A simple fact is that these days we’re all living a lot longer. As of 2016, the average life expectancy for an American is 78.8 years, almost 80 years of age .
But living longer comes with its own unique set of problems. It’s not enough to just live longer, we also want to live healthier so that we’re able to make the most of our time. Every day we make little decisions about what to eat, what to drink, whether to continue smoking or not, if we should engage in exercise or whether we need to visit our doctor for those regular check-ups. These are micro decisions -little decisions that on a daily basis don’t really matter but over time will add up. These decisions multiplied by weeks, months and years come to define our health and make up what we call ‘lifestyle’ factors.
Today, medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes are the 1st and 7th leading causes of death amongst Americans [3,4]. Although the development of these conditions depends on many things, your lifestyle also plays a huge role. In fact our lifestyles may sometimes be the single deciding factor that determines whether or not we develop heart disease or diabetes. With that in mind, here are a few lifestyle tips to lower your risk for both of these diseases:
1. Mind Your Meals
One of the best ways to lower your risk for heart disease is to start paying attention to what you eat. In the busyness of our day to day lives it’s easy to pay little attention to what we put in our stomachs. But our food choices really matter. For example, foods that are high in fats, sugars and cholesterols increase our risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Fats get clogged in the bodies arteries and slow it down. Consider adding the following food items to your diet.
- Fiber – Dietary fiber — found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains can help you maintain a healthy weight and also lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease .
- Omega 3 – Found in most types of fish omega 3 is strongly linked to improved cardiovascular health
- Whole grains – This includes things like bran, germ and oats. Eating whole grains can substantially lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart disease and they’re full of great vitamins and minerals .
Even a small amount of exercise can go a long way. Simple activities like taking a walk around the block or joining a local exercise group are great ways to get started with exercise. Many people find this second option more enjoyable because a social aspect makes exercise more fun. Types of exercise to consider include things like:
- Light walking (in your local park or around the block)
- Muscle strengthening exercises like yoga or tai chi
- Stationary biking
Higher physical activity levels have been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer .
3. Smoking and Alcohol
Most of us know that neither smoking nor alcohol (in large amounts) are particularly healthy but perhaps we keep telling ourselves that one day soon we’ll quit smoking or we’ll cut down on the drinking. But don’t wait for a certain date or specific time to cut down. The best time is now.
Smoking is linked to several types of cancers and new studies suggest that it is also a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes .
Meanwhile, when it comes to alcohol, having more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men raises the risk for both diabetes and cancer .
4. Explore Your Risks with Your Doctors
Things like family history, ethnicity, weight and high blood pressure all play an important role in your risk for developing heart disease or diabetes. Risk factors like family history where a medical illness runs in the family can’t be changed. But other factors like your cholesterol level, BMI and alcohol intake can. These are things that you have control over.
Your doctor will be happy to discuss your risk factors with you and help you take positive steps to decrease your chances of developing either diabetes or heart disease. This is especially important for those who have a family history of such illnesses. For example your doctor can recommend smoking cessation methods, prescribe statins to lower your cholesterol level or put you in touch with a reputable dietician to help you find ways to consume healthier meals. Additionally, they can also keep an eye on your blood pressure and blood sugar level which are important in preventing illnesses like strokes, heart attacks or kidney problems.
1) Diabetes. org. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes and Cancer
2) The Centre for disease control (CDC). Life expectancy. Page last reviewed: March 17, 2017
3) The Centre for disease control (CDC). Heart disease facts.
4) Diabetes. org. American Diabetes Association. Statistics About Diabetes. Overall Numbers, Diabetes and Prediabetes
5) Mayo Clinic. Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Sept. 22, 2015
6) Harvard School of Public Health. Whole Grains