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 people are currently taking medication for.
“As a doctor, I want to help patients look at the big picture of their health,” said Kristina Corso, DO, from Samaritan Family Medicine – Geary Street in Albany. “Some people might be taking five or more medications a day to manage their high blood pressure and diabetes, and paying several hundred dollars a month in copays. Wanting to reduce your medications is a significant goal and it can mean some hard changes, but treating a condition with lifestyle changes can have really positive results.”
Corso reports that 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’s something in that list you can improve on, talk with your doctor about how to make incremental changes.
“It’s my goal to help patients find options for how to get their chronic conditions under control,” said Corso. “We can talk about how to make healthy eating affordable or how to fit exercise into a busy day. Baby steps can make a big difference over time.”
To help motivate you for change, Corso lists 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, Corso notes that 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.
Prediabetic? Corso reports that 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. If you can increase your weight loss to 7 percent of your body weight and get 150 minutes of brisk exercise a week, another study conducted by the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group found that you can decrease your four-year incidence of developing diabetes by 58 percent.
- 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 had added benefits of weight loss and improved 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. Corso reports that reducing blood pressure also reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
- Treat high cholesterol. A condition where there is too much LDL “bad” cholesterol in the blood, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who implemented lifestyle changes reduced their LDL cholesterol by 40 percent after one year, comparable to the effects of lipid-lowering medication. Corso notes that for people who are overweight there is strong evidence that making lifestyle changes can also reduce triglycerides and increase HDL “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 JAMA, 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, Corso notes that adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for any number of conditions.
“We often see that once you start losing weight and exercising, these conditions are much more easily controlled and your likelihood of developing other disease down the line is significantly reduced,” she said.
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