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For Your Health

Does healthier mean wealthier?

It’s probably no surprise that studies have found a direct correlation between your health and your wealth. Healthy people can work longer, earn and save more, and are likely to spend less on healthcare costs. On the other hand, a person with a chronic health condition may miss more work, spend more on healthcare and end up retiring early due to health problems, according to a brief funded by Virginia Commonwealth University and the Urban Institute.

That correlation could be key as you plan for healthcare in retirement. A 65-year-old couple will pay at least $400,000 in retirement healthcare costs, according to the Healthview Services’ 2017 Health Care Costs Data Report. But what if you could impact that number? Are there some things you can change now to make you healthier and wealthier in the future?

The impact of chronic health conditions

One in three Americans will develop a chronic health condition. Right now, about 80 percent of older adults have one chronic disease, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Chronic diseases rack up the bills, accounting for 71 percent of the United States’ $2.7 trillion annual healthcare spending and 95 percent of the healthcare costs for older Americans.

What’s particularly striking is that healthcare costs are increasing by five percent every year, yet the NCOA reports that less than one percent of healthcare dollars are spent on preventing chronic conditions.
What can you do about this misaligned spending? You may want to save more money, of course, but you can also take steps to reduce your risk for developing a chronic health condition. In other words, consider putting your money where your health is.

Five chronic health conditions and their costs

Below is a snapshot of costs associated with the five most common chronic conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

  1. Heart disease and stroke — One-third of all deaths are due to heart disease or stroke, conditions that cost the healthcare system $190 billion a year.
  2. Cancer — Cancer is the second leading cause of death among adults, and cancer care costs are expected to reach $174 billion by 2020.
  3. Diabetes — In addition to the 29 million Americans who have diabetes, another 86 million are at very high risk for type 2 diabetes (the preventable type), which costs the healthcare system and employers a combined $245 billion yearly.
  4. Obesity — Obesity costs the U.S. healthcare system $147 billion a year and is a risk factor for every one of the top five chronic conditions.
  5. Arthritis — A leading cause of work disability and chronic pain, arthritis has a price tag of more than $300 billion when you factor in the cost to employers.

Chronic conditions can be a major threat to your health and well-being and a massive drain on the economy and your bank balance. Many chronic conditions are linked to genetics and age, factors you cannot control. However, you can control some factors contributing to chronic conditions, like what you eat, how much alcohol you drink, how active you are and how you manage stress.

Taking charge of your health

Consider committing to regular checkups with your doctor, where you can have discussions about preventive care specific to your life. Here are a few other ways to reduce your risk for developing potentially wallet-draining chronic diseases.

  • Stop smoking — One of the best things you might do to reduce your risk for nearly every chronic condition is to stop smoking. Quitting smoking can be a two-for-one deal: You improve your health across the board and save money because you’re no longer buying cigarettes.
  • Eat more veggies — You may spend a small fortune on diet books, but one of the simplest, most effective changes you can make is adding more vegetables to your plate. Eating more veggies can help with everything from lowering blood pressure to reducing many cancer risks.
  • Find an exercise you enjoy and stick with it — A couple of 2018 studies published in Aging Cell examined the leg muscle tissue and immune system function of longtime British cyclists ages 55-79 who still rode about 400 miles a month. Taken together, the studies found that the cyclists had immune systems as strong as people several decades younger, and muscle tissue as healthy, biologically speaking, as that of much younger people. These cyclists weren’t competitive athletes. They were people who found something they loved to do and continued doing it, long into their golden years. The price of a bicycle, a swim cap and goggles, a pair of good walking shoes or a yoga studio membership can turn out to have an ROI greater than you ever imagined.
  • Maintain friendships — A 2017 Michigan State University study that surveyed more than 7,400 adults found that the quality of a person’s friendships, particularly whether or not the relationships were strained, was an important predictor of whether the person would acquire a chronic illness as they got older. Friends provide support, make you laugh, and keep you from feeling isolated—all things that can important for reducing your risk factor for chronic conditions.

When you work to reduce your risk for chronic health conditions, you’ll not only be living smarter but saving smarter.



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