It Starts With You

Trying to separate fact from fiction when it comes to health care reform can feel like a full-time job.  President Obama’s health care plan continues to spark heated debate, but while politicians point fingers and Americans divide into their respective camps, it’s important to remember that we live (and die) by the health decisions we make as individuals.

If you visit any retirement community in the United States, it’s painfully easy to spot residents suffering from serious health conditions brought on by bad decisions in their past.  Too many people don’t make the connection between their health history and current conditions that affect their mobility, balance, mental clarity and quality of life.  Although access to quality wellness programs continues to increase, it is up to the individual to break bad habits and maintain a consistent, well-balanced regimen.

But this isn’t just a problem that affects the elderly.  In fact, according to a study by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention, 67 percent of Americans aged 6 – 19 exceed dietary guideline recommendations for daily fat intake.

Self-sufficiency and fierce independence are both hallmarks of “The Greatest Generation.”  The experiences that shaped their lives – from surviving The Great Depression to ushering in sweeping social reform – are very different from those we Baby Boomers have fashioned from our surroundings.  The combined buying power of our generation has yielded a “me-first” mentality, and for good reason.  Why not demand the best value for your dollar when the collective spending power of your peers ensures healthy competition among vendors?

Somewhere in the debate surrounding health care reform, we have minimized personal responsibility and ignored that “me-first” mentality.  Amidst all the noise and confusion, we have eschewed common sense for chaos.  The truth is, we can and should play a big part in deciding what the health care industry will look like 10 years down the road, but we can make the biggest impact at home … where we eat, sleep, work and play.

According to a study published in the Archives of Family Medicines, families that eat more meals together consume less soda and fried food and far more fruits and vegetables, both essential components of a heart-healthy diet.

Waiting on the government to develop a catch-all health care system for aging Baby Boomers is counterproductive, no matter the final outcome.  Why not use our innate individualism and unparalleled access to educational materials, healthy foods and trained fitness professionals to take part in a healthy intervention in our own lives?

In January 2008, the Mayo Clinic published a Health Letter that listed the benefits of moderate exercise (defined as 30 minutes per day) for individuals.  Lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, the prevention or management of type two diabetes, weight management, increased brain function, the prevention of cancer and a delay in the onset of osteoporosis were just some of the outcomes scientists observed in patients who exercised regularly.  If we look hard enough, we can agree that the knowledge is there, but the application of that knowledge is missing.

We might disagree on the viability of a nationalized health care system, but we can all benefit by adopting preventative measures that minimize doctor or hospital visits.  The impact on our quality of life would be significant, but we would also lighten the financial burden on existing government programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The degree to which individuals buy into the need for a health intervention in their own lives is a function of many things we can’t control.  But first knowing about and then attempting to alleviate future health risks that endanger our long-term quality of life should be a priority for a generation of over-achievers not used to waiting on someone else to do the job.