Health-care costs are projected to double in seven years, making it more costly than ever to treat chronic illnesses and diseases. Even at current costs, a majority of personal bankruptcies are due to out-of-control medical expenses.
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“We spend all our resources to manage diseases, but our health-care system doesn’t offer prevention,” says Steven Masley, president and medical director of the Masley Optimal Health Center. “Prevention would be an enormous financial benefit to add.”
Wellness plays a major role in the Affordable Care Act, which mandates coverage for preventative care in the form of cancer screenings, mammograms, and other tests, but experts say more needs to be done.
“There will always be some people who do all the right things and still have poor health outcomes, and others who have poor health habits and don't have bad consequences,” says Cindy Leiffer, a locum tenens nurse practitioner with Weatherby Healthcare. “For most people, however, health costs will be higher in the future if they delay or avoid basic preventive actions, such as keeping a healthy diet, getting adequate exercise, following appropriate health screening guidelines and managing acute and chronic illnesses early and consistently.”
Diabetes and hypertension are prime examples: According to Leiffer, millions of Americans have early stages of the diseases but don’t know it because they are symptomless. If caught early through preventive screenings, the two diseases can often be managed or mitigated through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. Even if medical treatment is necessary, the earlier the regime is started, the less expensive long-term treatment will be, says Leiffer.
Masley says our eating habits as young adults play a larger role in our future medical bills. “What makes a big difference in clinical outcomes for preventing heart disease and cancer is fiber,” says Masley. He says people should swap out high fat, high sugar and processed foods for those that are rich in fiber, like lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.
He says deficiencies in vitamin D and magnesium are plaguing the country and are leading causes for illnesses like migraine headaches, muscle cramps, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Short of sitting out in the sun, people can get their vitamin D through a supplement. Magnesium that is found in seeds, nuts, beans and leafy vegetables.
Hand in hand with eating healthy is exercising. More than one-third of U.S. adults (34.9%) are obese, according to the government, and the excess weight is causing serious medical conditions and is taxing the entire health-care system.
If you lose weight, it prevents heart diseases, reverses diabetes, decreases cancer risks and increases bone density,” says Masley. “Getting fit is critical.”
Going from a sedentary life to hitting the gym five days a week isn’t realistic for most people, which is why experts advise making smaller life changes over time toward increased exercise and better eating.
“Don't get too hung up on the numbers on the scale,” says Leiffer. “Find a way to exercise and move that is enjoyable for you.”
The hours logged in bed are just as important as those in the gym, says JJ Virgin author of The Virgin Diet Cookbook. She recommends getting seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, cutting out as much sugar as possible from a diet and controlling stress levels through deep breathing, motivation, yoga or other calming exercises.
“You can do everything correctly and yet still succumb to cancer, heart disease, or other health complications,” says Virgin. “But when you take control of your health and make the right choices, you greatly reduce these complications and also enhance your quality of life.”