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How Diet and Exercise Influence Chronic Disease Progression In Your Patients

Many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease (CKD), are influenced by lifestyle choices. Diet and exercise play a key role in influencing chronic disease progression. For example, studies have shown that people who maintain an active lifestyle can reduce their risk for chronic diseases by up to 50%.

When it comes to your patients, it’s important to explain the potential positive and negative effects of diet and exercise on their chronic disease progression.

The role of diet in chronic disease management chronic conditions

Chronic diseases are often the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease are usually associated with poor dietary choices that can lead to obesity.

It’s important for your patients to be aware that certain foods may contribute to their condition or worsen it over time. If you’re caring for patients who already have chronic disease, encourage them to make dietary changes that will help reduce their disease risk such as:

  • Limiting sugar intake
  • Reducing sodium
  • Watching cholesterol

How diet can negatively impact the progression of chronic conditions

Poor eating choices can speed up the progression of chronic conditions.  For example, if a patient has diabetes and regularly eats high carbohydrate foods which are quickly digested into sugar, this will cause their blood glucose levels to rise.

Likewise, chronic conditions such as heart disease or kidney disease can be exacerbated by obesity through the development of insulin resistance. When someone is obese they produce excess amounts of insulin in order to process sugars that would otherwise be processed by a healthy body.

Conditions like Crohn’s disease, similarly, can be impacted negatively by the wrong foods, leading to a flare-up of inflammation and discomfort associated with the worsening condition.

In some cases, a patient’s chronic condition can be treated with lifestyle changes such as an improved or regimented diet. For example, someone suffering from heart disease may have to cut back on fat intake or reduce their blood pressure by reducing sodium intake or exercising more regularly if they wish for the condition to improve over time.

How diet can positively impact the progression of chronic conditions

On the other hand, a healthy diet can help manage chronic conditions and improve a patient’s quality of life dramatically.

For instance, eating well with CKD can lead to better control of blood glucose levels in diabetics. Additionally, a clean protein intake (such as legumes and fish) can help with some of the the loss of muscle mass associated with CKD without the additional stress on your organs, and better management of fluid build-up due to congestive heart failure.

While some conditions cannot necessarily be improved by any measure of healthy diet or exercise, these lifestyle changes can certainly slow progression. According to research, a healthy diet and exercise can slow the progression of diabetes by almost 60%.

However, diet alone doesn’t always influence chronic disease progression; exercise is often just as important for improving or maintaining a patient’s health.

The role of exercise in chronic disease management

Exercise is the other crucial piece of maintaining a healthy lifestyle while living with a chronic condition. The body’s ability to move and work helps it function properly and naturally. Exercise also removes unwanted or excess fat that could be hindering a patient’s health or chronic disease management.

How exercise can negatively impact the progression of chronic conditions

The treatment for chronic illnesses often includes a routine exercise plan. When exercise is neglected, patients can often experience a setback in their chronic disease progression.

However, it’s important to understand what types of exercises are appropriate for each patient, according to their circumstances and condition. Sometimes, too much of a certain exercise can cause more issues.

In one study, for example, it was found that some participants who were diagnosed with kidney disease and followed an exercise routine experienced increased inflammation levels as well as high blood pressure. Too many intense workouts can also cause a rise in creatinine in the blood, which is a waste product that cannot be filtered out by damaged kidneys. The constant strain on the heart from regular workouts can also cause problems for chronic conditions such as chronic heart failure.

Finding the right kind of exercise routine for each patient is crucial to managing their chronic condition properly.

How exercise can positively impact the progression of chronic conditions

When prescribed and followed properly, exercise can be used to help manage symptoms, improve overall health and prevent chronic disease progression.

For example, many CKD patients are also diagnosed with hypertension or obesity because of the strain these conditions put on their kidneys. For these individuals, specific exercises can be highly effective in lowering blood pressure while simultaneously improving cardiovascular fitness and reducing body fat.

For patients with asthma, exercise can be used to prevent the airway from constricting during strenuous activity.

For someone with diabetes, starting an exercise routine may feel intimidating due to concerns about hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia following workouts. However, there are some forms of physical activity that actually help maintain normal blood glucose levels while improving insulin sensitivity in muscles.

How you can help your patients

The best thing you can do for your patients with chronic conditions is to encourage them to develop a structured exercise routine and healthy eating plan that’s specific to their needs. Exercise has been shown to add around ten years onto someone’s life, so it is definitely worth encouraging your patients with chronic conditions to get moving! And a healthy diet has been shown to improve chronic condition symptoms in patients with chronic kidney disease, chronic heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and more.

If needed, consult your patient’s specialist to understand more about their unique circumstances. Most of the time, their obesity and struggles with food are connected to an underlying comorbid condition that can be managed with the proper support team.

Together, with your patients’ other doctors, you can help them find the path to health in a way that works for their life and priorities.

Jenny Hart is a contributing writer for Nutritional Resources, Inc.  Jenny has been a medical writer for several years and covers topics in the health and wellness industry.

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