What would you change in your life if it meant you didn’t have to take medication? What if you could prevent or reverse a chronic condition? While not a fix for every situation, lifestyle changes may be the answer for some of the chronic conditions for which people take medications.
Optimal lifestyle habits include eating a whole foods Mediterranean-style diet, exercising for 150 minutes a week, getting enough sleep, managing stress and quitting smoking. If there is something in that list you can improve, talk with your doctor about how to make incremental changes.
To help motivate you for change, here are four conditions you can treat or prevent by adopting healthy lifestyle habits:
• Treat and prevent diabetes: For people with diabetes who have a body mass index greater than 30, a 5 percent weight loss results in improved insulin resistance, fasting blood sugar and a reduced need for diabetes medication. A study conducted by the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group found that participants with Type 2 diabetes who undertook lifestyle changes had greater improvements in blood sugar levels than those on diabetes medication.
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Prediabetic? Implementing lifestyle changes is twice as effective in preventing Type 2 diabetes as the most commonly used diabetic medication. Losing just 5 percent of your body weight and increasing physical exercise can prevent or delay developing diabetes in high-risk groups such as those with elevated fasting blood sugar.
• Treat hypertension. A study in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension found that adults who used lifestyle changes reduced their blood pressure as much as using medication, and also lost weight and improved their cholesterol levels. Dietary recommendations to treat hypertension usually center around the DASH diet, a modified Mediterranean approach that focuses on healthy fats, whole grains and plenty of fruits and veggies. Reducing blood pressure also reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
• Treat high cholesterol. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who implemented lifestyle changes reduced their LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholestorol) by 40 percent after one year, comparable to the effects of lipid-lowering medication. For people who are overweight there is strong evidence that making lifestyle changes can also reduce triglycerides and increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
• Prevent a heart attack or stroke. Your risk for a heart attack or stroke depends on several factors, and many of them you can control. Lifestyle changes can help prevent a heart attack or stroke. To decrease your risk, quit smoking, get moving and control your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. In one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, participants who adopted comprehensive lifestyle changes including a whole foods diet, didn’t smoke, managed stress and got adequate exercise, had half as many heart events over five years as the control group.
Even if you don’t have one of the conditions listed above, adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for any number of conditions.
Kristina Corso, DO, practices at Samaritan Family Medicine on Geary Street in Albany.