Of the 10 top causes of death, seven are chronic diseases. Nearly half of U.S. adults live with a chronic illness; one-third of adults are considered obese; nearly 20 percent of the population smoke cigarettes; and diabetes is the most likely cause of kidney failure.
With the New Year around the corner, many will make resolutions to achieve specific health outcomes – to lose 10 (or 20) pounds, for example. With a chronic illness, however, we can only manage the disease – not set resolutions that have a specific end goal. But, at the same time, chronic illness is manageable, so we can make specific resolutions that will make the job of managing health easier. Below are six to get you started.
1. I will utilize technology. There are a plethora of wristbands, step counters, and mobile apps that turn a phone into a portable health device. Commit to using one. The good thing about many chronic diseases is that making good choices – eating healthy and moving around – will either
If you need to take a pill at a certain time every day or keep track of a diet plan – there’s an app for that. If your heart rate or blood sugar needs to be monitored– there’s a wearable for that. Tracking progress is easy and you’ll be able to notice improvement in the data and then you can set new goals as you improve.
2. I will choose activity over convenience. Of course, you’ll have to get a little more specific than that: maybe it’s that you will choose to walk up three flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator, or maybe you’ll park farther away from the entrance in the parking garage. But make a statement and keep it. You’d be surprised how making a choice to be more active, and to do a little more work, will reverberate through other decisions you have to make. Will that cookie at lunch look as appealing if you know that you have to climb three flights of stairs when you get back?
3. For 60 days, I will keep a food journal. Again, for many of us, managing a chronic illness is about being mindful of our decisions. Freakonomics did a study of people at the gym – asking them, while at the gym, how many days a week they went. Unsurprisingly, many thought they were there two or three times as much as they actually were after their records were revealed.
Food can be the same way. Eating healthy is painful. And we think that even though we’ve only been on a diet for two days that it’s lasted a lifetime. If instead, we choose for 60 days to write down what we eat, we will likely make better choices. The key though – as with everything – is to actually do it. If we allow ourselves to skip that pie we had or underestimate that second-helping of mashed potatoes, then we’re doomed for failure.
4. I will get in a solid sleep / life routine. Managing a chronic illness is about building and maintaining a plan. Your body responds best to a routine, especially a good sleep schedule that will boost energy levels and prepare you for the rest of the day. In addition, sleep also helps manage stress and emotions – more factors that can worsen a chronic condition.
I will indulge in… At the same time as we try to be mindful and exercise self control, we also need to the things we love. Studies have shown that willpower is a limited resource, so we need to allow ourselves to indulge every once in a while.
This is more applicable for those of us managing a chronic condition. Chronic conditions can often lead to depression, so it’s important to continue with any hobbies that you may have, continue socializing and spending time with family, and stay busy. Don’t isolate yourself and don’t stop doing something if it makes you happy – even if that something is a piece of pie every now and then.