The United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world, and yet it ranks 12th in life expectancy among the 12 wealthiest industrialized countries. The country spent $3.4 trillion on health care in 2016, and that number is projected to grow to $5.5 trillion by 2025, driven by inflation in the cost of medical services and products and an aging population. So if outrageous health care spending is not translating to enormously better health outcomes, what can we do as individuals to protect ourselves?
Investing in preventive health solutions like gym memberships, organic food, biometric and genetic testing, and alternative therapies can feel inaccessible because of the out-of-pocket costs. The truth is, many of us didn’t grow up in families that budgeted for self-care and healthy living. Only in recent years has the conversation of wellness and disease prevention hit the masses, and quite frankly, it’s about time.
"Invest now, save later" is my personal mantra when it comes to health and happiness. And by save, I’m not only referring to saving on costs of health care; I’m also referring to the decrease in the likelihood of burdening family and friends. When we get sick, so do our loved ones. Their symptoms might feel invisible or go medically undetected because of the adrenaline they’re releasing to stay strong and fight the fight alongside us. It’s tragic news when you hear of a family member falling ill while taking care of their loved one. As you can see, the future savings are great and the cost of investment is dwarfed by the potential return.
Of course you might be reading this and thinking to yourself, I understand, but I just can’t afford to be healthy right now. To that I say it's still possible to optimize your health today and not break the bank. Here are some options to consider if you want to invest in your health today:
1. Eat from the source.
Michael Pollan said it best: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Eating food as close to its natural form as possible will deliver the highest amount of usable nutrition. I recommend an 80/20 approach, with 80 percent of the food being intentionally selected and wholesome and the other 20 percent saved for social environments and situations in which healthy food is not as accessible.
Here's what to do: Stick to produce listed on EWG’s Clean 15 List; this means you don’t have to worry about paying extra for organic. While this might take a little upfront research, you can create a list of healthy restaurants in your neighborhood that offer discounts on salads and bowls during a certain time slot. If you have freezer space, you can also buy in bulk, which is often cheaper. Eating at home tends to be more cost-effective than eating out, so taking a little extra time for preparation might be worthwhile for you and your body. Consider signing out some budget-healthy-food recipe books from the library. If you want to upgrade, you can get your fresh produce or freshly prepared healthy meals delivered straight to your door!
2. Get an accountability partner.
Knowing it can take up to 30 days to form one new habit, it might be wise to get an accountability partner. Having someone to remind you of your goals, listen to your frustrations, and even to get healthy right alongside you can increase your chances of maintaining new healthy habits.
Here's what to do: For a budget-friendly option, partner with a friend, spouse, neighbor, or someone you find through a weekly free meetup group. Just remember to state your commitments and rules up front to make it difficult to back out when life gets in the way. If you want to invest in an upgrade, hire a certified wellness or life coach, and structure your relationship based on your specific needs.
3. Do your own research.
Health blogging is trending, and many people get into health and wellness writing because they want to share their discoveries and personal breakthroughs with their communities. It’s easier than ever to do your own research. Just remember that every blogger is also sharing their own bias and perspective, so use what they say as inspirational tools instead of cold, hard facts.
Here's what to do: If you’re looking for scientific data, you can use Google Scholar or PubMed, and the NIH Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine and Mayo Clinic both have tons of information about supplements, wellness, and alternative medicine. You can also sign up for free online summits, Facebook Lives, and conferences to learn from leading experts.
4. Digitize your health.
It’s becoming easier to quantify your nutrition, fitness, heart rate, sleep, and overall health. And this is only the beginning. Active adoption of digital health tools like telemedicine and wearable devices reached a record high of 46 percent in the United States in 2016, up from 19 percent the year before. As health care becomes more convenient, accessible, and data-driven, it will be easier to take care of ourselves as unique individuals.
Here's what to do: Many reputable health-tracking apps are free, or close to free. Health journaling is another affordable approach that can be helpful if consistency is maintained. Go to your mobile app store and read reviews, or Google "top health apps for 2017" and find one that works for you. If your budget allows for it, it might be worthwhile to invest in more advanced apps, devices, and services that offer deeper analysis—especially if you’re at risk of developing a deficiency or disease because of your environment or genetic makeup. Biometric lab tests can provide information about vitamin deficiencies, hormone imbalances, or food intolerances. Genetic tests can tell you whether you may have a higher probability of developing a disease. These tests are available online.
I hope I’ve convinced you that the tools to better health and longevity are readily available to you today, whether you have a budget or not. All you need is a bit of self-discipline and to remember the importance of this particular return on investment.