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5 Riskiest Habits to Your Health

Five risk factors can lead to chronic disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. By letting these damaging habits go unchecked, you are more prone to numerous ailments and conditions. The culprits are: 

  • Smoking

  • Not exercising

  • Being overweight

  • Drinking too much alcohol

  • Eating an unhealthy diet

Eliminating these habits and replacing them with healthier ones, not only can improve longevity but also boost quality of life. Rather than simply cutting out such habits, you may increase your odds of lasting success by planning with your doctor and using the resources and tools available. 

Unchecked Bad Habits Result in Chronic Illness

Smoking increases your risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or (COPD), a debilitating disease that later in its course can require the use of multiple inhalers to help with breathing. It also increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, high cholesterol and premature aging

In addition to lung cancer and cancers of the mouth, larynx and esophagus, smoking has been linked to a number of less predictable cancers, including those of the stomach, cervix, pancreas, liver, kidney, bladder and colon. The American Cancer Society provides a comprehensive list of these health risks and other debilitating, smoking-related conditions, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. 

A lack of exercise coupled with eating an unhealthy diet leads many Americans to become overweight or obese. Know how to calculate your body mass index (BMI) to help gauge weight gain and/or loss. A normal BMI is between 20-24.9, an overweight BMI is 25-29.9 and any BMI above 30 is considered obese. 

Exercise and a healthy diet can help. This is essential, as obesity is directly correlated with the development of diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis, gout, chronic kidney disease, heartburn, cancer, depression and dementia.

Risky Alcohol Use

Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States and causes more than 85,000 preventable deaths per year. It is a significant contributing factor to many medical and psychiatric conditions. These include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, atrial fibrillation, liver disease, pancreatitis, gastritis, esophagitis, several malignancies, bone marrow suppression, chronic infectious diseases, depression, anxiety, insomnia and other substance-use disorders.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines risky alcohol use as:

  • More than four drinks on any day in males
  • More than 14 drinks per week on average in males
  • More than three drinks on any day in females
  • More than seven drinks per week on average in females

Better Quality of Life, Not Just Longevity

Smoking cessation, regular exercise, healthy weight, limited alcohol use and eating a well-balanced diet will limit your risk of developing chronic disease. We also know that these tenets of a healthy lifestyle lead to a longer and improved quality of life. Such practices help maintain a robust immune system and can also mitigate or reverse some of the most common symptoms that we see in primary care, including hypertension, depression, anxiety, back pain, arthritis, headaches and cough.

It may be helpful to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss and tailor a plan to help manage some of these risk factors, with a goal to eliminate them altogether. Your doctor will have high-quality patient resources that can help, including dietitians, diabetic educators, therapists and medications.

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