If there were easy steps you could take today to prevent diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, would you take them?

While these chronic diseases are responsible for seven out of ten deaths in the United States — and account for 86 percent of U.S. national healthcare expenses according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — there’s a lot we can do to fend off these unwanted illnesses.

The first line of defense is to exercise regularly. Just half an hour of exercise per week can make a considerable difference. “There’s at least a 15 to 25 percent reduction of a person’s risk of these preventable diseases,” said Charlie Foster, an associate professor at the University of Oxford who is the director of a research group that focuses on disease prevention.

“Beyond exercise, there are important preventative tests you should take on a regular basis starting at age 20 or even before,” explains Dr. Samer Ellahham, a chief quality officer and cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi.

These preventative checks alert your physician to any early warning signs, and better inform you about your state of health.

Blood Pressure

“Measuring blood pressure is easy, simple and painless, and should be done at least every two years,” says Ellahham. If blood pressure levels are higher than average, he recommends more frequent testing. It’s essential to keep tabs on blood pressure, because abnormal levels can increase the risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease or having a stroke.

Body Mass Index

Critics of the BMI test are numerous and many have wondered if it needs reforming. But your weight is important to keep track of, explains Foster, because it impacts your overall health and risk of many preventable diseases. Because of this, you should calculate your BMI every couple of years or so. Your physician can help you determine your index.

Blood Sugar

This test measures the amount of glucose in a sample of your blood. It’s a way to screen for diabetes and your risk of developing the disorder. “Unless there’s a family history of diabetes, this should be checked every three years by age 45,” explains Ellahham.


Testing your cholesterol levels should begin by age 20 to be on the safe side, but certainly by age 35. There are two types of cholesterol — LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein) — both of which need to be monitored. A high concentration of LDL cholesterol in the blood is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.

“The aim [of these tests] is to inform you about things you can change like diet and lifestyle,” Ellahham adds. “You can’t control other risk factors like ethnicity, age and family history, but these tests give you information about things we can do something about.”

Learn more about chronic disease prevention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov.