05/02/2016 12:12 EDT | Updated 05/03/2017 05:12 EDT

How A Healthy Lifestyle Can Prevent Chronic Disease

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Man jogging on beach

The legendary humourist Mark Twain once lamented that the only way to stay healthy is, "to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not."

His tongue in cheek remarks are something to keep in mind when the temptations of rich food, salty snacks and sugary drinks can prove difficult to resist.

But the fact is we don't have to give up all our guilty pleasures to be healthy. By focussing on wellness and becoming our own health advocates, we can enjoy all of what life has to offer, the idea being that disease prevention is easier than treatment.

A few years ago, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health conducted public hearings to look at tackling the growing burden of chronic disease in this country.

In its report, the Committee cited testimony from experts who said that "90% of type 2 diabetes, 80% of coronary heart disease, and one third of cancers could be prevented by healthy eating, regular exercise, and by not smoking."

Health experts know that we need to start thinking about chronic disease prevention early. The Committee found that "only 7% of Canadian children meet the daily physical activity guidelines and even fewer teenagers meet them."

It was also told that as many as "25 chronic diseases are directly linked to physical inactivity and that an inactive person will spend 38% more days in hospital, use 5.5% more family physician visits, 13% more specialist services, and 12% more nurse visits compared to an active person."

Chronic disease also takes its toll on our economy. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, chronic disease consumes "67% of all direct healthcare costs, and costs the Canadian economy $190 billion annually - $68 billion of which is attributed to treatment and the remainder to lost productivity."

That's why chronic disease prevention and the promotion of wellness in the workplace are becoming a concern for more and more employers.

Sanofi Canada's 2015 Healthcare Survey found that 45% of employees reported that they'd been diagnosed with a chronic disease such as diabetes, arthritis and depression. When high blood pressure and high cholesterol were included, the number rose to 56%. Among those 55 and older, a staggering 78% reported a chronic disease.

In the report, employers are urged to make the wellness of workers a strategic goal, "focusing on education and behaviour at all levels of the organization and aiming to improve the worker, the workplace and the employer."

The fact is that there are some very common sense things we can do to make wellness and health a personal priority.

Canadian Cancer Society President Pamela Fralick advises that by quitting smoking, being more active and eating the right foods, we can lower our cancer risk. Early detection and family history are also important factors to consider.

However, when illness strikes and medication is required, it's of vital importance to follow the treatment regime as prescribed by a healthcare professional. As the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said: "Drugs don't work in people who don't take them."

Studies have shown the value of adherence in reducing hospitalization and improving outcomes for patients. A new generation of patient-friendly tools is now available to help patients take their medication safely and appropriately, including MyMedRec and many other mobile health apps.

There has never been a better time to become our own health care advocate. If so, with apologies to Mark Twain, we can have our cake and eat it too. In moderation, of course.

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