By Dr. Mark Wiley

It is difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that people still don’t understand that their lifestyle — the way they choose to live, the things they do — directly affects their health.

Now, most of the people I know and communicate with on a regular basis do, in fact, grasp this concept. So I am not sure who the nonbelievers are. Maybe it’s the medical professionals who seem to think they need multiple studies and meta analyses to “prove” this simple fact. A pair of recent studies, both published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, indicate the message has not yet been heard by enough people for it to be considered “common sense” — especially when it comes to cardiovascular disease.

But who is to blame?

Personal Experience

As someone who has suffered various illnesses and chronic pain at various points in his life, I know from personal experience that it is difficult to change our habits — especially the ones that cause, contribute to or make worse our health and level of well-being.

When I was a child, I was treated for migraines. Doctors gave me a list of food items to avoid. Yet despite that, they gave me prescription medications to take — lots of them.

To me at that age and to many Americans of all ages, taking medication appears to be and is presented as being the fast and maybe the only way to recovery. The doctor should have said: “Take these pills at the first sign of pain, to help you knock it out right away… while you change your diet.” Then, the pills would have been presented in a supporting role as a pain reliever. Instead, they were presented in the starring role: “Take these pills for your headaches. Oh, and here are some foods you might avoid, just in case.”

This pains me. Because my search for a lasting pain cure for my headaches and musculoskeletal pain led me on a journey around the world in search of outside help. I didn’t think I could do it on my own. But after a substantial time (decades), I realized the only times I did not have pain were when I did or did not do certain things — things that were within my control and not at the mercy of the medications or the doctor or the healer.

For anyone else who is now like I was then, please know that much of what ails you, including disease, can be caused in whole or in part by your actions, behaviors and choices. In short, your ailments can be caused by your lifestyle. For those who do not believe this without so-called proof, here are summaries of the studies that demonstrate this fact.


Five Lifestyle Factors

Since getting enough sleep for shrinking reducing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk along with getting enough exercise, eating a healthy diet, (moderate) alcohol consumption, and not smoking hasn’t been investigated yet, a group of researchers set out to do so. Using people taking part in the MORGEN study (a large study in the Netherlands), they put together a group of 8,128 men and 9,759 women aged 20–65 years. None had CVD at the start of the study. The scientists researched the effects of four lifestyle factors along with sleep on CVD:

  1. Exercising (3.5 hours per week or more cycling or sports).

  2. Consuming a healthy, Mediterranean diet.

  3. Moderate alcohol consumption (about 1 or 2 drinks per day).

  4. No smoking.

  5. Getting seven hours or more sleep every night.

During 10–14 years of follow up, these people suffered 607 (CVD) events like strokes and heart attacks; 129 of these were fatal.

Here is the promising part:

Those with the four traditional healthy lifestyle factors enjoyed a 57% lower risk of CVD and a 67 percent lower risk of fatal CVD in contrast to those who didn’t follow more than one healthy lifestyle habit.

Getting enough sleep along with four healthy lifestyle habits resulted in a 65% lower risk of CVD and an 83 percent lower risk of fatal CVD.

Getting enough sleep and adhering to all four traditional healthy lifestyle factors was associated with lower CVD risk.

Study 2 In A Nutshell:

Another study tried to determine if lifestyle modification programs for coronary heart disease patients which have been formulated during the past ten years were producing significant benefits. This research analyzed 23 trials  that involved more than 11,000 people.

It found:

  • Lifestyle modification programs seemed to be saving lives and were associated with reduced all-cause mortality, less  cardiac mortality, and fewer hospital readmissions for cardiac difficulties and non-fatal reinfarctions.
  • Lifestyle modification programs were shown to help reduce risk factors and adopting healthier lifestyle behaviors were helping even after a period of almost three years.
  • There was more success in improving diet and exercise when programs taught people to set goals, engage in self-monitoring, plan ahead and use feedback. When programs didn’t use these techniques, people were less healthy.

This meta analysis demonstrated the benefits of lifestyle modification programs and showed they were better than routine clinical care alone.


The Message

What do both of these studies tell us? Our daily habits, our choice of lifestyle, what we do and what we do not do affect our health for better or worse. When we are struggling with our health, there are some things we may not have control over. However, when it comes to sleeping, not smoking, getting ample physical activity, eating healthfully and limiting alcohol consumption, we may have more control than we think. We have control over our choices and our health and, thus, over our quality of life.

Let’s focus on better choices and happier outlooks for our future.


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