Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Elephant in the Room

This essay was written in January 2010 -

Public option, death panels, Blue Dogs, rationing, Group of Six… A recent Google search on “Health Care Reform” returned 27 million results. Like many Americans, I’ve reached my saturation point on this issue, but at the same time, I know that reform is crucial to the budgets of middle class Americans.

As the finance manager of a large community center, I spend an excessive amount of my time and energy worrying about and working around the high cost of medical plan premiums. I appreciate the efforts of our government representatives, and I truly hope that reform provides better quality and less expensive insurance for more Americans.

But throughout this whole health care debate, public officials are avoiding the elephant in the room. No one is talking about the most controllable driving force in our escalating health care costs… Health.  

Most adults understand what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle. We’ve been hearing it our entire lives: eat your vegetables, minimize alcohol use, don’t smoke, buckle-up, exercise. More recent messages include: monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol, minimize stress, lose weight, maintain a healthy Body Mass Index.  

Americans are a pretty savvy bunch. Two-thirds of us own our own homes; we hold down jobs; manage our households; get kids to school, soccer games and birthday parties on time; and despite financial pressures, we find ways to enjoy luxury items like gaming systems and HDTV. Yet most of us are unable to take care of ourselves.  

More than two-thirds of all American adults are overweight, and half of those are categorized as obese. One-fifth of adults smoke cigarettes. One sixth of us still don’t use seat belts. The list goes on.  

These behaviors have a direct impact on the cost of health care. Being more than 10 pounds over the optimum weight range increases one’s chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, musculoskeletal conditions and a several other health problems. Smoking promotes cancer, high blood pressure, weakens bones, increases the risk of diabetes and can even contribute to male impotence. Meanwhile, only one-third of adults get the minimum recommended weekly amount of exercise.  

I believe that many people don’t make an effort to improve their health because they are overwhelmed by the number of changes they feel they need to make to live a healthy lifestyle. But instead of swinging for a homerun, I believe that by making small, incremental changes, one at a time over the course of a year, each one of us can totally transform our own health.  

Fifteen months ago, I decided it was time to work on some of the issues that plagued me for years. Through diet and exercise, I was able to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol, both slightly elevated, into the healthy range. I also lost 15 pounds that brought me squarely into the center of my optimum BMI range.   

I didn’t do this all at once, and I didn’t do anything radical. To lose weight, I ate less, exercised more and went to bed a little bit hungry every night. To lower my cholesterol and blood pressure, I took the things out of my diet that everyone knows are unhealthy – chips, fast food, egg yolks, excessive coffee, and pretty much all of the excess salt. Also, by working with a holistic health practitioner, I added some foods that promote health – more filtered water, herbal teas, a high fiber diet, certain supplements and enough almonds and walnuts to keep a family of squirrels smiling for years.  

Through this process, I found that most of these changes are just habits. After a few weeks, it became reflex to reach for nuts instead of pretzels, for celery instead of chips. I found that I really could live with just one cup of coffee each day.  

So go ahead and stress about the cost of health insurance, but at the same time, do something to reduce it. Quit smoking, wear your seatbelt, alter your diet, or start exercising. It may be the most patriotic thing you can do for your country.


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