Personally, I love a smart, juicy debate. But over the last few weeks, I’ve grown weary and frustrated listening to our political leaders argue about the escalating cost of health care in this country. Runaway health care costs are crippling the economy and Medicare as we know it must end, say the Republicans. Escalating health care costs must be controlled and Medicare fine-tuned for greater efficiency, say the Democrats. Both major parties and the Tempest-in-the-Teapot party, as well, focus all their energy and verbiage on costs, costs, costs.
What we DON’T hear about is demand, and that, dear readers of this healthy lifestyle column, is what is really sinking America. Yes, the cost of medical care is a problem to be solved, but it’s only a part of the picture. Just as troubling, the hot button that no politician is willing to press is our skyrocketing demand for health care. (And that’s without talking about the coming impact of millions of retiring baby boomers! See The Coming Demographic Revolution).
Too many American’s are not well. Two-thirds of U.S. adults are obese. Only 20 percent of us exercise three or more times a week. Toxic chemicals – in our food, our water supply, our dry cleaning – compromise our immune systems. Our kids are overweight, diabetic and showing early signs of heart disease. We’re No. 7 in the world for cancers. Unrelieved stress is crushing our spirits, not to mention our lungs, bladders and prostates.
And by the way, our for-profit, super-expensive system – no country spends more on health care than we do – is not delivering the best medical care. Far from it. Any politician who claims we’re No. 1 is lying through his implants. The World Health Organization rates U.S. health care as 37th; another major study of 13 industrialized nations puts us at a sorry 12th. Another Tylenol moment: Life expectancy here is actually slipping!
And here’s the biggest and least discussed problem of all: More than 75 percent of the $2.5 trillion the U.S. spends annually on health care goes toward treating chronic conditions such as diabetes, bad cholesterol and high blood pressure. These are lifestyle diseases, and for the most part they are due to poor diet, too much stress and too little physical activity.
So what would a wellness-oriented U.S. system look like? It would make a very serious effort to motivate and educate citizens to lead healthier, happier, more active lifestyles: incentives for maintaining a healthy weight; vouchers to promote smart eating; tax deductions for health-club memberships, lifestyle coaches and yoga classes; mandatory health education so people understand why they are sick and what makes them well. Right now, you have to know the rules of safe driving to operate a car in this county. Why not require citizens to know the rules of healthy living so that, over time, we don’t need so many doctors, so many drugs, so many sick days?
I know I’m dreaming. I know the debate about health care will continue to focus on runaway costs rather than reducing demand. So it’s really up to you, dear reader. Of course, some diseases can’t be avoided, and accidents happen, too. But deciding to be responsible for your own wellness is a giant step toward reducing medical costs, for you and the country. Here are 10 ways you can make it happen:
1. Exercise. Do something physical and fun 30 to 60 minutes a day. The results will astound you.
2. Eat real food, not too much. Avoid processed foods, sugar, colas. Learn to cook.
3. Get enough sleep. This is crucial! Your body needs rest to heal itself.
4. Stress happens. Manage it wisely by learning to meditate, by doing yoga, by practicing mindfulness.
5. Ignore the drug ads on TV. They just create demand for drugs you may or may not need. And the hundreds of possibly fatal side effects often require even more drug-taking.
6. Maintain a healthy weight.
7. Stop smoking.
8. Work with a health care team that combines best practices of Eastern and Western medicine and supports your efforts to stay well and prevent disease.
9. Know what it takes to build and maintain a strong immune system.
10. Cultivate compassion. Be kind. Help other people.
If you have suggestions or comments on this topic, or would otherwise like to join in the conversation, we would love to hear from you. Just post your comment in the Comments section below.
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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