The evidence that we are in an epidemic of chronic disease is overwhelming. According to a 2014 NIH study, life expectancy for the average American could decrease by as much as 5 years if the epidemic of obesity and chronic conditions aren’t addressed. As of 2012, the CDC reported that 50% of American adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 25% have 2 or more. Obesity rates for children ages 2-19 are about 20% and over 33%, or 78 million, for adults.
Sadly, even with this knowledge the rates of chronic inflammatory diseases such allergies, asthma, autoimmunity, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, and cancer continues to increase. This is not good news for us or our children.
Here are 4 important reasons we need to make changes:
- Decreased life span. Parents don’t expect to outlive their children, but with the current rates of inflammatory based chronic disease this is happening, and will only get worse if we don’t do something to reverse this trend.
- Decreased quality of life. The constant inflammation that drives the chronic disease process causes the majority of symptoms that affect quality of life. Joint and muscle pain, headaches, asthma, allergies, rashes, acne, fatigue, depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and blood sugar and hormone imbalances are some of the many symptoms that affect for millions of people daily and are now seen in children.
- Increased health care costs. Rising rates of chronic health conditions directly increases the cost of health care. The CDC reports in 2010, 86% of all health care spending was on chronic disease care. The cost of treating cardiovascular diseases was $315.4 billion and cancer care was $157 billion. The treatment of diabetes was estimated at $245 billion. If we don’t get healthier, healthcare will become increasingly unaffordable, especially for our children.
- Continually passing on disease prone genetics. Our thoughts and choices directly impact gene expression (epigenetics), which is passed on to our children and future generations. Stress levels, nutrition, movement, sleep, thoughts, and the quality of our environment are factors we have control over, and if we don’t change, we will only compound the effects of what previous generations have given us.
What You Can Do
Every day we’re faced with hundreds of choices, and they bring us closer to health or disease. They have a cumulative impact that adds up over a lifetime and is passed on to future generations. Consider this- when you pick up fast food on the way home from a stressful day at work, then go home to sit on the couch for hours watching tv, you’re not only depleting your health and longevity, but that of your offspring as well. Those choices produce changes in your gene expression that promote disease and inflammation, and they are passed on to your kids.
Our daily life decisions are more important than ever before since we’re at a pivotal point in human history. By starting with some simple life choices, you have the power to reverse this trend.
- Move. Moving your body is essential to health. You don’t have to run a marathon, you just have to move every day. Walking, hiking, stretching, yoga, pilates, biking, swimming, dancing, running, lifting weights, playing with your kids, or any sport are all great options. Change it up to keep from getting bored. If you can get outside into nature and be exposed to sunlight you’ll get even more health benefit.
- Eat Well. The first step to eating well is eliminating processed foods. If it’s in a package with lots of ingredients, especially if you don’t know what they are, don’t eat it. Preservatives, dyes, food colorings, emulsifiers and other additives are linked to many inflammatory conditions including, ADD/ADHD, autoimmunity, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, among others. BPA and other chemicals found in plastics, linings of cans, and receipts are endocrine disruptors that are also associated with chronic diseases. The easiest way is to shop the perimeter of the store and stay out of the middle.
Choose organic and non-GMO (genetically modified) foods when financially possible. The Environmental Working Group puts out annual list called “The Dirty Dozen” that highlights crops with the highest pesticide residues http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php . Use this and their many other resources including their “Clean Fifteen” list as a starting place.
- Sleep Well. Getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep is essential to maintaining health. If you have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep, make sure you are creating an environment conducive to sleep. Make sure you’re in a quiet, dark, cool (65-68 F) room using a comfortable yet supportive bed and pillows. Before bed, keep the lights in your house dim and avoid blue light exposure from phones, tablets, television and other electronics by using screen filter apps such as Twilight or Flux, wearing amber or orange glasses, or just plain avoiding them.
- Stress Less. This topic could have endless recommendations, so start with the basics first. Doing a 10 minute meditation once or twice daily can have profound impacts on your physiology, especially improving inflammatory markers. Unplug in a quiet space and think of a word or mantra that has great meaning to you. Your mind may drift which is normal, just acknowledge the thought, and refocus. If this isn’t your style try 10 minutes of deep, belly breathing. Instead of focusing on a word or mantra, you may just want to let your mind quiet down. If you prefer a more active form of stress release then walking in nature or daily journaling may work for you.
- Detox Your Life. We are living in an extraordinarily toxic world now. We are exposed to toxins in our food, air, water, personal care products, cleaning products, clothing, toys, living and working spaces, as well as radiation through WiFi, electronics, and powerlines. All of these are associated with inflammation and chronic disease in various ways.
Your best bet is to minimize exposure starting with what you put on and in your body, then move out to your environment. Here are some easy places to begin:
Choose more natural cleaning and personal care products that don’t have preservatives, dyes, and chemicals you don’t understand. There are options available in stores, as well as homemade version that are often cheaper. The Environmental Working Group has the Skin Deep database http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ and EWG Verified products http://www.ewg.org/ewgverified/ to help you find out which products are best to use on your body.
Open your windows to detox the air in your home or work. Plants such as ivy and rubber plants help remove toxins from the air as well. If your home has old pipes or paint, or leaded glass, mold, or radon, remediation may be necessary.
Turn off your WiFi and 4G on all devices when possible. At night before you go to bed, turn off the WiFi in your home and unplug all electronics that can be, especially those in your bedroom.