Turn back the clock on chronic disease

Active steps you can take to prevent and improve chronic conditions

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. So why does it seem like this wisdom often goes in one ear and out the other for many people? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 8% of U.S. adults age 35 and over got all recommended, age-appropriate screenings in 2015. And in 2014, 60% of Americans had at least one chronic disease, while 42% had multiple diseases. The most common chronic illnesses include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, kidney disease, and chronic lung disease.

The CDC indicates there are intervention strategies that can help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases and reverse negative biomarkers of poor health for those already having a chronic condition. These can include lifestyle changes, screenings, immunizations, and more. Taking an active role in your health is especially important now during the COVID-19 pandemic, since people with chronic illnesses are more likely to suffer more serious symptoms of the virus.

Read on to learn some steps you can take to stay healthy. And, as with any health-related condition, it’s always best to consult your healthcare provider first before considering any changes to your diet or behavior.

Step 1: Healthy lifestyle

While diet and fitness companies often try to sell the “magic bullet” for health, guidelines that can help actually prevent chronic diseases are rooted in, well, common sense. The CDC lists modifiable behaviors you can incorporate to help reduce chronic disease risk. Three positive changes you might consider are:

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Improving nutrition
  • Eliminating tobacco

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise for most adults – though any amount of exercise is better than nothing. Combining physical activity with HHS’s Dietary Guidelines--which include focusing on whole, unprocessed foods and minimizing added sugars, salt, and trans fats-- helps minimize the risk of developing chronic conditions. Additionally, both the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) (PDF, 788KB) indicate that eliminating tobacco is a powerful way to prevent disease.

While changing these three behaviors might sound simple, it is often difficult for people to counter a lifetime of bad habits. That’s why health programs such as Blue Shield’s Wellvolution® – an online program offering personalized support so members can take control of their health – can be an effective tool when taking the first steps towards reducing chronic disease risk.

Step 2: Detection

Even people who adopt healthy habits still run the risk of developing a chronic illness, especially as they age. Following the guidance of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, screening recommendations are usually based on age, gender, ethnicity, and other risk factors. Screening recommendations include tests for breast, cervical, lung, and colon cancer, high blood pressure, infectious diseases, and type 2 diabetes.

Getting an annual checkup with your primary doctor is a great tool for the early detection of chronic illness. It’s also a time when you can ask your doctor which screenings are right for you. While it’s tempting to simply get screened for everything, sometimes screenings can lead to false positives and unnecessary procedures. So it’s important to follow your doctor’s guidance about which screens you should get.

To learn more about the kind of screenings and tests your doctor might recommend, see The yearly checkups you need as you age and our preventive care page.

Step 3: Immunization

Healthy lifestyle habits and preventive screenings are great tools for reducing chronic disease risk. But for some diseases, getting vaccinated is the most effective way to prevent illness. Even if the disease is not especially prevalent, getting vaccinated can help prevent the spread and resurgence of that disease. So getting vaccinated isn’t just for your health; it also protects the health of your family and community.

Speaking of family, making sure the children in your family are up to date on their vaccinations is also important. Vaccines help strengthen your child’s immune system and can help protect them from illnesses such as whooping cough, measles, influenza, and polio.

If you aren’t sure which vaccines you or your child needs, talk to your healthcare provider. And don’t worry; most common immunizations are included with a Blue Shield plan at no additional cost.

While nothing is 100% foolproof, prevention, detection, and immunization are active steps you can take to help reduce your risk of chronic disease and other health complications.

Are you accessing the power of prevention? Use our personalized preventive care tool to keep your health on track.

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