Battling Chronic Disease With Diet and Exercise

Premier Pulse     May 2018

By Patrick Larreategui, DO, FACOS, medical staff president, Upper Valley Medical Center

How do we lower the cost of health care? Everyone has a theory, yet the root cause is seldom addressed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Chronic diseases and conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems.” Chronic disease costs the health care system more than $1 billion per day. Most of these conditions are caused by poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, smoking, and alcohol.

Poor nutrition in the form of processed foods and sugary beverages is a significant problem in Western cultures. Soft drink companies have million-dollar advertising campaigns designed to fool us into thinking these products are something other than carbonated water with added sugar. Over the past three decades, Americans have increased their sugar consumption by more than 30 percent. Type 2 diabetes was rare before 1900, but now affects more than 14 percent of Americans. Another 38 percent of the population has prediabetes.

The sugar addiction starts very early in life. Common foods such as cereal and yogurt contain large amounts of added sugar. Soft drinks and sports drinks are also often loaded with sugar. The impact of sugar on our physiology is extremely dangerous. Prolonged hyperinsulinemia eventually leads to insulin resistance, resulting in diabetes. Diabetes and obesity significantly increase the risk of metabolic disease, leading to early death. Much like a heritable gene, this pattern of consumption is passed from parents to children. The only way to break this cycle is through education.

As physicians, we are good at treating the symptoms of chronic disease, but not so good at treating the cause. Diabetics are treated with medications to control their blood sugar. They eventually require increasing doses of medications, but the root problem of too much sugar in the body is not addressed. If your cholesterol is high, we have a pill for that, too. Unfortunately, you can’t cure dietary diseases with medications. There is a better way to treat these chronic diseases, rather than just targeting symptoms. Removing the underlying cause or causes of a disease constitutes a cure. Diet and exercise are the key.

Crossfit Health is an initiative that seeks to provide an elegant solution in the battle against chronic disease. If you are unfamiliar with Crossfit, it is a regimen that defines fitness in a meaningful and measurable way as “increased work capacity across broad times and modal domains.” Crossfit emphasizes constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. It is driven by data and metrics from each workout. The community that arises when people participate in these workouts together is integral to the program’s success. It is not easy, but the results are undeniable. Crossfit Health aims to create a network of physicians seeking to provide education about diet, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle. This is an exciting new program that is focused on uniting physicians in the battle against chronic disease.

Our mission at Premier Health is to improve the health of the communities we serve. As health care leaders, we must set an example for others to follow. At Upper Valley Medical Center, we have exchanged the junk food in the physician lounges for healthful options. The sugary soft drinks have been removed. In the coming months, we will have educational programs for the medical staff focusing on nutrition and exercise. We will begin foundational classes teaching functional movements. We hope you will join us in the battle against chronic disease. Please contact me at [email protected] or visit crossfithealth.com for more information. 

Back to the May 2018 issue of Premier Pulse