Some people thrive on new year’s resolutions, planning and setting themselves up for some great positive changes. Others don’t believe in waiting until the new year and claim to seek every day or every opportunity as a chance for some great positive changes. Whether you believe in new year’s resolutions or not, I encourage you to use this time to reassess. Reassess your health, reassess your choices, and reassess your nutrition.
Statistics from 2015 show that 1 in 2 Australians (yes, half of us!) suffer with 1 of the 8 most common chronic health conditions. While this is terrible, it’s even more shocking to hear that according to the health policy experts, a third of these are preventable. A third!
The 8 most common chronic health conditions in Australia are:
- Back pain
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Mental health conditions
Interestingly, these conditions1:
- Were involved in 37% of hospitalisations (based on principal or additional diagnosis) in 2015–16
- Contributed to 87% of deaths (based on underlying or associated causes of death) in 2015
- Accounted for 61% of the total burden of disease in Australia in 2011
If you are lucky enough to not experience any of these conditions, there is a great chance that you know someone who does.
It’s painful. It’s life changing. It can be debilitating. It’s almost always on your mind (by choice or not by choice). It’s something you wouldn’t wish on anyone.
By definition, a chronic illness is long term and persistent. They often have complex and multiple causes, and often lead to a gradual deterioration of health and an eventual deterioration of quality of life.
Genetics, environmental exposure, accidents, physical activity level and nutritional choices are all factors involved in both the development and the severity of chronic illnesses.
Some of these factors are set in stone – like age, gender and race. Other factors are up to you. These factors can be started or stopped by choice.
Let’s focus on the factors that you have control over. Let’s focus on preventing the 1 in 2 odds of developing a chronic illness.
You can choose if you want to smoke tobacco.
You can choose if you want to drink alcohol.
You can choose if you have a sedentary life or an active one.
You choose what time you go to bed, the cosmetics you use, the cleaning products you use, the water you drink, the toothpaste you use, the protein you eat and the stress you take on.
And maybe most importantly, you can choose if you want to eat ‘food’ or food.
Food is life, and the life you want to live is heavily influenced by the food you eat.
Below I have outlined some tips to reduce your chances of suffering a chronic illness. If it’s too late and you already have a chronic illness, speak with our nutritionist and naturopathic team to see how you can help reduce the severity or progression of your particular condition.
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Basic preventative measures:
- Ask yourself; ‘did what you’re eating come out of the ground this way?’ Or has it been heavily processed, refined, mashed up and mixed with a lot of other things to create that perfect… corn chip/cracker/cake/sauce? Where possible, choose foods that are the least processed and refined as possible. If you must eat cake, sauce, biscuits or crackers, try to make them – ideally from ingredients that are the least refined as possible (baking a cake from a box isn’t better than buying a premade cake).
- Don’t skimp on the good fats. Emphasis on ‘good’. Seafood, nuts, avocado and olive oil are great examples of good fats. These items are believed to be anti-inflammatory, dampening down any raging fires that chronic conditions can typically cause.
- Eat vegetables until you think you are eating too many (hint: make sure you’re eating a rainbow of colours, and as long as you are not force-feeding yourself, you can’t eat too many vegetables). Aim for a minimum of 5 serves of vegetables a day, but if you can, push that. Gob-smackingly, only 7% of adults within Australia are actually eating 5 serves of vegetables per day. Seven percent! Increase your vegetables.
- Look after your gut health. Your gut and your microbiome are important for food digestion, nutrient absorption and waste elimination. What good is the food you choose to eat, if you can’t actually digest or absorb it? Ensure you have plenty of prebiotic foods (garlic, onion, asparagus, banana, tomato, etc.), probiotic foods (probiotic enhanced yoghurt, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh etc.) and fibre (lentils, legumes, sweet potato, whole grains, fruit with edible skin, etc.) each and every day.
- Drink water. This is such a simple preventative measure, but unfortunately so many people need to read this. Water helps your bowels function. Your bowels are basically a garbage removal system, and if your bowels aren’t moving, your garbage gets reabsorbed and creates havoc, dampening your energy and creating extra pressure for your body and exacerbating your chronic illness (or potential to get a chronic illness). Aim for 2L daily, increasing your intake if you’re sweating, vomiting or have diarrhoea.
Advanced preventative measures:
- Buy a water filter system and drink clean water. If you have a tank, test it and treat it regularly. Water should be a hugely prevalent component in your routine; make sure its good quality.
- Eat a rainbow of vegetables, aiming for at least 20 different types of vegetables each week, enjoying them in a variety or raw and cooked preparations, eating only organic, where possible.
If we look outside of the nutritional influence, we can see that there is so much more to ‘health’ than simply eating well. Spiritual, emotional, physical and social health are key factors that can influence your health and your potential for a chronic illness.
Does the buck stop at you? Is there no greater being than a human? Spiritual health does not mean religion, however for a lot of people religion is their spiritual health. Spiritual health is about being connected to something much bigger than yourself. For some, this is God, for others this is nature, universal love, justice or something else. The sense of being connected to something larger gives many people a purpose or meaning in life.
Go on a spiritual journey, ask questions, think hard and see how your spiritual health is.
The power of positive thinking is real. The idea that your mental health can set your mood for the day, or that a snide comment can ruin your afternoon are often factors that many of us have personally experienced. Your mental health and your self-talk are so powerful that if you are constantly in a negative mental health state, you can often find your physical health suffering too. Then comes the chronic illness.
Experiment and find your mental health relaxant – music, dancing, reading, walks, meditation, social situations etc. Identify what gets you out of a mental funk and practise it as often as you need to. If you have time, read ‘The Biology of Belief’.
Some people absolutely thrive on social situations, others shy away and can only handle small doses of socialising. Whichever you are, make sure you are still being social. Social relationships are extremely important as being connected to people who care for you and whom you care for, promotes happiness and calm.
Recognise and remove yourself from any toxic relationships. Know who your friends are, check in on them, and be involved. Team sports are good for social health, however if you aren’t into sport, have a look at volunteering (https://www.volunteer.com.au/)
Physical health encompasses exercise, nutrition, sleep and everything else that can affect your physical body. The old saying ‘you only have one body, look after it’ is so very true. For too many it can take getting a chronic illness to really appreciate your body. Often this can be too late.
Eat well. Be physically active. The latest recommendation is 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity activity each week, aiming to do muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week. Plan your days so that you are allowing enough time for sleep, aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep every single night.
With 1 in 2 Australian adults developing a chronic illness within their lifetime, it is so important to take preventative measures. Look after your body.
Give it the best chance to be healthy.
If you need more specific direction, because each body is unique, please call to book a naturopath or nutritionist appointment.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (2017). “Chronic disease.” Retrieved 09/12/2019, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/health-conditions-disability-deaths/chronic-disease/overview.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Evidence for chronic disease risk factors. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-disease/evidence-for-chronic-disease-risk-factors
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Health Survey 2014/15.