Primary care doctors and other providers are trained to see a very wide range of health disorders and complaints. However, most of the visits will fall into a fairly short list of common issues.
Most visits to primary care offices will generally be to address one or more of the following:
• back or neck pain
• joint pain or arthritis
• skin issues
• upper respiratory disorder
• neurological issue
• blood pressure
• anxiety or depression
• sleep issues
• fatigue or low energy
There are other conditions that would arguably be on the list at times, and the order on the list will depend on the season, location and other factors.
As I read the list when I began writing this column, it occurred to me that many of these issues are closely related to lifestyle. In other words, many of the reasons most people call their doctor’s office could possibly be prevented by making different lifestyle choices.
In order to appreciate this fact, it is important to think about our lifestyle as compared to a few decades ago. Looking at any old photographs from before 1970 compared to any random photos of groups today reveals an astonishing increase in obesity.
I am using the medical definition for obese, which is different from being overweight. The medical definition for clinical obesity refers to having a calculated body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30, compared to the definition of overweight which would be a BMI of 25-30.
As an example, a person who is 5 foot 9 inches tall that weighed 170 -200 pounds would be considered medically overweight. If that person weighs more than 200, they would be in the clinically obese definition.
Today the CDC estimates that more than 42% of the American population is obese. Only 20 years ago in 2000 the estimate was 30%. During the same time, the estimate of severely obese has doubled from 4.7% to almost 10%.
The percentage of Americans that are overweight is currently a stunning 75%.
Now consider the relationship of obesity to the list of complaints listed above. It is easy to see that our rapidly increasing body mass is directly related to our health issues. Without a doubt, statistically, people that lose enough weight to no longer be consider obese will see significant improvements in their health and wellbeing.
Another glaring factor related to our lifestyles is our physical activity levels. Over the past 40 years our overall activity level has plummeted. The labor-intensive jobs such as in factories, farming and construction have all but vanished compared to the 1970’s. Increasingly people depend on vehicles for transportation rather than walking. Physical activities for leisure, sports and recreation have yielded to sedentary pursuits.
Lack of physical activity plays a significant role in the increase in many of the common reasons for healthcare visits.
The third most obvious change in our lifestyle that is affecting our health is our nutrition. We are increasingly consuming convenience foods that have little nutritional value, more sugar, more caffeine, and more artificial ingredients. People that lived in the 1950s and 1960s would likely not even recognize many of the commonly consumed foods of today.
This change in nutrition is definitely contributing to the downward spiral of our health status.
For many people participating in the political discussions for the past few years, the discussion of healthcare revolves around access and affordability of health insurance. In 1950, only approximately 50% of Americans had any healthcare insurance. The business of healthcare was remarkably different then. There was certainly no expectation that free health insurance was a right to be demanded.
Our lives have changed remarkably during the past few decades, and in general terms our health status has begun a very serious decline.
Thankfully innovative (and expensive) health interventions to treat serious diseases and extend lives have been developed. However, our level of wellbeing has declined.
Is it possible for our culture to turn things around successfully to reverse this trend? Whether the answer to that question is yes or no, it is certainly within the realm of possibility for most individuals to change their future health status by addressing lifestyle factors today.
For many readers, it may seem too late or too difficult to change the habits that have led to their current state of health. Certainly, it can be difficult to address any habit, especially one that has been ingrained for years.
However, I have witnessed many people make dramatic improvements in their health and wellbeing over the years by simply beginning a proactive plan of positive change and sticking to it.
There are numerous websites and books to help provide information about how to positively improve lifestyle in ways that will lead to better health and wellbeing. As with most changes, the best place to start is exactly where you are … right now.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com.