How can you lower your risk of common health conditions?

Shot of people running along the beach

We all want to keep ourselves healthy and free from serious conditions, as much as we possibly can.

Fortunately, most Australians have access to healthy and diverse food, a broad education, clean water and free or affordable health care. After the discovery of antibiotics and the development of vaccines, we can expect greater quality of life and to live longer than any of our ancestors.

However, the growth in population and advances in transport, communications and technology have also seen a dramatic change in the ‘average’ behaviour of Australians. We are more connected and yet less healthy.

Here are a few things we all need to know about health, wellbeing and preventing disease.

1. As we get older, weight gain is more likely

There is a worldwide tendency for people to put on weight as they age, and to eat more fat and exercise less as they become more affluent. We are consuming excess calories in the form of sweetened sugary beverages, refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated fats, and processed meat. As a consequence, we see greater rates of childhood and adult obesity.

2. Being overweight can have a serious impact on your health and lifestyle

Excess weight can increasing your risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and gall bladder disease, gout, arthritis and other joint issues, sleeping problems including sleep apnoea, and certain types of cancer.

3. Each year, over 10,000 Australians die of a heart attack

And a further 8,000 will die of a stroke. Many of the causes of these cardiovascular diseases are preventable, and are related to our lifestyle.

"Those Australians most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes include smokers, as well as those with a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose during pregnancy, or excess abdominal fat."

4. Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in Australia

This can lead to long-term health problems, increasing your risk of heart disease (including heart attacks and stroke), blindness, altered sensation in lower limbs, kidney failure, and erectile dysfunction.

5. Lifestyle factors can impact your risk of type 2 diabetes

Those Australians most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes include smokers, as well as those with a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose during pregnancy, or excess abdominal fat.

6. Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia

Bowel cancer is associated with a family history of bowel polyps, inadequate intake of dietary fibre, smoking, diets high in processed foods and excess red meat, excess alcohol consumption, and obesity.

7. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women

The average survival rate for breast cancer is 89% at five years. Many women develop breast cancer because they have a genetic predisposition, but lifestyle factors including obesity, excess alcohol consumption and inactivity also play a significant role.

8. Our lifestyles play a role in our risk of many chronic conditions

Many other chronic conditions resulting from our lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on our quality of life – for example, peripheral vascular disease, fatty infiltration of the liver from excess alcohol consumption, obstructive sleep apnoea from obesity, and osteoarthritis.

Want to learn more about the body? Head to the Medibank School of Better, where Dr Bridie O'Donnell takes you through some short, practical lessons on how the body works.

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