As we talk more and more about cancer, cancer treatment, obesity and weight loss surgery, many people think these are inevitable parts of failing health and aging. Far too many people believe that developing chronic diseases is simply a part of aging and that only those who are “lucky’ enough to possess good genes that allow them to age in good health will avoid this fate.
Luckily for everyone, this is a misconception and good genes only account for about one-third of the cases of exceptional longevity, while two-thirds of those individuals who live to an advanced age in good health do so primarily because of healthy life choices.
Incidence of CV Disease
The impact lifestyle choices have on our health can illustrated through examining the incidence of various chronic diseases in populations around the world. For example, the incidence of cardiovascular diseases is very high among Western countries, representing the main cause of death. In comparison in certain countries in the regions of the Mediterranean Basin and in Japan, the incidence of cardiovascular disease can be as much as ten times lower. While some may say this dramatic difference is a result of genetic factors, there is evidence to suggest otherwise. When inhabitants of these areas with low incidence of cardiovascular disease immigrate to areas of high incidence (such as North America) they will acquire the same mortality rates as the local inhabitants. Further examination of the incidence of disease among the Japanese population living in Japan vs. in the USA continues to illustrate how lifestyle choices impact our health. For Japanese living in Hiroshima, a city in Southern Japan, heart attacks are a rare occurrence. Whereas when Japanese move to the more Western-oriented Hawaii, the incidence of doubles and when they move to US mainland the incidence quadruples.
Lifestyle Choices Impact Cancer Risk
Similar trends are observed when examining cancer rates across different world populations. Japanese women, even at advanced ages (75 years +) are five times less likely to succumb to breast cancer than their Western peers. Among Western men, the incidence of death from prostate cancer increases dramatically after the age of 65, whereas in Japan, there are three times fewer deaths among this same group. Given these trends, one may assume there is a genetic factor at play protecting the Japanese populations from these diseases but studies show when Japanese immigrate to the United States, their incidence rates for breast cancer and prostate cancer become the same as their American neighbours.
The way the incidence of chronic disease changes when individuals relocate into new cultures, specifically from that of a an Eastern lifestyle to a Western lifestyle, shows that lifestyle truly does influence the risk of chronic disease associated with aging such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. These findings show that these chronic diseases are not an inevitable part of aging but rather a consequence of poor lifestyle choices that promote the onset of and the advancement of such diseases. It is in our hands to make healthy lifestyle choices to reduce our risk – today!
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