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Lifestyle changes: The critical difference in chronic disease management

Simple lifestyle changes have a major impact on the successful management of many chronic diseases.

Small daily changes in diet and activity yield positive impacts, often much more so than prescribed medications.

When diagnosing a patient with a new chronic disease (such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease), the healthcare provider must take into consideration the “whole picture”.

So many factors affect a patient’s ability to successfully manage a chronic illness, and must be addressed in order to ensure the patient has been given every opportunity to successfully self-manage their illness. Literacy – can the patient read/write/understand the written instructions and education being given to him/her? Finances- can the patient afford the treatments being offered? Are there available resources to assist the patient? Patient assistance programs, free clinics, medication samples, insurance coverage, drug discount cards?

After assessment of the patient’s ability to comprehend his illness and plan of treatment, its time to review lifestyle behaviors and possible areas of improvement.


Is the patient receiving adequate sleep? Are there areas that can be improved (“sleep hygiene” practices) such as sleeping in a dark room, avoiding computers 1-2 hours before bedtime, decreasing caffeine intake in the evening hours.


Is the patient active? What is their usual exercise routine? How can daily activity be added into their current lifestyle? Walking, biking, hiking, swimming, local gyms? Small steps yield big rewards. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise 5 x a week (150 minutes of exercise weekly).


Assess their current diet. Is there room for improvement? Lower calories, higher fiber intake? Is their diet adequate in vitamins and minerals? What additional foods can they afford? What can be successfully removed from their diet (processed foods, junk foods, snacks, candy, soda?).


Is the patient /family under stress, to the level that it is affecting personal behaviors? Are there support systems in place to assist?

Social behaviors- alcohol, smoking, drug use

Is the patient regularly drinking alcohol or smoking? Are they willing to stop? Do they have adequate resources to assist them? Local support groups?

Support systems

Does the patient have a structured support system at home? Family, spouse, children? Do they belong to a church or outside support group? Do they have friends in the area?

All of the above-mentioned areas are indeed part of the patient’s daily life, and need to be included in their plan of care.

Treatment options need to be patient centered, specific, and reviewed routinely to make sure the patient is receiving optimal support in their quest to successfully self-manage their chronic illness.


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