Chronic illnesses can be fought


By Karen Kansler, R.N.

Special to the Review

We’ve heard it all before a million times: exercise and eat right to help live a healthy lifestyle. This important advice may be natural and easy for many people, but for those living with a chronic illness, it requires extra effort and a lot of support.

Nearly one out of every two adults lives with some type of chronic illness that impacts daily living. Chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and arthritis, are the most common and may be treated – and even prevented.

Managing a chronic disease starts by getting a good diagnosis, having a supportive health care team, strong faith and the power of you.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are four health risk behaviors that contribute to poor health. These include lack of physical activity; poor nutrition; tobacco and excessive alcohol use. How much – or how little – you do of these things can affect your quality of life and can even cause early death.

Walking the walk

For people living with a chronic disease, exercise can decrease discomfort, improve daily activities and enhance your quality of life. Continuous motion is essential for good joint health and to promote good strength and flexibility. Pursuing the wrong type or too much of a physical activity, however, can cause pain and even injury.

It’s important to find support at your local community hospital, senior center or fitness center to seek experts who understand your goals and limitations. These experts can help create exercise routines that are safe and can meet your needs. Most importantly, you should speak with your physician before starting any exercise routine, especially if you have health problems.

One valuable local resource to help people understand chronic illness is the Baltimore County Health Department’s workshop, “Living Well … Take Charge of Your Health.” Baltimore resident Doris Bailey, who describes herself as “73 years young,” attended one of these workshops because she is living with diabetes. She says the workshop taught her some valuable lessons.

“I learned so much about communicating with family and friends and how to stay informed about my diabetes,” Bailey said. “I also learned the importance of staying active. I love to walk, and as a result of the class, I do it pretty faithfully. I want to live longer and stronger.”

Eat for relief

Good nutrition plays an important role in chronic disease management, too. Research has shown that eating more fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers. There are foods, such as salmon, soybeans, and oatmeal that can help reduce inflammation, too.

Unhealthful food choices, especially cookies, candy and snacks with trans fats, can trigger inflammation and aggravate chronic conditions. A registered dietitian can evaluate what you eat and suggest more healthful food choices. He or she can also review nutritional supplements, if needed.

Sip smartly and butt out

While excessive drinking has a negative impact on health, research has shown that drinking a glass of wine or beer regularly as part of a healthy lifestyle may be helpful for postmenopausal women and bone health. As always, speak with your physician for specific recommendations.

Health experts, including the U.S. Surgeon General , continue to recommend quitting the use of tobacco. Smoking is the single most avoidable cause of chronic disease, disability and death. Yet, one in five American adults still smoke. There are local smoking cessation support groups – many of which are free – to help you quit and breathe freely.

Look for answers, find support

Learning about your chronic illness is an important first step to a healthier life. Finding the right resources can empower you to get physically active, eating right and changing your view from having a chronic illness to living your life with an illness that you’re working to control.

You are in charge. Take the reins and get moving.

Karen Kansler, R.N., is an arthritis navigator and community outreach nurse at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. She lives with arthritis and has undergone hip replacement surgery. For more information, email pr visit

Copyright (c) Sept. 27, 2012 

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.