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Habits That Increase Your Risk of Chronic Disease

Learn six ways to help reduce the chance of a chronic disease. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a chronic disease as, "conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both," and according to the National Library of Medicine, "Nearly half (approximately 45%, or 133 million) of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease and the number is growing." While there's no surefire to prevent a chronic disease, there are lifestyle choices that greatly increase the risk. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with  Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who shares bad habits that raise the chance of a chronic disease. She tells us, "Making healthy choices is one of the best things you can do for your body, but it can be challenging to know what those choices are. To help you make informed decisions, here are six lifestyle choices that increase your risk of diseases." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Smoking Cigarettes

stop smoking

Dr. Mitchell says, "Smoking cigarettes is one of the most harmful things you can do to your body. Cigarette smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. Smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans yearly, costing the country billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity. In addition to the well-known risks of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, smoking increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. And those are just the short-term effects. Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to die prematurely than nonsmokers and that quitting smoking can add years to your life. So if you're still lighting up, it's time to butt out for good. Your health will thank you for it."


Carrying Extra Weight

Nutritionist inspecting a woman's waist using a meter tape

Dr. Mitchell says, "Being overweight or obese is not just a cosmetic concern. It also increases your risk of developing several severe health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Obesity is now one of the leading preventable causes of death in the United States. Obesity-related conditions account for nearly one in every five healthcare dollars in this country. And the problem is only getting worse. The percentage of adults who are obese has more than doubled over the past three decades. If current trends continue, by 2030, nearly half of all adults worldwide will be overweight or obese. Thankfully, there are things we can do to turn things around. Maintaining a healthy weight requires lifestyle changes and some hard work, but it is well worth the effort. You will not only look and feel better but also enjoy a reduced risk of developing obesity-related health problems. So put down that sugar-loaded latte and get moving!

Being overweight or obese also increases your risk of developing several severe health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Taking steps to lose weight could significantly impact your health if you carry extra weight."


Not Getting Enough Exercise

Woman sitting at the gym with pink pilates ball.

Dr Mitchell reminds us, "Regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Exercise helps to improve your cardiovascular health, strengthen your bones and muscles, and boost your immune system. In addition, exercise has been shown to impact mental health, reducing stress and anxiety levels positively. However, if you don't get enough exercise, you're at increased risk for several diseases and illnesses. For example, inactive people are more likely to develop high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. In addition, being inactive can lead to weight gain, which can strain your joints and increase your risk of injuries. So make sure to get plenty of exercises to help keep yourself healthy and prevent the development of chronic diseases.

Additionally, if you don't get enough exercise, you are at an increased risk for developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week. And if you can't fit in a full 30 minutes at one time, remember that even small amounts of activity can add up over the day."


Drinking Excess Alcohol

drinking alcohol

According to. Dr. Mitchell, "Drinking alcohol in excess can increase your risk of developing several diseases and illnesses. This is because alcohol consumption can lead to toxins in the body, damaging cells and organs. In addition, alcohol consumption can interfere with the body's ability to absorb and process nutrients correctly. This can result in deficiencies that can lead to several health problems. Finally, alcohol consumption can also dehydrate the body, leading to several issues such as headaches, fatigue, and dry skin. All of these factors contribute to an increased risk of developing diseases and illnesses when you drink alcohol in excess."


Exposure to Smoking

no smoking sign

Dr. Mitchell explains, "Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases your risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer. If you live with someone who smokes cigarettes or frequent places where smoking is allowed, take steps to reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke. You can ask smokers to step outside or limit their time in smoky environments. Healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases. By following these simple tips, you can help keep yourself healthy. And remember, prevention is always better than cure."


Living A High-Stress Life

man stressed in bed that he can't sleep

"While a certain amount of stress is a normal part of life, chronic stress can affect your physical and mental health," Dr. Mitchell states. "When under constant pressure, your body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are designed to help you respond to danger, but if released too often, they can damage your blood vessels, heart, and brain. Over time, this can lead to conditions like heart disease, stroke, anxiety, and depression. In addition, chronic stress can suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. If you're constantly feeling overwhelmed, it's essential to find ways to manage your stress levels. Exercise, relaxation techniques, and therapy can help reduce stress's physical and mental effects."

Dr. Mitchell says this "doesn't constitute medical advice and by no means are these answers meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it's to encourage discussions about health choices."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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