Discussions on disease has focused almost solely on communicable disease over the past several months. It is important to be reminded of just how devastating non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are, particularly in the United States. The numbers are staggering and most importantly, much of what will follow is preventable.
In the fall of 2018 the World Health Organization and United Nations hosted a high-level meeting focusing on NCDs. The overall purpose of the meeting was to continue the comprehensive policies of reducing risk of dying prematurely due to NCDs. The categories of NCDs include cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, cancer, and mental health conditions. Worldwide statistics include:
- 71% of all deaths are due to NCDs (88% in the United States)
- Every 2 seconds someone age 30-70 dies prematurely from NCDs
- Each year 15 million people die from NCDs (800,000 from suicide)
All NCD categories are in the top 10 causes of death in the United States.
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Unintentional accidents
- Chronic respiratory disease
- Alzheimer disease
- Influenza and pneumonia
- Kidney disease
Focusing only on these five categories, there is overwhelming data proving that lifestyle choices have a direct effect on at least three: cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes.
The WHO-UN meeting lists five main NCD risk factors:
- Unhealthy diet
- Tobacco use
- Air pollution
- Harmful use of alcohol
- (Lack of) Physical activity
Four of these risk factors are lifestyle choices that each and every individual controls. The meeting, and all of its recommendations for action, aligns with the American College of Sports Medicine initiative, Exercise is Medicine. This initiative was co-launched with the American Medical Association in 2007. The initiative continues its efforts to promote physical activity and lifestyle choices to prevent disease.
Why is all of this important? Outside of the obvious, that exercise is preventable medicine, it highlights how we can make lifestyle changes to not only reduce our risk of non-communicable disease, but also our risk of communicable disease. According to the CDC, among the list of conditions that increase our risk of dying due to communicable disease like influenza and COVID-19 are:
- Chronic lung disease
- Heart Disease
- Severe obesity
These conditions all have a relation to lifestyle. Of course there are genetic predispositions, but the overall point is to highlight our control. We all have some level of control over our health and our risk of dying prematurely due to non-communicable and communicable disease.
In addition to the above information on how lifestyle can reduce our chances of dying prematurely, not discussed is how increased physical activity has a positive effect on our immune systems. Although it is all related, that is a topic for another day that simply reinforces the point. It is time to take control of the things you can and disease prevention through lifestyle choices is the first step.