A chronic condition is a health problem that requires ongoing management over a long period of time and cannot be cured by medication or other therapies e.g., diabetes, chronic pain, asthma and post-COVID-19 syndrome (long COVID).
Often we think of physical and mental health as two separate things, however, there is a huge overlap between our physical and mental health and approximately 30% of those living with a chronic condition also experience mental health difficulties. It’s completely normal for the demands of living with a chronic condition to impact mood e.g. feeling low, stressed or worried. Those living with a physical health problem are twice as likely to experience mental health difficulties which in turn can impact their ability to manage their physical health condition, and those living with mental health difficulties often struggle with their physical health.
Call on your support network. You may have some days that are harder than others and need some help with daily tasks, or perhaps just a chat. It can help to let those around you know how they can support you, and signs that you may be struggling.
Be mindful of your own limits. Often when living with a chronic condition there will be good and bad days. It can be tempting to try and do as much as possible when feeling well, however, this can lead to overexertion which ultimately requires a longer period of rest (see boom and bust cycle).
Reduce and manage stress. Experiencing stress over a prolonged period has a negative impact on our physical and mental health. It’s important to recognise signs of chronic stress and identify ways to reduce and manage stress e.g., relaxation, prioritising sleep, and spending some time exercising each day.
Many people have successfully completed our Weight Management programmes whilst living with chronic health conditions. Below we discuss some of these conditions, as well as the benefits of making healthy lifestyle changes with the support of our programme.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is a hormone disorder that affects up to 10% of women. It is associated with irregular periods, fertility issues, weight gain and increased risk of diabetes. Losing weight can be more challenging if you have PCOS. However, PCOS symptoms can be substantially improved by losing just 5% of your body weight, and the risk of long-term issues such as diabetes reduced through healthy lifestyle changes to your diet and activity levels.
Fibromyalgia – Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body, as well as other symptoms such as fatigue, muscle stiffness, and insomnia. This can make it difficult to be physically active, but regular exercise and relaxation techniques can help to reduce your pain and improve your quality of life. It’s important to choose exercises that are safe, enjoyable and appropriate for your abilities, so be sure to work with your GP for advice on this. Our programmes can also support you with self-care, establishing healthy habits and setting tailored goals.
Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones that help control our metabolism. This can lead to weight gain and difficulty losing weight, sleep disturbance, low mood, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In some cases, medication may be prescribed, and it is important to take this as instructed. Our programmes can also help you to set appropriate goals for positive health behaviours such as enjoying a balanced diet, exercise, improving your sleep and stress management – all of which can help to manage your symptoms.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – NAFLD is the build-up of fat in the liver, usually seen in people living with overweight and obesity. In the early stages, there are not usually symptoms associated with NAFLD. If unmanaged it can progress to more serious liver damage such as cirrhosis. It also increases your risk of developing hypertension and diabetes. Sustainable lifestyle changes are key to managing NAFLD, such as stopping smoking and improving your diet and activity levels. Losing 10% or more of your weight can help to remove fat from your liver, and our programmes can help you to establish new healthy habits to reach your weight loss goals.
Chronic vertigo – Vertigo can be defined as a false sensation that the body or environment is moving. Chronic vertigo can therefore be defined as a continuous sensation or recurrent attacks of vertigo, which typically persist for more than one month. Depending on what causes it, the treatment for chronic vertigo will be different. However, gentle exercises such as vestibular rehabilitation or the Epley manoeuvre can help relieve symptoms. Additionally, focusing on making manageable lifestyle changes, such as meal prepping when feeling well, can help you improve your lifestyle and adhere to our programme when experiencing vertigo.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – IBS is a common condition that affects the digestive system, and it can cause symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. There is currently no known treatment for IBS. However, diet and lifestyle changes can often help control the symptoms. Finding ways to relax and doing exercise you enjoy have been found helpful in managing IBS. Additionally, following a balanced diet and practising mindful eating, as recommended in our programme, can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with disorganised eating patterns, unbalanced meals and elevated intake of caffeine, alcohol or fizzy drinks.
Hypertension and Hypercholesterolaemia – or high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol respectively, usually do not cause any symptoms. However, if unmanaged, both can lead to heart disease, strokes and problems with your blood vessels. Eating processed foods high in salt or fat (particularly saturated and trans fats), inactivity, being overweight, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and certain genetic factors are all risk factors. Alongside medication, healthy lifestyle changes to your diet, activity levels and stress management, as guided by our programmes, can help to significantly lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Diabetes (type 1 and type 2) – Diabetes is caused by problems with the hormone insulin, which leads to our blood sugar levels rising too high. Type 1 is caused by the immune system destroying the cells that produce our insulin. Type 2 occurs when we are unable to produce sufficient insulin, or our body isn’t able to respond to it appropriately. Whether you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, enjoying a healthy diet, keeping physically active and losing at weight if you are overweight, can all help to reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes (such as heart disease). In people living with type 2 diabetes, healthy lifestyle changes can also improve your blood sugar control and the need for medications. People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can complete our weight management programmes. However, you will need to apply our programme guidelines to your own circumstances. For example, if you take insulin, you will need to adjust your insulin dose accordingly when reducing your carbohydrate intake. Remember to make changes to your lifestyle with support from your Diabetes Primary Care Team.
Whether you live with one or more of the above or a different condition, making consistent positive changes to your lifestyle can have a beneficial impact on your long-term physical and mental health. Remember to continue following the advice of your GP or specialist healthcare professional during your weight management programme to ensure you continue to manage your condition appropriately.