Health care is in the news again, this time because the Affordable Care Act seems likely to be repealed. Health care has long been an important and contentious topic in both political and social circles. Given the importance that accessing quality health care has for everyone, it is unfortunate that promoting good health has turned into a political debate.
While the Affordable Care Act wasn’t perfect, it did expand access to health care, especially for people with pre-existing conditions. Ideally, a replacement health care plan will also make it easier for people to get preventive care. This is important since preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are among the leading causes of disability and death. They also contribute to high health care costs, including prescription medications.
It turns out that adopting some simple lifestyle modifications can go a long way toward making you and your family healthier, and may save money in the long run. Since most health care plans really focus on “sick care,” it is largely up to us to improve and maintain our health. In my Health & Fitness column this week in the Aiken Standard I describe a do-it-yourself health care plan you can implement today.
Significant health benefits, including weight loss and improved fitness, can be achieved with as little as 30 minutes of activity per day, but more is better. The activity doesn’t have to be “exercise.” It can include walking the dog, yard work, or house work. Research shows that sitting too much is just as unhealthy as not exercising. Spending less time sitting at work, home, or in the car is another easy way to improve health. And getting up and moving for even a few minutes is better than staying seated for long periods of time. Every little bit of activity really does count.
Making dietary changes can be difficult, but a few simple changes can lead to big benefits. While there is much debate about which diet is the healthiest, almost everyone agrees that eating more real food, especially fruits and vegetables, and less added sugar is a good place to start. Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and most are low in calories. Eating less added sugar in sweets and processed foods can help you cut down on calories and lead you toward healthier food choices. Controlling portion sizes plays as big of a role in weight maintenance as the types of food you eat, so pay attention to how much you eat. Chances are, it is more than you think!
Reducing and managing stress is essential for good health. Uncontrolled stress can lead to high blood pressure, poor immune function, and weight gain. Daily exercise will help, as will using stress management techniques like progressive relaxation. When you can, avoiding stressful situations is wise. Taking time to do something you enjoy each day is a good idea, too. Getting enough sleep (most adults require 7–9 hours) is also important for good physical and mental health.
Smoking cigarettes more than doubles your risk of heart disease and stroke, and is by far the leading cause of lung cancer and other lung diseases. If you smoke, quitting now is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Nicotine replacement therapy and prescription medications can help, but quitting really does require serious dedication. It’s well worth the effort and the benefits of quitting can be realized almost immediately.
While these steps don’t replace traditional medical care, they can prevent, or at least delay, many common health conditions. Best of all, this DIY plan works with any health insurance, is basically free to implement, and can lead to both health and financial savings now and in the future.
Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. But it doesn't have to be that way. What can I help you with? firstname.lastname@example.org | @drparrsays