Health: Identifying, Preventing & Managing Lifestyle Diseases


For even the mild current events follower, the fact that heart disease is the No. 1 killer among North Americans seems to have become a broken record. We hear it over and over from health professionals and organizations like the American Heart Association. Heart disease is just one of several “lifestyle diseases” – conditions that are mainly caused, and in turn can be reduced or stopped, by everyday choices we make regarding things like nutrition and exercise.

So, what can we do to change the morbid statistics surrounding these chronic conditions? First, it’s important to identify what constitutes a lifestyle disease and which conditions fall under this category.


Poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, overuse of alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity and inadequate relief of chronic stress contribute to the development of chronic diseases, according to a Cleveland Clinic article. These diseases include obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Jean McSweeney, an RN and associate dean for research at the College of Nursing at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, notes that the onset of one disease, such as obesity or diabetes, can contribute to another like a stroke or heart attack.

The Cleveland Clinic article also points out that even though doctors encourage ways that promote good health, patients are inadequately prepared to start or maintain the healthy changes. That’s where organizations like the American Heart Association come into play.


McSweeney also serves as incoming president of the American Heart Association’s central Arkansas board of directors. The organization’s Life’s Simple 7 program, which can be found online at, highlights seven areas in which people can focus on to help prevent and manage chronic diseases.


  1. Manage blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Within healthy ranges, strain on the heart, arteries and kidneys is reduced.
  2.  Control cholesterol, which contributes to plaque that can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke.
  3. Reduce blood sugar. Most of the food we eat turns into glucose, or blood sugar, that bodies use for energy. High levels, over time, can damage the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
  4. Get active, which can be rewarding and increase your length and quality of life.
  5. Eat better, which is one of the best weapons against cardiovascular disease. When you eat a healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy.
  6. Lose weight to shed unnecessary fat and pounds and reduce the burden on the heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton.
  7. Stop smoking. Smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health.

These steps are good to follow to prevent and manage any type of disease, McSweeney notes.


Baptist Health recognizes that prevention of lifestyle diseases begins with education and health literacy. CEO Troy Wells points to a finding from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that almost 16 percent of Arkansas adolescents are overweight and almost 18 percent are obese.

“We’ve got to start teaching our kids healthy eating and exercise habits as young as possible so that the next generation will have longer and fuller lives without chronic illnesses related to being overweight,” he says.



  1. Advanced treatment and clinical resources
  2. Diabetes self-management program
  3. Cardiac rehabilitation
  4. Weight loss and weight management programs
  5. More than 20 community wellness centers statewide
  6. Baptist Health Healthy and Active Youth Program 11-17-year-olds

Baptist Health understands how health impacts more than just our physical being, Wells says. “Like many employers we provide biometric and health screenings each year for our team. The well-being programs we provide are designed to respond to the needs identified through those screenings.”

Wells says that all of these efforts have been captured with the theme “BHealthy.” “Included within the BHealthy initiative is a focus on better food choices available to our patients, guests and employees.”


To further emphasize its commitment to healthy eating and prevention of lifestyle diseases, Baptist Health hosts farmers markets. Located at its main campus in Little Rock, the farmers market runs from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays. New this year is a famers market at the Baptist Health Medical Center Conway from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays.

With about 20 Arkansas farmers, vendors and food trucks, the farmers markets are getting bigger and better, Wells says. In addition to produce for sale, the newly operating Baptist Health mobile kitchen is on hand for cooking demonstrations.

The mobile kitchen also is used for the Farmbox2Family Charity Food Box Program, Wells says. The program provides:

  • Fresh produce to low-income individuals and communities
  • Nutritional education
  • Healthy recipes
  • Cooking demonstrations

Last year, Wells says, 1,300 boxes of free food were given to families in high-needs/low-income neighborhoods in Little Rock as well as residents in Altheimer. This year, North Little Rock, Hensley and Conway will be added to the list.


To achieve success in healthy living and prevent and manage lifestyle diseases, McSweeney advises not to adopt too many steps at once. “We’ve found that if people pick one thing most important to them, they have a better chance at improving their health overall,” she says.

By just getting one healthy measure integrated into your routine, big changes can happen, McSweeney says. “Whether you need to lower your blood pressure, stop smoking or get more exercise. Pick one and then when that becomes habit you can add more.”

If you can’t do anything else, McSweeney says to move. “Tell yourself, I’m choosing to move for my heart. And it can be as simple as instead of driving around Wal-Mart looking for a close parking space to the door, park far away and walk.”

She also encourages people to read nutrition labels. It’s important to know the main ingredients in what you’re eating. For example, a food that touts low-fat could contain an unnecessarily high amount of sugar, she points out. Knowing exactly what you’re consuming is key to maintaining  a healthy weight and diet.

Making good nutrition choices can be fun, McSweeney says. “Visiting local farmers markets and gardening your own vegetables, for example, are fun activities that involve everyone in the family and encourage healthy eating choices that last a lifetime.”

tagged in Health, UAMS

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