Let’s begin by discussing what I mean by preventive health. Any measure we take to prevent disease, illness, or injury is considered preventative. For example, wearing a seatbelt prevents drivers and passengers from being ejected during a crash. According to the CDC, people not wearing a seat belt are 30 times more likely to experience fatal injuries during a collision!
While some conditions, such as many of the autoimmune disorders, are not considered preventable in the same way as seatbelts, many of today’s leading causes of death, such as cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, are indeed preventable.
Our lifestyle choices and habits play a significant role in our risk of developing illness... Smoking, for example, is a well-known risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
While challenging to overcome the habit, smoking is a choice. By quitting, the risk of these illnesses is significantly reduced.
Throughout this post I’ll be covering how the following can help prevent the development of chronic disease:
Following an anti-inflammatory diet
Participating in regular physical activity
Nurturing positive emotional and mental health
Fostering positive relationships
Removing and replacing unhealthy habits
Let’s talk about inflammation.
Too much of a good thing... While it’s the cornerstone of the body’s healing response, when inflammation becomes chronic and serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes illness. For example, from years of research, it has become clear that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many conditions.
What affects chronic inflammation?
Many different lifestyle factors impact chronic inflammation including long-term exposure to irritants, such as industrial chemicals or polluted air, stress, and lack of
exercise. From years of research, we also know that what you eat can harm or help your body. The choices you make at mealtimes can impact the amount of inflammation in your body. This means you can PREVENT chronic inflammation with your food choices.
Let’s talk more about an anti-inflammatory diet.
First, let's go over what the anti-inflammatory diet is not... The anti-inflammatory diet is not intended for short-term use, nor is it intended as a weight-loss diet. However, some people do experience weight loss when following an anti-inflammatory diet. By reducing inflammation and allowing your body to run optimally, many clients find that weight tends to just "fall off" once they calm silent inflammation.
Think of the anti-inflammatory diet as a way of selecting and preparing food to help your body maintain its optimum health.
Here are the basics of following an anti-inflammatory diet:
Start by eating more plants. Whole plant foods have the anti-inflammatory nutrients that your body needs. Variety is key, so opt for a rainbow of fruits, veggies, whole
grains, and legumes.
The more colorful your foods, the more antioxidants you’ll be getting. Antioxidants help prevent, delay, or repair some types of cell and tissue damage. Berries, leafy
greens, beets, and avocados, as well as beans and lentils, whole grains, ginger, turmeric, and green tea, are abundant in antioxidants.
Omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in regulating your body's inflammatory process. Opt for salmon, tuna, and mackerel to increase your intake of these healthy
When following anti-inflammatory eating, there are also many foods to consider minimizing or if possible, avoiding altogether. Processed red meat can be pro-inflammatory, limit your intake by substituting with fish or nuts as protein.
TIP: When shopping for red meat, look for 100% Grass-Fed.
Processed foods, sugar-sweetened cereals and drinks, anything deep-fried, and pastries are also pro-inflammatory as well. With a little meal prep, you can avoid these inflammation-inducing foods with fresh plant-based options.
Learn more about anti-inflammatory eating here: https://bit.ly/2G5sIyA
We all know we should be exercising more, so why don’t we?
Even when we have the best intentions, we struggle to motivate ourselves to workout. Let’s face it; there’s almost always a more powerful temptation to do something—
anything—other than a workout. Before getting down on yourself, let’s understand why this happens.
1. You can blame your ancestors
From an evolutionary perspective, we are predisposed to want to conserve energy. Our ancestors exerted so much energy hunting and gathering that they needed intentional rest in between. Because of this, it’s not our natural inclination to exercise for health alone.
Our ancestors needed to conserve their energy when they could because they lacked enough food to make up for the calories they burned tracking down that food. We
no longer have this problem. In fact, few of us have to worry about making up the calorie deficit after working out.
Our instincts are to save energy; however, this is no longer serving us as we’re experiencing an overabundance of calories.
2. Inactivity is the enemy
We live in a world that encourages inactivity. Consider how much time you spend sitting in a vehicle getting to and from places. We sit while working and eating. Our
downtime is often centered around watching TV or playing video games, which also encourages sitting.
So don’t be too hard on yourself for not wanting to workout. It’s not our natural instinct to do so. However, physical activity is an essential part of preventing disease.
Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality of many chronic diseases. The following are just a few examples of illness that can be
prevented or improved through regular physical activity:
Coronary heart disease
High blood pressure
Breast, colon, endometrial, and ovarian cancers
3. Fitness can be fun
It’s time to think differently about physical activity. Whether you relate exercise to a bad experience in your grade school physical education class or you’ve been made to
feel bad about being overweight as an adult, it’s possible to look forward to being active.
For starters, consider that exercise can be anything you do that isn't just sitting or lying down. Movement is exercise.
From doing chores around the house to walking around the block, any type of movement you do is helpful. Therefore, you don’t have to go to the gym for physical
activity. You don’t have to do CrossFit or spend an hour on the treadmill.
You already know the importance of exercising for health. The key is finding something you enjoy doing and do it every day. Gardening, dancing, nature walks, swimming, bike riding—the options are endless!
4. Let's get moving!
An extensive research review published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice reports that apart from not smoking, being physically active is the most powerful
lifestyle choice any individual can make to improve their health.
So here are a few tips to help you be more active:
park further away from your destination
jump in the fun and play with the kids in your life
stand while you’re on the phone
stretch while watching TV
always take the stairs
Instead of setting unrealistic fitness goals, make it a priority to get up and move around every hour.
