It is easy to assume that North America has amongst the best medical system in the world because we are amongst the highest spenders per capita in terms of healthcare dollars per person. Does this money translate into better quality of life and longer life expectancy (length of time we live) than areas that spend significantly less? Unfortunately this does not prove to be the case. North America regularly comes in 2nd from the bottom when it comes to chronic illness management and life expectancy.

Modern Western medicine does perform miracles. We are exceptionally good at acute-care. Events or illnesses that would easily have killed you a few hundred years ago are simple day procedures now or easily contained with quick procedures, like gallbladder surgery, appendix surgery, dilating a blood clot or even preventing progression of a heart attack or stroke. These are literally modern-day miracles. You are able to walk out of the hospital without any symptoms in a matter of hours or, at worst, a few days.

If we are so good at dealing with all these issues why are we failing so dismally at prolonging quality of life or life expectancy on a worldwide scale?

The devil is in the details my friends. Where Western medicine falls short is its inability to effectively prevent and manage chronic illness and non-communicable diseases.

image_modern_medicineIn a very interesting article in the Journal aging in 1999 the authors looked at 3100 Danish twins aged 75 and older and they determined that 25% of their illnesses and hospitalizations throughout their lives were due to genetics. This translates to a mere 25% of our lifespan that can be directly related to genetics. This means that 75% of your life expectancy and disease affliction is actually due to environment.

I classify the term environment into both internal and external environment. Could it be that our medical system which is mostly based on acute-care principles is unable to influence our environment? Could this be the reason our current system fails to make a huge impact on chronic illness?

I believe in order to change our path towards chronic illness we need to change our environment.

I am sure you are asking yourself: “What needs to change in my environment?” “Where do I start?” “Am I really able to change the path that I’m on?”

We all ask ourselves these very questions, probably quite often. The answers do not necessarily lie out in the open, in a magazine or on TV, yet people do change paths every day and in turn change their lives. They stop smoking, start eating better and start exercising. They start asking questions, stop blindly following the latest ‘fad’ or ‘trend’, the take responsibility for their health and life rather than giving up responsibility to someone else.

Change is possible, and vital, if we are to halt the spread of chronic illness, improve our quality of life, and care, and overall extend our longevity. Even small incremental steps in the right direction can have a huge impact in the long term.

Where have you started to make these changes happen? What results have you realized from your behavior and/or lifestyle changes?