Many people do not think about the long-term health implications of their lifestyle choices. Most of us seem to think “it won’t happen to me” when it comes to chronic diseases. Since we all know that we can safely eat a candy or even as many as thousands of candies or lay on the couch watching television day after day without seeing any immediate harmful effects, it can be difficult to imagine that we are slowly developing chronic diseases over time. This concept of developing diseases over time from the specific lifestyle choices that each of us makes, is known as chronic diseases of lifestyle (CDL).
It is unfortunate that these chronic diseases of lifestyle are becoming the norm in Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, “the four leading causes of preventable deaths and disabilities in Canada are cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease”. 1 Other preventable diseases associated with the typical Canadian lifestyle include obesity, gallstones, osteoporosis, and gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation, diverticular disease, and hemorrhoids.
This risk of developing the aforementioned diseases can be greatly reduced simply by making changes to our diets, refraining from using cigarettes and other substances, and adding exercise as part of our daily routines. Overweight and obesity are on the rise in Canada. This is likely not shocking news to most Canadians as it has been continually climbing for decades now. According to Statistics Canada, “nearly one in four of all Canadian adults are obese”. 2 Obesity is defined as having an excessive amount of body fat.
In quantifiable terms, a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or over is considered obese. Some of the factors leading to Canada’s rising obesity rates include our reliance on labour-saving devices, inactive lifestyles, huge portion sizes, and increased consumption of processed and refined foods. Obesity carries with it many long-term health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, as well as some types of cancer. Making dietary changes, increasing physical activity, and losing weight can have a significant impact on reducing the risk of becoming obese and on developing a related disease.
Increasing intake of dietary fibre, decreasing intake of fats and sugars, controlling calories, and exercising are all excellent ways of positively influencing the risk of obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. “Nearly 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are also obese”. 4 The increased dietary intake of most obese people contributes to the high blood glucose levels characteristic of diabetes. Over time, the high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes can lead to other serious health problems.
An important factor in the development of type 2 diabetes is rapid digestion and absorption of sugar and starch which causes blood glucose levels to rise. Lack of dietary fibre allows for rapid digestion and absorption of starch since fibre usually slows down the digestion and absorption of glucose. So in short, the three key factors that affect the risk of type 2 diabetes are overweight or obesity, exercise and intake of fibre. Coronary heart disease and hypertension make up the cardiovascular diseases which are the leading cause of death among Canadians.
The main risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD) is high blood cholesterol. Other risk factors include diabetes, overweight/ obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, lack of physical activity, unhealthy diet, and stress. It appears that there is a pattern developing of the lifestyle choices and related chronic diseases of lifestyle. So what is CHD? CHD is a disease caused by the build-up of plaque in the arteries. This build-up of plaque, which is known as atherosclerosis, blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle which can result in a heart attack.
In order to reduce the risk of CHD, it is important to lower LDL cholesterol. This can be done by lowering intake of fat, especially saturated and trans fat. It is also helpful to increase intake of viscous or soluble fibre since it binds cholesterol with bile juices and slows cholesterol production through bacterial fermentation. Certain nutrients, phytochemicals, and antioxidants slow the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thus slowing the growth of artery clogging plaque. The dominant risk factor for strokes is hypertension or high blood pressure.
Other risk factors include atherosclerosis, diabetes, and obesity. As we already know, all of these risk factors can be prevented and the biggest weapon for prevention is diet. The best prevention technique is to lower intake of sodium. Other techniques to prevent hypertension are weight management, adequate potassium intake, decreased alcohol and caffeine consumption, and exercise. “Cancer can be attributed to as many of 30% of all deaths of Canadian adults making it the second leading cause of deaths among Canadians. 1 The many different types of cancer are often influenced by our lifestyle choices. The causes of cancer are plentiful but the leading three causes are tobacco use, overweight/ obesity (diet), and physical inactivity. Increased intake of fruits and vegetables and of course not smoking are helpful in preventing lung cancer. Fibre is linked to a decreased risk of colon cancer. Obesity is the dominant risk factor for breast cancer. Cancer prevention is aided by a diet consistently high in intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and their phytochemicals.
There is clearly a common theme in the prevention of chronic diseases of lifestyle: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, practice weight management, exercise daily, and don’t smoke! It is also clear that all of the chronic diseases of lifestyle are related to one another so if you develop one of them, you are at an increased risk for developing the others. Making just small changes to your lifestyle can have a significant impact on your risk of developing a CDL.
It is obvious that increasing fibre intake is very beneficial in the prevention of certain diseases, as well as limiting fat, sodium, and sugar intake. It’s amazing that these simple changes can prevent the development of many of the diseases that Canadians suffer and die from everyday. All of the chronic diseases of lifestyle are related to each other and therefore, all are preventable. Since these diseases can often develop over a period of many years without any symptoms, we can slowly be slowly developing deadly diseases without even knowing it. That is why it is important to take preventative action now.
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