Change your habits to avoid the most common chronic illnesses as well as many ailments  specific to hairdressers.

Controversy continues over how to allot healthcare dollars but one thing we know: the U.S. spends up to 80% of those dollars on patients with chronic illnesses, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which seven years ago called for a comprehensive program of policy change and education to promote well-being proactively—through prevention. Compounding the physical problems, “chronic diseases can exacerbate symptoms of depression, and depressive disorders can themselves lead to chronic diseases,” CDC states.

Conditions that fall into the chronic illness bucket are heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, respiratory diseases and oral maladies such as tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancers.

Individually, we each know the preventive measures we should be taking—improve our diet, exercise more, stop smoking, limit alcohol to moderate levels, get adequate sleep, reduce stress to lower blood pressure and stay current with medical visits and tests. Beauty pros must take additional measures to prevent joint problems, bad backs, sore feet, skin irritations and respiration difficulties.

Diabetes was the chronic illness that came into the family of Aura Mae, owner of Azarra Salon & Wine in Tacoma, Washington. When her husband was diagnosed with the disease, Mae took a critical look at the contents of their cupboards and refrigerator.

“I’d long gotten over the shame and anguish of not being thin,” says Mae, who’s also author of Get Some Hairapy! “I was making the healthiest choices I knew how, and I decided I would love myself at whatever size. But when my husband was diagnosed and I began focusing on his weight, I lost weight, too. Four years later, I continue to lose weight. After paying a lot of companies to help me lose weight with no lasting success, I discovered all I had to do was cook my own food! And when the weight started coming off, I had more moti-=vation to exercise because there was less bulk to move.”

Mae shares the five avenues to what she calls “finding my most beautiful life” that have helped her to lose about 60 pounds and have enabled her husband to control his diabetes mostly through diet and exercise:

  • Cook your own meals. “I cook only on the days that I don’t work,” says Mae, “and then I prepare enough to bring leftovers on the days that I do work. So I’m not only getting healthier, but I’m also saving money.”
  •  Eat more vegetables. “I never tell people to eat less,” Mae says. “I tell them, ‘Fill your stomach with vegetables first.’ Then you won’t eat as much.”
  •  Avoid refined carbohydrates. “When you double up on your vegetables, you’ll find that you can feel satisfied without pasta and bread, which pack on the calories quickly and crowd out better choices,” Mae says.
  •  Don’t be afraid of fat. Now that recent research disputes the value of the 1980s-style low-fat diet, naturally fatty foods like avocados and cashews are back on the menu. “My favorite snack while a client’s hair is processing is a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts,” Mae says.
  •  Go outside. Mae cites research indicating that outside exercise is superior to inside exercise. “Scientists theorize that it has to do with visual stimuli providing calming benefits for wellbeing,” she says. “If you just don’t like to bike, swim, run or even do yoga, try combining your exercise practice with your spiritual practice. I do a walking meditation.”

As the manufacturer of Stand and Deliver compression hosiery for hair pros, 12 Benefits CEO Troy Maier believes in prevention. “Because you’re on your feet for long stretches of time, you might be developing bad habits that lead to poor posture and body alignment,” says Maier, whose company has been a consistent supporter of Healthy Hairdresser and is sponsoring this month’s Healthy Hairdresser Challenge. “Make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep, and don’t skip meals. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to keep your energy level high.”

Prevention has always been a focus for Toronto chiropractor and wellness strategist Dr. Jonas Eyford. He didn’t set out to specialize in hairdressers’ medical issues, but when he launched his practice five years ago down the street from a salon, he and the hair professionals found one another. Word spread, and at one point, hairdressers accounted for half his practice.

After observing the stylists at work in the salon, Eyford designed a research study of nearly 300 hairdressers and published his findings in a new book, The Healthy Hairstylist, which also covers skin and respiratory issues, recognizing symptoms and exercising to avoid problems. The study revealed:

  • Shoulder/neck/low back pain is the most common complaint among stylists.
  • Foot, wrist and headaches also present significant difficulties. Although knee problems occur no more often among hairdressers than in the general population, plantar fasciitis is a common, but stubborn, ailment that can be debilitating for stylists. Dermatitis and other allergies, as well as sinus sensitivities, can develop or worsen because of salon work.
  • Dermatitis and other allergies, as well as sinus sensitivities, can develop or worsen because of salon work.

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