Three behaviors account for 50% of deaths in the United States. That's right-only three behaviors contributing to four diseases! What's your risk?
The four diseases accounting for 50% of deaths are:
Heart disease (including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, strokes, and heart attacks)
Type 2 Diabetes
Chronic Lung Disease
So which behaviors are accounting for these diseases?
Behavior 1: Diet.
Eating behaviors are a leading factor in three of the four major killers (heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and cancer). Most Americans fall short on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and get too much meat, dairy, processed foods, and added sugar. This combination leads to clogged arteries, excess weight, and chronic inflammation. In other words-the typical American diet is killing us!
The good news is that diet, combined with other lifestyle changes, can reverse risk of heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Sustainable changes in diet that lead to small amounts of weight loss can also significantly reduce risk of these leading causes of death. The key word is “sustainable.” If you are trying a new diet with all kinds of complicated rules and elimination of the very food groups most Americans fall short on (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), chances are the weight loss will be temporary AND you will not be feeding your body the nutrients needed to decrease disease causing inflammation.
Behavior 2: Smoking
Smoking is a major contributor to heart disease, lung disease, and some forms of cancer. Quitting smoking is tough. Many people have 7-8 quit attempts before quitting for good. If you are trying to quit smoking, don’t give up. Health benefits of quitting begin immediately, and risk of heart disease and lung cancer decrease dramatically within a few years of quitting. The most effective treatment for smoking cessation is a combination of medication plus behavioral counseling. Medication helps with addiction, behavioral counseling helps with changing your habits. One thing to note-e cigarettes are not an approved smoking cessation tool. In fact, e-cigs may be worse than cigarettes! Talk to your doctor about medications to help you quit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of additional resources to help with quitting behaviors.
Behavior 3: Inactivity
Have you heard that sitting is the new smoking? It’s a fact-inactivity is really bad for us. Even if you meet current exercise guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderately intense activity but you sit at a desk all day, you are at increased risk of death. The new mantra is "move more, sit less." Assuming you can’t quit your day job, make getting up throughout the day a priority. Conference calls are a great opportunity for standing, and taking time to get away from your desk to ask a colleague a question may be better than an email. Chances are, you’ll get a quicker response and you’ll have less inbox clutter.
How to tackle behavior change
Habits are hard to break, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be broken. Start with one change you really want to make. It can be as simple as adding a vegetable to a meal or cutting out a sugary beverage. Whatever it is, turn it into an achievable goal. For example, if you are drinking 5-6 sodas per day, taking this down to zero is going to take some time. Start gradually and keep track of your progress. Once you are comfortable with your new habit, find something else to work on.
Visualize your future self
Finally, take a moment to visualize your future self. Where do you want to be in 6-12 months. Imagine it and become it, but make a plan to do it!
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