent in the United States is spent on one of these chronic diseases. Medicare spends a whooping 96 percent for treating one of these debilitating illnesses! Treatment plus loss of productivity cost the US economy over $1 trillion a year.
Our American health care system is structured so that we focus so much money and energy into discovering treatments and cures for disease, not on preventing disease. In this country, we have an arsenal of treatment procedures and medications to manage heart disease and diabetes and cancer but, PREVENTION is the obvious, glaring, sensible approach.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, way back in about 400 BC even recognized this when he said, "The function of protecting and developing health must rank even above that of restoring it when it is impaired."
According to the World Health Organization, there are four modifiable health risk factors. Modifiable means we can change them!
1. Lack of physical activity -- surprise, surprise...
2. Poor nutrition -- another surprise, right?
3. Tobacco use.
4. Excessive alcohol.
The WHO estimates that if these four risk factors were eliminated, 80 percent of all heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes would be prevented AND so would be 40 percent of cancers. Even modestly reducing unhealthy behavior could prevent or delay 40 million cases of chronic illness annually.
I really don't think I'm reporting any eye-opening statistic here. What is mind-boggling, however, is that with just a few lifestyle changes we have the power to not only extend our lives, but elevate our enjoyment and pleasure and abilities as we age.
We each have an obligation to ourselves to get off the couch, drive on by the fast-food joint, snuff out the cigarettes and stop the Saturday-night binge drinking.
According to www.ForAHealthierAmerica.com, if just 1 out of 10 adults started a regular walking program, meaning at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, the nation could save $5.6 billion in heart disease costs each year alone. No fancy equipment, no complicated routine. Just walking.
(Talk to your doctor before starting, if you already suffer with cardiac disease, he or she may recommend a more structured and supervised cardiac rehab program.)
We all know that the typical American diet of burgers, pizza and colas are robbing us of our health as well as making us fat! We hear it so much on the TV talk shows that we just don't listen to it anymore. Eat more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, less fat, less sodium, less sugar. It's a no-brainer, but extremely difficult to incorporate in our busy lifestyles.
And the touchy subject of quitting smoking. I've discuss smoking cessation with many people. I believe it is the most fiercely defended of all the bad lifestyle choices. People who smoke are extremely defensive discussing the subject of quitting. I will be honest, I have never been a smoker, unless you want to count the pack of cigarettes I kept hidden in my glove-box when I was in high school just to feel cool.
Arkansas Tobacco Quitline has helped thousands. It is confidential 800 hotline service that offers free nicotine patches or lozenges, social support "coaches", even workbooks. The number is 800-784-8669.
You know, this isn't just about a more youthful appearance, fewer wrinkles, and a sexier body. This is about preventing death at an early age from a fatty heart or lungs that no longer expand.
I've had people tell me, "Well, we are all going to die from something." Me, I'd rather die from that scuba diving accident on my 90th birthday, thank you very much.