What Is a Lifestyle Disease?

Heart health
Health Articles
April 1, 2019

How much of an impact could your lifestyle be having on your health? Find out more about the lifestyle choices, from poor diet to alcohol consumption, that may be putting you at risk.

Lifestyle diseases, otherwise known as non-communicable diseases (NCD), are becoming a global epidemic. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that they are responsible for 71% of all deaths annually. But most people still don’t really understand them, and more importantly, they still don’t understand the risk factors that can make you more susceptible. Get the scoop on lifestyle diseases, right here.

Lifestyle diseases: an overview

“Lifestyle disease” is a blanket term that refers to diseases associated with modifiable lifestyle risks, from bad posture and physical inactivity to alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking. Although they can be exacerbated by genetic, physiological, or environmental factors, lifestyle diseases are primarily caused by people’s daily habits. In a sense, that’s good news, because it means that your susceptibility to these sorts of diseases is almost totally up to you!
So, what’s the reason behind the record numbers of people suffering from lifestyle diseases? Well, it’s due to several factors. The nutritional transition that took place in the second half of the 20th century is crucial. In the U.S., diets began featuring increasing amounts of animal products, fat, and sugar, all of which seemed to result in greater levels of obesity, while the Westernization of diets in many developing countries has frequently had a disastrous effect on public health.
There’s also the so-called “pandemic” of inactivity, which affects a substantial proportion of the global population. According to the WHO, almost one in four men and one in three women do not get enough exercise to stave off common diseases. There may also be occupational factors. Working environments that require long sitting hours can potentially contribute to weight gain and digestion problems, as well as a whole host of other health problems.
So, what actually counts as a lifestyle disease? According to MedicineNet, strokes, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and atherosclerosis can all be caused by lifestyle factors, while there are a wide range of diseases associated with alcohol, smoking, and drug abuse.
Obesity is another potentially serious lifestyle disease to stay aware of. According to a study in the Lancet, poor diet may cause around 30% of cancers in developed countries. And of course, it’s easy to forget that obesity is a disease in itself, as well as a risk factor for conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, and liver disease.

Who is affected by lifestyle diseases?

Lifestyle diseases used to be considered #firstworldproblems, but there’s evidence to suggest that these diseases are becoming an increasing factor in developing countries as well. They account for 53% of all deaths and disabilities in the developing world; that’s a majority, and a pretty strong indication that lifestyle diseases are an issue of truly global proportions. It also indicates that economic factors are one of the most important reasons behind the growth in lifestyle diseases, with around 80% of non-communicable diseases occurring in low and middle-income countries.
To be clear, we’re not saying that poverty is a direct cause of lifestyle diseases, but that environments associated with urban poverty are more likely to foster the conditions that lead to lifestyle diseases. Many deprived areas are situated within so-called “food deserts,” while numerous studies have backed up the oft-quoted claim that healthy food costs more than unhealthy food. Put simply, it’s harder to eat healthy when you’re on a budget.

How can I prevent lifestyle diseases?

The only real way to prevent lifestyle diseases is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. That means a balanced, nutritious diet, regular physical activity, no smoking, and a healthy amount of sleep—around 7–9 hours per night. In fact, a report from the Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that maintaining a healthy lifestyle could lead to an 80% reduction when it comes to your risk of developing chronic diseases. That’s a pretty great result for something that is relatively easy to achieve.

Bottom line: you probably don’t need to worry too much about lifestyle diseases if you’re leading a healthy life, and the best news is that there are plenty of simple changes that you can make to your daily habits to rapidly boost your body’s defenses against lifestyle diseases.