Lifestyle diseases have placed an economic burden on our health care system, our personal finances, and lost time from work, affecting our quality of life. We’ve all heard the term “lifestyle diseases.” They’re also referred to as “longevity diseases” or “diseases of civilization.” Many of us have lifestyles that cause these types of diseases. So what are we talking about?
First we need to look at the statistical life expectancy from birth to the average end of life span. Since statistical records were not kept before 1900, we can only explore data dating back to that point. However, in 1900 people were not expected to live longer than 49 years of age. During this time, people often died from illnesses like pneumonia, influenza, and tuberculosis. Lifestyle diseases usually aren’t a one-time event, like a bacterial or viral infection, but occur over a longer period of time and for many, the lifespan in 1900 was too short for people to develop degenerative diseases. Sometime around the 1940s, the average lifespan increased and ironically, more people have been dying from heart disease and cancer and other degenerative diseases since then. The life expectancy at birth since 2004 increased to 77.8 years and we started experiencing an even greater increase in “longevity diseases.”
Two questions that will be explored in this post are: 1. Why has life expectancy increased? 2. What is going on in the way we live that causes these types of diseases?
Slate.com has an article titled, “Why are you not dead yet?” This is an interesting article and should be read to fully comprehend what caused death in the past in order to find out why life expectancy has increased since 1900. It examines how people died long before 1900, even as early as the original settlers although statistical records were not kept.
The article discusses some ideas of why life expectancy has increased: clean water, the need to separate sewage and drinking water; washing hands before and after surgery, as well as after defecating; washing hands before eating and before preparing food; refrigeration and better nutrition; and improvements in building homes—these are just a few. Because of these environmental changes, our standard of living has improved, but our quality of life has declined. We have grown more materialistic, slaves to the newest and latest gadget—whether it’s a new iPod, television, video game, or new car, and we use credit cards to purchase these items. As our desire for luxury grows, we put in many more hours at work than we do with our families, intensifying our stress and decreasing any real quality in our lives.
The stresses of the modern world only add to this problem. We work in jobs that don’t nurture our spirits. Our economy has changed dramatically, along with the slow demise of the middle class. It has become almost impossible for wives and mothers to stay home to care for their children and home, as two paychecks are usually needed to make ends meet.
For many Americans, the morning and evening drive to and from work can take more than an hour, even if you take a bus or train. Getting children to and from school and after school activities takes a toll on whether or not the family even eats breakfast or dinner together or eats out at a fast food restaurant. The stresses of life are very demanding on everyone at any age. Other than running to catch the bus or train to get to work on time, get the kids out the door is probably the closest thing to exercise that many of us get. When the day is over we drop into bed exhausted.
Many Americans have lost their jobs and haven’t been able to find work. They’ve lost their homes and the pressure to survive in today’s world is greater than it has been since the stock market crash in 1929, especially since the crash in 2008 when many people’s retirement investments were wiped out.
We have grown depressed. We drink more alcohol, are losing faith in our institutions, smoking more, and eating junk food and simple carbohydrates. We are more sedentary as we have become couch potatoes, watching the world go by on our television and computer screens, instead of participating in it. Our fresh produce is often genetically modified and is tainted with pesticides. Our cattle no longer graze in the grass in wide, open spaces. Chickens and other poultry are shot full of antibiotics and chemicals to make them meatier and plumper.
We are living longer but when we hit our 50s, “lifestyle diseases” begin to be felt after years of excess on our bodies in the form of alcohol, smoking, working long hours, unhealthy eating habits, lack of nutritious food, and lack of exercise—all of which affect our quality of life. It’s the excesses when we’re young that catch up to us later in life that bring on “lifestyle diseases.” Lifestyle diseases are high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes, lung disease, cancers, liver ailments—diseases that are not caused by bacteria or viruses but by living the modern American life.
These diseases are preventable, especially when we’re young, if we live a holistic lifestyle that includes nutritious, wholesome food; purified water, exercise, relaxation, rest, and very little or no alcohol—to name a few examples. For many of us, our lifestyle has caught up with us now that we’re older and we are reaping the results in the form of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases. The good news is that these diseases can be prevented and reversed.
Becoming aware of what is happening in our bodies and taking more responsibility for improving our health by the choices we make going forward is a prerequisite to healing. Our healthcare system, health insurance providers, and Medicare need to focus more attention and education on prevention and reversing lifestyle diseases rather than just on treatment. Educating people on the behavioral changes necessary and coaching them on how to make these changes will begin to unburden the system as more people become healthy.
I choose to make the necessary changes in my lifestyle to increase my health so I can live a long and happy life. What about you? What lifestyle diseases do you have? What are you doing to reverse them?