Almost every day in my medical practice, I talk with patients about how important it is to lose weight, exercise more, reduce stress or stop smoking. But all too often, people avoid making challenging lifestyle changes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of 2012, about half of all adults had one or more chronic health conditions. Seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2010 were chronic diseases. Yet many of these complex problems — like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and arthritis — are preventable.
The cost of these diseases on our economy are substantial. The CDC estimates the total costs of heart disease and stroke in 2010 were $315.4 billion.
Yet while medications and other interventions are critically important treatment tools, the most lasting way to address chronic disease requires lifestyle modification. In fact, it could actually help you live longer.
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It's not easy, but lifestyle modification can be life-changing.
Kentuckian Dennis Simon, 65, had his first heart attack at age 45, requiring quadruple bypass surgery and the beginning of a 20-year dependency on drugs called statins to lower his cholesterol and reduce the chance of a repeat cardiac event. But he never changed his lifestyle, leading to two angioplasty procedures to restore blood flow through narrow or blocked arteries.
Three months ago he chose a new direction with the Ornish Reversal Program, backed by Dr. Dean Ornish's research that heart disease can be reversed through proper nutrition, exercise, stress management and group support.
Today, he's a changed man with a new diet and fitness routine; and he has incorporated stress management techniques into his daily life.
The impact was swift and significant. Within six weeks, his "good" cholesterol increased and "bad" cholesterol decreased. At nine weeks, he lost 15 pounds, and his condition has stabilized so that he and his physician are evaluating his use of statins.
Medicare and other health insurers have started to see the value of this kind of prevention and are now covering the cost of programs to help patients make lifestyle changes to manage chronic diseases, reduce the cost of prescription medications, and eliminate the need for medical interventions like surgery.
There are a number of lifestyle medicine programs in our community to help you. Talk with your doctor about your challenges and find the right fit for you.