One of my duties as a primary care physician is to help my patients treat and live with complicated illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Over the years, I’ve learned that many patients hope they can just “pop a pill” and go on with their lives, but in reality, the only way to increase lifespan and quality of life with these diseases is to develop important habits I call “lifestyle skills.”
Diabetes and cardiovascular disease
The two most common types of chronic illnesses I see in my practice are Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They are related, and they can both be improved or worsened through lifestyle choices. Type 2 diabetes happens when the body can no longer use insulin effectively, leading to the body’s inability to use sugar for energy. Uncontrolled, it can lead to kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and blindness.
Cardiovascular disease is a broad term for diseases of the blood vessels and heart, and includes hypertension, chest pain and stroke.
Left untreated or poorly managed, both of these conditions wreak havoc on the body and can lead to untimely death and a poor quality of life.
The good news is that science has made enormous strides in treating these diseases. Work with your doctor to find the right combination of medicines that work best for you. While taking medicine (and paying for it) is never fun, it’s the easiest part of the equation for staying healthy with these diseases.
The hard part: lifestyle skills
Think of your healthy lifestyle not as a chore, but as a skill. Skills take time, discipline and effort to hone, and once you stop trying you start faltering. While skills are never easy to achieve, they are satisfying to improve, and they require following guidelines and rules to achieve them.
If you have one of these chronic diseases, improving your lifestyle skills gets the best outcome-and may even get you off the pills!
Developing good habits around diet, exercise, sleep, disease management and mental attitude are essential for treating these chronic diseases. Form a team made of your primary care doctor, your specialists and nurses to help. Also consider working with a certified health coach. Check in with your team as often as you can-they will become your best cheerleaders and give you support if you start to fall off the wagon. Here are some skills you’ll need to develop:
I know it’s not easy developing these skills. Skill #1, positive attitude, is essential for success. I’ve seen many of my patients successfully adopt these skills and ultimately be able to decrease or even stop their medication.
About the author:
Dr. Lowery is a board-certified family physician with nearly 20 years of experience. He considers himself an old-fashioned family doc who utilizes the latest medical treatments to ensure the most compassionate, personal and high quality medical care. You can learn more about him by visiting his website at friscoconciergemedicine.com/link opens in a new window. He writes for Combined Insurance in an effort to help educate readers, but his medical opinions and advice are for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for visiting your doctor.