Focus on mental health
Let’s move on to disease prevention and mental health. Many people don’t realize there is a connection between mental and physical health - but they are so
interconnected it’s hard to ignore!
In any given year, one in five adults will experience a mental health condition, spanning from ones that affect mood to those that affect thinking or behavior. Some
examples of common mental health conditions include:
When we experience poor mental health, our ability to make healthy decisions can be reduced. According to experts, neglecting your mental health can lead to more
serious health complications such as:
High blood pressure
2. Anxiety and depression are as harmful to your health as smoking.
A governmental study of over 15,000 retirees reported some interesting results about the physical health impacts of poor mental health.
According to the study, those living with high levels of anxiety and depression were 65 percent more likely to develop a heart condition, 64 percent more likely to have a
stroke, 50 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure, and 87 percent more likely to have arthritis than people who did not have anxiety or depression.
Preventing and reducing poor mental health can have a significant impact on overall health!
Read more about the study here: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-63710-001
3. The prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
According to HealthyPeople.gov, researchers now know that the prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders is inherently interdisciplinary and draws on a variety of different strategies.
Strategies include improving diet and physical activity levels, strengthening community networks, and reducing the harm from addictive substances.
This is good news because we’ve already mentioned two of these strategies for preventing chronic conditions: diet and exercise.
To reduce the risk of compromised mental health, avoid a diet loaded with processed, high-calorie, and low-nutrient foods. Such eating habits have been linked to
increased depression and anxiety.
Additionally, exercise can release feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that can ease depression and anxiety. Again, any activity will do. The key is
sticking to it.
Another crucial aspect of disease prevention is sleep.
Sleep deprivation is linked with:
high blood pressure
increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
And some psychological risks of inadequate sleep include:
increased impulsive behavior
Getting less than 7 hours of sleep regularly can lead to any of the above conditions. Your body needs adequate sleep to heal and restore itself.
So, what does a healthy sleep schedule look like?
Here are some tips to help you maintain a healthy sleep schedule:
1. Try to limit caffeine past noon.
2. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each night and morning.
3. Stick to your bedtime routine as best as possible on the weekends and holidays.
4. An hour before bedtime, create a calming routine. Some relaxing activities include reading, meditating, or taking a bath. Try to refrain from using electronic devices as well about an hour before going to bed.
5. Take advantage of “night mode” settings on your devices. This helps limit the blue light you’re being exposed to that can interfere with your circadian rhythm.
Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime. (not within 2 hours)
Strengthen your social relationships.
Did you know the strength of your relationships affect your mental and physical wellbeing?
Here are some noted benefits of strong relationships:
lower rates of anxiety and depression
faster recovery from disease
a healthier, longer life
In contrast, loneliness can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, elevated blood pressure, and increased stress. Loneliness can also negatively affect your immune system,
decrease your overall sense of contentment, and increase the risk of antisocial behavior, depression, and suicide.
Three Types Of Connections:
The connections we develop with others can be put into three different categories.
1. Intimate connections are those with people who love and care for you, such as family and friends.
2. Relational connections involve people you see regularly and share an interest with, such as workmates or those who serve your morning coffee.
3. Collective connections describe the people who share a group membership or an affiliation with you, such as people who vote as you do, or people who have the
The best way to strive for connection is to foster meaningful relationships amongst each of the three groups.
How to strengthen your social connections:
1. Start by reaching out to people you already know, such as co-workers, family, school friends, or neighbors. Think about the interests you share and arrange to meet up or connect over them, either virtually or in-person.
2. You can also begin developing new relationships with people you come in contact with frequently but may not know very well. Perhaps you see the same people in your
morning spin class, or you bump into a familiar face at your local bookstore often. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and start a conversation. You never know what
else you may have in common.
Having strong social ties not only improves your own health but also extends to broader society—people who spend more time with each other forge happy, productive communities.
Who can you forge a deeper connection with?
Meditation: Loving Kindness
Researchers have discovered that social connectivity is a psychological nutrient that drives well-being. Psychological Science published findings that practicing lovingkindness
meditation triggered a cascade of health benefits.
Read more about the study at https://bit.ly/3i8X5kD
1. Give it a try yourself:
Begin by focusing on sending compassionate thoughts to a loved one.
Next, send compassion and forgiveness towards yourself.
The third step is to meditate on empathy for a random stranger or group of people who may be suffering.
Finally, direct loving-kindness to someone you have a conflict with or find difficult.
Don't just eleminate a bad habit, replace it!
One of the most difficult preventive health techniques is conquering unhealthy habits. Bad habits jeopardize your health—both mentally and physically, and they often waste your time and energy.
These habits are typically caused by stress and boredom. The good news is, once you identify which of your habits are not helpful and understand why you do them, you
can teach yourself new and healthy ways to express and entertain yourself AND experience stress relief.
The next step is to find a substitute for your bad habit.
What can you do instead of smoking the next time you get an urge to smoke?
Use the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk. For example, “I'm a failure, but everybody fails sometimes.”
“I’m out of shape, but I could be in shape a few months from now.”
It’s easy to judge yourself when making poor decisions, but one slip up doesn't make your efforts meaningless.
Awareness can help you make positive changes. Try to answer the following:
When does your bad habit actually happen?
How many times do you do it each day?
Where are you?
Who are you with?
What triggers the behavior and causes it to start?
It all adds up! As you can see, there are many aspects to preventative health.
When things get challenging, remind yourself it’s much easier to work towards preventing disease than treating or managing it.
Every measure you take to prevent disease helps you achieve optimal health and wellness!