Dr. Tamkeen Farooq

Tamkeen Farooq, DO, is a board-certified primary care physician practicing family medicine at Inova Primary Care – Springfield.

The new year is a perfect time to assess your overall health and lifestyle. Even if you feel good, some of your current habits may be contributing to a higher risk of chronic disease.

The good news is that making certain lifestyle changes can improve your quality of life now and have a big impact later. They can help prevent chronic disease and may reduce the severity of any chronic conditions you develop.

Why Everyone Should Take Steps to Prevent Chronic Disease

The risk of developing a chronic disease rises naturally with age, regardless of your family history, sex or ethnicity. According to the National Council on Aging, about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77 percent have two or more conditions.

The most common chronic conditions people face as they get older include:

  • Arthritis
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones)

How to Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a few key behaviors increase the risk of many chronic diseases. Depending on your current lifestyle, you may need to modify just one or two habits, or you may need to make big life changes.

Before you take any action, talk to your primary care provider (PCP) at your next scheduled appointment. Together, you can determine which changes are best for you and where to begin. The important thing is to make changes that are realistic and will last.

To reduce your risk of chronic disease, the most impactful changes you can make include:

1. Stop Smoking and Eliminate Tobacco Use

Smoking and tobacco use are linked to a higher risk of serious health issues, including COPD, heart disease and cancer. Quitting these habits is challenging, so look to your PCP for support. Your physician knows how to approach cessation from different angles and will help you:

  • Come up with a plan
  • Decide how you want to approach quitting (cold-turkey, tapered approach, medication-assisted)
  • Determine your support system
  • Identify triggers
  • Set a quit date

2. Count Calories and Make Simple Changes to Your Diet

Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk for almost every chronic condition. Keep a food journal to understand what you are eating and how much. At your next appointment, your PCP will help you determine the number of calories to eat each day.

During your visit, you can also discuss your food choices with your PCP to see if they increase your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes or osteoporosis. Commit to three measurable changes you’ll make to decrease your risk, such as increasing fiber or calcium, eliminating soda or reducing sodium.

3. Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption

Moderate drinking (one daily drink for women and two for men) is okay. But drinking too much increases your risk for many chronic diseases. Having more than four or five drinks on a single occasion may lead to serious conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer. By eliminating excessive drinking, you can reduce the risk of long-term health issues.

4. Get the Recommended Amount of Cardiovascular AND Strengthening Exercise

Regular physical activity will help you manage your diabetes risk, blood pressure and heart health. Engaging in moderate activity (like brisk walking or gardening) for 150 minutes a week reduces the risk for most chronic diseases. To target your heart health, try to break a sweat for 30 minutes at least three times a week. Practice regular strength training to keep your bones strong and reduce your risk of chronic arthritis (osteoarthritis).

5. Improve Your Mental Health

There is a very real connection between mental health and the toll it takes on your body. If you live with depression, anxiety or chronic stress, effects like digestive issues are felt immediately. Longer-term impacts include increased risk of chronic disease, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart attack and stroke. 

To improve your mental health, talk to your PCP during your next appointment. Primary care providers are trained to assess and treat your mental health.

Let us Help you Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease

To understand your risk of chronic disease and how you can reduce it, schedule an appointment with your PCP or if you do not have a PCP we welcome you to make an appointment with a provider at any of our Primary Care locations.

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