Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Help for Chronic Illness

exercise and elderly

Chronic conditions have a profound impact on the quality of life and health for our elderly population. A chronic disease is a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but not cured; it affects the population worldwide, and in the U.S., it is considered the leading cause of death and disability. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), chronic diseases – such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis – are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems in the U.S. Self management education and self management behavior modifications are fast becoming an integral part of quality primary care. Unfortunately, our current health care systems have traditionally done little to empower patients to take charge of their own conditions.

Self Management of Chronic Disease

How do we take charge of our own health care? Self-Management! Self-Management is an individual’s ability to mange the condition everyday by managing the effects of that condition. First you must learn to recognize and respond to changes you may experience due to your disease. These may be simple changes such as fatigue or sleep problems or more severe changes such as pain or immobility. Then consider what may be contributing to these changes. Was it a poor diet, lack of proper exercise, smoking, stress? Figure out the cause and then consider what may be stopping you from making or sticking to the lifestyle changes you need to take to overcome these issues. Make a plan and be sure it is realistic and includes specific goals. Then take action. Self management is about making life style changes.

Lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use are the four most common causes of chronic disease and are attainable life style changes to make. These preventable health risks contribute to the development and severity of many chronic diseases.

Self Management of Specific Illnesses

Below are the most common chronic illnesses, their risk factors, and steps that can be taken to help improve these conditions. Always speak with your doctor before making a new exercise plan and/or a change in diet.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

The controllable risk factors are:

  • High cholesterol
  • Being overweight
  • High blood pressure

Risk factors we cannot control:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Gender

Life style changes that will make an impact:

  • Healthy diet- (controls high blood pressure and cholesterol)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Physical activity
  • Not smoking

Arthritis and Other Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Risk factors for arthritis and MSDs include:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Obesity
  • Previous joint injury

While we cannot control our family history, our age or our gender - we can be proactive in preventing joint injury and controlling our weight.

Life style changes that will make an impact:

  • Weight loss- if you are overweight, losing weight will reduce the stress on your joints, increase mobility, and reduce future injury to the joint
  • Exercise- Staying active keeps your joints flexible and controls pain
  • Assisting devices- for severe arthritis using a cane, one-touch lamps or other assisting devices can help protect your joint and improve quality of life
  • Minimum trauma – by reducing stress on joints


Risk factors for diabetes depend on the type of diabetes. The exact causes of Diabetes are still unknown. However, heredity, obesity and lack of exercise may play a role.

Here are some general risk factors:

  • Your siblings or parents have diabetes
  • You are more than 20% overweight
  • Infrequent exercise
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • You have had a baby over 9 lbs
  • High blood pressure

Lifestyle changes that will have a healthy impact on diabetes:

  • Healthy eating-well balanced meals will help keep your blood glucose level normal
  • Being active
  • Daily self-monitoring
  • Non-smoking
  • Regular exams- such as eye and dental
  • Reducing stress


You can reduce the odds of developing cancer by changing one or more controllable risk factors. It is important to realize, however, that even people with no risk factors can develop a particular cancer.

Controllable risk factors include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle factors such as exercise or sexual behavior
  • Smoking or being around others who smoke
  • Weight

Uncontrollable risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Family history and/or genetics
  • Gender—some cancers affect only one gender, while in others, incidence is higher for men or women
  • Race
  • Other medical conditions

Life style changes that will help self manage cancer:

  • Nutritional diet- especially fruits and vegetables
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Physical activity
  • Limited use of alcohol
  • Non use of tobacco products
  • Reduce environmental pollutions
  • Good stress-management and relaxation techniques

Prevention of Chronic Conditions of the Elderly

As you probably have noticed; lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, and tobacco use are three controllable risk factors that play a part in every disease.

  1. Regular physical activity is one of the most important things a person can do to stay healthy. Not only will physical activity increase one’s chances of living longer but it will improve your mental health as well.
  2. Good nutrition can help lower the risk for many chronic diseases and keeps our weight in check. Managing weight is all about balance. Simply do the math- to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you take in and to maintain you need to find the balance between the calories your body needs and the calories you burn on a daily basis.
  3. By not using tobacco and staying clear of second hand smoke we can reduce the statistics on the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today.

The Power of Prevention, published by the CDC, states that chronic illnesses are the public health challenge for the 21st century. Self management is the key to bringing our nation’s health care cost down to size and the prevention of chronic disease. The CDC also states that, “As a nation, 75% of our health care dollars goes to treatment of chronic diseases. These persistent conditions—the nation’s leading causes of death and disability—leave in their wake deaths that could have been prevented, lifelong disability, compromised quality of life, and burgeoning health care costs”.


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