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For the Public Health by Stuart Tedders Ph.D.
Lifestyle change: Investment for health
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    Although life expectancy has risen considerably in this country, we still face significant health challenges in the 21st century. Chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, COPD, and diabetes, account for approximately 70 percent of all deaths in the United States. Data indicate that more than 90 million Americans live with a chronic illness and 25 million people experience either disability or physical activity limitations due to these conditions.  In addition to the personal burden, the medical care costs of people with chronic diseases are staggering and account for approximately 75 percent of the nation’s health care budget. 
    Although many factors contribute to our health, the literature suggests that more than 50 percent of an individual’s risk of disease is associated with personal lifestyle choices.  In many cases, these personal lifestyle choices are factors that can be easily modified to improve our well-being. 
    As the stress of the holidays mounts, the Christmas season is an ideal time to take control of your life and strive to make healthy lifestyle changes in the New Year.  Most of you have undoubtedly seen the following list many times before.  However, I’ll use this opportunity to remind you that the power to live a healthier life rests with the individual.  It is simply a matter of making the commitment to act.   
    - Don't smoke or use tobacco. One out of every 6 deaths in the United States is attributed to using a tobacco-related product.
    - Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol abuse may damage the liver and contribute to some forms of cancers.
    - Eat right. Strive for the daily recommended balance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, lean meats (baked, broiled, or grilled), fat-free (or low fat) milk products in your diet.
    - Lose weight if you're overweight. Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, gallbladder disease and arthritis.
    - Stay active. Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes/day) reduces the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, and some cancers.
    - Avoid excessive sun exposure (ultraviolet radiation). Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in this country and more than 90 percent of all cases are caused by sun exposure.
    - Educate yourself about recommended vaccinations. Vaccine-preventable diseases are at a record low in this country, but the health of our nation relies on being vigilant about maximizing immunization coverage. 
    - Participate regularly in health screenings. Talk to your physician about your risk factors and what tests and exams are right for you.
    - Be committed to a healthier lifestyle. The key to improving your health is to make a genuine commitment to change your lifestyle. 
    A sustained lifestyle change is difficult and can be frustrating, so stay positive. Frustration and setback can often be lessened if you rely on your general well-being as a sign of successful change (positive mental attitude, reduced levels of anxiety and stress, etc.) rather than focusing only on a single criterion (eg. weight loss). Lifestyle change requires a long-term investment on your part, but the results will truly amaze you. 
    Dr. Stuart Tedders is an associate professor of epidemiology in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University.  His recent research involves epidemiological investigations of cancer in Georgia, as well as perceptions of breast and cervical cancer risk among women enrolled in a public health cancer screening program. In 1998 he was named Rural Health Researcher of the Year by the Georgia Rural Health Association. He is a board member of the Georgia Rural Health Association and the Magnolia Coastlands Area Health Education Center.
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