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Small Lifestyle Adjustments Can Save Your Life

We all know we should eat better, sleep more and, while at it, also find some extra time to exercise every day. The truth is that we tend to get lost in a world of "musts" and "shoulds" and end up so overwhelmed, demoralised and frustrated we stop trying to be healthier altogether. What you may not know, however, is the role that small lifestyle changes play in your quality of life and longevity. 

The key to adopting life-saving lifestyle adjustments is to start small, with activities you find pleasant and remain constant. And if you need a good reason to start, know that almost half of Australians live with a chronic health issue and whilst some of these conditions are out of your control, there is a lot you can do to reduce risk.

Chronic diseases are long-lasting, persistent conditions (lasting one year or more) that can affect your wellbeing, quality of life and longevity. According to the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, about 9 in every 10 deaths is associated with a chronic disease.

Many chronic diseases today are also referred to as ‘lifestyle diseases’, as they are often influenced by unhealthy lifestyles. The good news is that the reverse is also true – lifestyle improvements can significantly reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Lifestyle adjustments can also help with managing a chronic condition if it is already present.

Common lifestyle diseases in Australia

Type 2 Diabetes  

Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) is a condition where there is too much glucose circulating in the blood due to resistance to insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar). It affects around 1.2 million people in Australia. Untreated diabetes can lead to organ damage and increase the risk of heart disease.

Lifestyle factors associated with T2D include low physical activity, being overweight, poor dietary choices, and smoking.

Heart and artery diseases

Includes the following related conditions:

  • Coronary heart disease – occurs when the arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the heart become clogged with plaque. This can lead to heart failure.
  • Vascular disease – any condition affecting the blood vessels, including the build-up of plaque.
  • Stroke – happens when the blood cannot transport nutrients and oxygen to the brain due to damaged or blocked arteries.

These conditions affect about 1.2 million people in Australia. In fact, coronary heart disease itself is the leading cause of death in men and the second-leading cause in women, according to the AIHW.

Risk factors include a high-fat diet, being overweight, low activity levels, smoking, uncontrolled diabetes, and unmanaged stress.

Cognitive decline

This includes memory loss, forgetfulness, and difficulty paying attention and making decisions. If cognitive decline progresses, it can lead to dementia – a term used to describe brain diseases.

According to AIHW statistics, dementia is the leading cause of death in Australia for women and the second-leading cause for men.

Modifiable risk factors for dementia may include lack of exercise, poor diet, obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Poor sleep can also increase the risk of cognitive decline.


Cancer occurs when cells grow in an uncontrolled way and cause damage to parts of the body. Each year cancers affect over 400,000 people in Australia.

Common types include cancer of the:

  • Kidneys – the most common cancer in people over 50.
  • Bowel – the third most common cancer affecting Australians.
  • Skin – the cause of around 2,000 deaths each year in Australia.
  • Prostate – the fifth leading cause of death in men (AIHW).
  • Breast tissue – the fifth leading cause of death in women (AIHW).

While each cancer type is different, a higher risk in general is associated with poor lifestyle choices such smoking, high alcohol intake and poor diet, and high UV exposure in the case of skin cancer.


Osteoporosis occurs when the bones lose minerals and become less dense, more brittle, and prone to breaking.

The condition affects over 900,000 Australians each year – in particular women after menopause when their estrogen levels decline.

Lifestyle risk factors include low calcium intake, low vitamin D, smoking, excess alcohol, and lack of exercise.

Kidney disease

Kidney disease affects over 200,000 people in Australia each year.

The condition occurs when the kidneys become damaged and can no longer filter the blood effectively. This can lead to failure to remove waste products from the body. In serious cases a person with kidney disease may require dialysis or a transplant.

Kidney disease risk factors include high BMI, heavy drinking, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high salt intake, and heart problems.

What can you do to reduce risk?

The risk of developing chronic diseases increases with age and can have a genetic component. However, it’s clear that the modifiable lifestyle risk factors for many of these chronic conditions are remarkably similar.

While many of these conditions may require treatment, you can reduce your risks in the following ways:

Healthy Diet

Adjusting your diet doesn't have a joyless endeavour, aim for delicious meals, and know that eating healthy can be rewarding - The Mediterranean Diet is a good example, besides being tasteful, it includes high intake of plant foods, wholegrains and fibre, moderate levels of meat, and reduced saturated fat, salt and sugar.

Regular exercise

The ideal is to exercise around 30 minutes each day. However, it is important to know that any form of light exercise is better than no exercise.

Start small, nurture the habit of taking short, 10-minute walks around the block daily, and gradually increase time and effort. Try to give your physical activity a purpose – for example; it can be a way to complete an errand such as walking to get the newspaper, groceries or a coffee in the morning. Household chores such as gardening and cleaning can also be a great cardio workout.

If walking isn’t your thing, you can start by doing any other cardio exercises, such as cycling, swimming, dancing or any other sport. You can also always take the stairs instead of elevators at every chance!

Quitting smoking

Smoking increases the risk of so many chronic conditions substantially. We know quitting is hard but there are some tips that can help you get there:

  • Understand your triggers and actively avoid them: tobacco urges are likely to be strongest in the places where you smoked or chewed tobacco most often
  • Delay: If you feel like you're going to give in to your tobacco craving, tell yourself that you must first wait 10 more minutes. Then do something to distract yourself during that time
  • Get physical: exercise can distract you from your cravings and benefit multiple other health aspects
  • Get Support: Connect with a family member, friend or support group member for help in your effort to resist a tobacco craving
  • Be Kind to Yourself: Quit smoking is stressful - so be kind to yourself, have a massage, try deep breathing techniques or do more of any activity you find relaxing

Reducing Alcohol

Drinking comes with many health risks and should be limited at the very least. If you are using Alcohol to relax after a busy day, actively adopt other means to calm yourself:

  • Have a bath or warm shower
  • Read a relaxing book
  • Indulge in TV series, Movies or Magazines
  • Call a friend to chat
  • Have a massage
  • Try to meditate

If you use alcohol to socialise - check our tips on this article.

Managing stress

High-stress levels lead to higher cortisol levels which can in turn increase the risk of lifestyle diseases such as heart attack. Whilst it is impossible to avoid stress, it is key keep it manageable. If you want to learn more about stress and how it impacts your body, please refer to this article.

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