Research finds positive lifestyle changes often work better than medication to prevent or reverse chronic health issues, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis and it is less costly.

Making positive lifestyle changes can prevent and in some cases reverse chronic medical conditions – such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis – which affect half of the United States population and gobble up as much as 84 percent of all health care spending. Unfortunately, few Americans are taking this message to heart – but hope springs eternal with a new year. Four unhealthy behaviors – lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and drinking too much alcohol – cause much of the illness, and costs according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Research finds positive lifestyle changes often work better than medication to prevent or reverse these conditions and it is less costly – so why aren’t people taking action? Behavior change is complicated because it affects all facets of life – living and work situations, social and family relationships, knowledge base, psychological status and so on. For many, it is overwhelming to change without in-depth guidance.

Doctors can provide medical knowledge but have little time to teach behavior change, like improving eating habits or developing a physical activity routine. Patients need a trained medical professional who understands their health profile, can spend time to listen and appreciate their life situation, and to develop a realistic road map of changes. Consistent follow-up to monitor outcomes, tweak the plan and insure habits are ingrained is essential.

Too few people are aware these professionals already exist and their services are covered by most health insurance plans. Registered dietitians have the expert knowledge, longer appointment times and typically more per year to coach patients to healthy outcomes.

A recent patient, Esther, provides an example. When her bad cholesterol increased she was reluctant to begin what could be decades of medication use, and instead sought the advice of a registered dietitian. She was highly motivated to make changes, which is a strong predictor of success.

Esther worked diligently to change her food routine, something she describes as easy once she understood the reasoning behind the suggestions. She reduced saturated fat to a specific amount and changed her overall food routine to a more health-promoting Mediterranean-style of eating. She improved her exercise routine and stayed aware of calorie aims in order to gradually lose weight. In addition to dietary changes, she also took a dietary plant supplement, which is recommended by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute as a first step before medication when bad cholesterol is significantly elevated.

In just three months her bad cholesterol dropped 64 points but her triglycerides increased. Luckily her progress was being followed. Dietitians understand this can happen when patients are overzealous and restrict fats too much which prompted additional guidance in boosting up good fats and reducing simple carbohydrates. Not a hardy fish eater, she also chose to take fish oil, scientifically shown to lower triglycerides when given in the right concentration.

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