Tackle chronic disease before it tackles you

Swimming is not my favorite thing. I don't actually do it very often. It's the need to keep changing your clothes (into swimmers, out of swimmers) that I despise (strong word I know).  As part of my efforts to help improve my health, to reduce my risk of chronic disease, I made a decision to participate in activities around me and not wait to just be active in the designated 'exercise' session of the day. On this day, in October 2015, I went swimming at the beach with my son - usually I don't even like touching the sand. But in keeping with my new 'Choose to be Active' lifestyle, I went swimming. We had a great time, and having to change clothes was a sacrifice worth making considering the fun we had being active together. Chronic disease is defined as a persistent illness with long lasting effects. Compare this with an acute illness which can come on suddenly and then be gone (like the flu).  Chronic disease, because of its duration, can impact mental and physical health, and often there is an economic impact such as an inability to carry out a job consistently to ensure economic independence, or the high cost of health care to help manage the disease.

Examples of Chronic Disease

  • Cardiovascular disease (refers to diseases that are caused by narrowed or block blood vessels that lead to heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.

  • Diabetes (the bodies inability to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood). Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working age adults, leading cause of kidney failure and dialysis, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and impacts mental health.

  • Cancer (there are more than 100 types of cancer; usually named by an association with the body part that is affected, or by the types of cells that formed them).

  • Oral health (death decay). 3 in 10 Australians between the ages of 25-44 have untreated teeth decay. Poor oral health increases bacteria in the mouth which can impact other parts of the body. Problems with decaying teeth can impact eating habits which may lead to poor nutrition.

  • Dementia (an umbrella term to describe a number of different disease which impact cognitive functioning and activities of daily living). Heart disease, stroke, smoking and diabetes are risk factors for dementia. Low education is also a risk factor for dementia.

Chronic disease is the leading cause of illness, disability and death in Australia, accounting for 90% of all deaths in 2011.  1 in 5 Australians are impacted by multiple chronic diseases, with at least 50% of Australians having at least one. Sometimes these diseases occur together simply by chance, but often it's because there are some associations between them, such as shared risk factors.

Modifiable risk factors are aspects of your health and well-being that you can change to reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease.  The diagram below highlights some shared risk factors for Chronic disease and highlights the connection between your environment, your short term health, and long term health.

While it is always good to have lived a healthy life, there is evidence that making a change in mid-life to minimize these risk factors is still early enough to have an impact on your long term well-being.  Some chronic diseases with risk factors which you can impact, also have an element of uncontrollable risk, such as dementia. While you can take steps to reduce your risk of dementia, aging is the highest risk factor (and we haven't yet worked out a way to stop aging).

Non-Communicable Causation Pathway (by Albert Francis Domingo, 2016)

NCD = Non-communicable pathway (risk factors for a disease that are not associated with infection from other people). 

Taking action to reduce your risk of chronic disease is an important part of our lifestyle health message.  From the list of risk factors above, are there any that you can impact by making a change today?  My first focus has been bringing my weight into a healthy range.  I did this with a program that supports nutritional long term health (not a diet) and life coaching.  Will you choose a first focus?


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2014. Australia's health 2014. Cat. no. AUS 178. Canberra: AIHW.

Deckers, K., Boxtel, M.P., Schiepers, O.J., Vugt, M., Muñoz Sánchez, J.L., Anstey, K.J., Brayne, C., Dartigues, J.F., Engedal, K., Kivipelto, M. and Ritchie, K., 2015. Target risk factors for dementia prevention: a systematic review and Delphi consensus study on the evidence from observational studies. International journal of geriatric psychiatry30(3), pp.234-246.