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Dealing with a chronic condition? Here’s how to take control

Health Hub
Author name: By Sharon Krispinsky, Chronic Health Program Coordinator for Lee Health

It’s important to remember that you have a choice. You can feel empowered when it comes to your health.

When diagnosed with a chronic health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and osteoarthritis, your choice is whether you are going to enjoy your activities of daily living or allow your condition to isolate you from others.

A chronic health condition must be managed on a daily basis for months, years and often a lifetime. Many people believe that medication is the only tool available when they get diagnosed.

And while medication is important, there are many other things that will help you take control.

Can you believe that 80 percent of heart disease, stroke and diabetes cases can be prevented? According to the World Health Organization, an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and tobacco use are the three primary risk factors for developing chronic health conditions. By adopting a healthier lifestyle, many chronic health conditions can be prevented or reversed, including a 40 percent decrease in cancer diagnoses.

If you have a chronic health condition, here are some things beyond the medicine cabinet that may help you find relief:

Physical Activity

The benefits of physical activity are too numerous to count. Physical activity decreases your blood pressure and blood sugar, strengthens your heart, and improves your mood.

Common sense may tell you that more physical activity will increase your pain – but this isn’t true at all. In fact, pain increases when you decide to do nothing at all.

So consider swimming, pool exercises, biking, Tai Chi, yoga, and Pilates as part of a comprehensive program. Find activities that you enjoy and can sustain for a long time. Start slow, do what you’re comfortable with, and ask your doctor before you start an exercise program.

Healthy Eating

Good health always starts in the gut. Poor eating habits can cause weight gain. It’s simple: a better diet can lead to overall health improvement:

  • Try to have six servings of vegetables a day and 1-2 servings of fruit.  
  • Choose foods with less fat. Eat lean protein sources and consider eating more fish and a include more plant food dishes such as rice and beans in your diet.  
  • Get back to the basics and try to choose food with only one ingredient such as an apple or broccoli. Avoid processed foods that often comes in boxes.
  • Frequently, we gain weight because of large portions. Avoid fast foods.
  • If you are overweight, try to lose 5-7 percent of your body weight.  

Sleep

Many people have sleep problems, especially when faced with a chronic health condition. If you are unable to get a good night’s sleep, you may start to notice symptoms such as loss of focus, fatigue, increased pain and fatigue.

The amount of sleep varies for each individual, but most experts agree that a minimum of 7 ½ hours helps us feel our best. Some people require 8-10 hours of sleep to function well.

Remember: Sleeping pills are not a long term solution to poor sleep. There are many techniques that you can implement to promote a restful night’s sleep such as establishing a sleep and rest schedule, avoiding alcohol, caffeine, smoking, getting out in the sun every day, and avoiding electronics (computers, TV, phone) one hour before bedtime.  

Mindfulness

We hear it all the time: “Mind over matter.” And it really is true. Practice distraction, mindful breathing, relaxation techniques, meditation, and guided imagery. Don’t know how to start? Download a relaxing app on your phone or talk to a friend or expert about meditation or other forms of relaxation. Once you train your mind, you will be amazed at what you might accomplish.

Would you like to learn more about these tools and others?  Lee Health offers complimentary Chronic Disease Self-Management Education community workshops that were developed by the Self-Management Resource Center.  The workshop meets weekly, for six weeks, at a variety of locations in Lee County. Call Lee Health Solutions at 239-343-9264 and to register.

Be sure to visit our Lee Health Solutions page.

-- Sharon Krispinsky, BSN, RN, CDE, is the Chronic Health Program Coordinator for Lee Health. Some Information on this page is adapted from the Chronic Pain Self-Management Education program offered by the Self-Management Resource Center.  For more information, log on to www.selfmanagmentresource.com