Aging has a way of making us all conscious of living a healthy life. With chronic conditions, that can be especially difficult. There are physical, medical and emotional factors, and they all have to be managed in order to stay on the healthy side of life.
A chronic condition is a persistent, long-term health condition with no “cure” in sight. While it may not be life-threatening, if it isn’t managed, it can shorten one’s lifespan and/or quality of life. According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic diseases affect nearly one in two US adults.
If you live with high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis or osteoporosis, for example, you know how challenging living a healthy life with chronic conditions can be. You live with the physical symptoms and limitations on a daily basis, and you feel the emotional weight of knowing there is no cure in sight.
But hope is not necessarily lost. Many chronic conditions are preventable, and the effects of most can at least be mitigated with lifestyle modifications.
Here are 5 tips for living a healthy life with chronic conditions:
- Be your own advocate.
In the long run, you are the one who is responsible for your own health and well-being. Your doctor isn’t with you 24/7, but you are. It’s up to you to take charge of your lifestyle habits, self-monitoring and communication with your medical team. You are the common denominator.
What kind of advocate would you be if your child had a chronic condition? Be the same for yourself.
- There are no stupid questions, so ask a lot of them.
The body is a complex miracle. Even doctors don’t know everything about it.
The only way you will ever learn about living a healthy life with chronic conditions is by asking questions from those with the knowledge you need. Ask your doctor questions about your condition every time you go in. Research your condition on the web.
Knowledge is power, and the more you open yourself to information — even differing opinions — the more power you will have in managing your own health.
- Keep a journal dedicated to your health.
Learn to listen to your body so you can track its changes. Document your daily measurements — weight, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. — your medications, doctor visits, changes in your physical health and moods.
Take your journal with you to every medical appointment so you can provide detailed information to your doctor. Again, your doctor isn’t with you 24/7. But you are.
- Build a team.
Choose an excellent primary care physician whom you can trust to be the hub of your “health wheel.” Then seek out experts and specialists in specific areas.
The body’s systems don’t exist in isolation. They all affect each other. Take responsibility for making sure all visits and records are reported back to your primary care physician and, where relevant, to the other specialists.
Self-management education (SME) programs are designed to help you manage your symptoms, habits and stress when living with chronic conditions. They can also help you navigate communication with your medical team.
- Maintain a positive, healthy lifestyle.
Most chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes are preventable. At the very least they are modifiable with healthful lifestyle changes.
Having a plan for eating a heart-healthy diet and getting the right amount and intensity of exercise can make dramatic changes in chronic conditions. Adding a health and weight loss coach to your team will ensure that you don’t have to figure out the plan on your own.
Living a healthy life with chronic conditions isn’t impossible. But the decision to implement lifestyle changes is up to you and is a key component of your self-advocacy.