Healthy living can prevent disease

Reduce your risks for the Big Four

Cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) and lung disease are the leading causes of preventable death and disability in Canada. You can dramatically reduce your risk of these Big Four chronic diseases (long-term or ongoing illnesses) by changing the way you live.

That's because each of these chronic diseases share common conditions or risk factors that relate to your everyday choices and personal health habits. For example, an unhealthy diet can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for certain cancers, heart disease, stroke and diabetes; and smoking is a major cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and lung cancer, and puts you at high risk for heart disease.

Cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and lung disease: Learn more about the Big Four

Making healthier choices will not only reduce your risk for chronic disease, but will also make you feel better and improve your overall quality of life.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has information on both preventing and living with the Big Four chronic diseases:

The majority of Canadians have at least one risk factor for chronic disease that is within their power to change. Health experts also recognize that your ability to change your personal health habits is closely tied to where you live and work, your social supports, income, education, culture and other factors.

Eight healthy choices to reduce your risk for disease

The big four chronic diseases are among the most preventable. By making healthier choices you can lower your risk. You can choose to:

  • Be a non-smoker and avoid second hand smoke.
    If you smoke, get help to quit. Smoking is the major cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and lung cancer. It is also a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. It's never too late to quit and reduce your risk.
  • Be physically active everyday.
    Find an activity you like and get moving. Your heart is a muscle that needs regular exercise to stay healthy. Exercise will also make it easier to maintain a healthy body weight. Ask your healthcare provider about an appropriate exercise plan for you. It doesn't have to be complicated - it may be as simple as adding dancing, going up and down stairs, or stretching throughout your day. Or try starting a walking group with other people in your neighbourhood. Exercise and friends are a great mix! See Canada's Physical Activity Guide for tips on building physical activity into your everyday routine.
  • Eat healthy foods.
    Following a healthy, balanced diet can help you to maintain a healthy weight, lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for disease. Choose high fibre, lower fat foods and 5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Balance your daily meals with foods from the four food groups described in Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating.
  • Achieve a healthy weight.
    Being overweight increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The risk of a heart attack is three times higher in women who are overweight than in those who have a healthy weight. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine your personal healthy weight and work out a plan for achieving or maintaining it.
  • Control your blood pressure.
    Keeping your blood pressure in check can help prevent damage to the walls of your arteries like tears and bulges and possibly slow the hardening of your arteries. Have your blood pressure checked regularly by your healthcare provider and follow your management directions.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol.
    Drinking too much alcohol can put you at risk for many kinds of cancer. While there is some evidence that moderate drinking may offer some health benefits, too much alcohol is unhealthy. Moderate drinking means an average of one drink for women or two drinks for men per day.
  • Reduce your stress.
    Take time to relax. Stress can raise your cholesterol level and blood pressure and lead to heart attack and stroke. Stress is also a trigger for mental health problems like depression. See your healthcare provider for help in managing stress.
  • Be screened or tested regularly.
    Report any new signs and symptoms to your healthcare provider. It's also important to know your body and have regular check-ups to measure your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In many cases the earlier a problem is detected, the easier it is to treat.

Other risk factors for disease

There are some risk factors you can control, and there are some that you can't. The ones you can't include your family medical history, your ethnic background, your age, and your gender. Even if you can't control some risk factors, by choosing a healthy lifestyle you may be able to delay the onset of disease and reduce your risk of the Big Four early in life.

Making changes takes time and effort

It's not easy to make a major lifestyle change. It takes time to form new habits. By understanding the stages of change, starting small and setting realistic goals, you can learn to make healthier choices and in the process, reduce your risk for chronic disease.

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