As health system reform takes center stage in the United States, prevention has become a hot topic among lawmakers, media and the public.
Some question the cost savings of preventive health care. Does it save money in the long run, or is it an expensive indulgence with too little benefit to justify the up-Front cost?
Answer: It depends. While many diagnostics, such as colonoscopies and mammograms, save lives and head off expensive treatment regimens, some may be unneeded. Sound medical judgment and appropriate guidelines are required.
But, everyone can practice prevention in the form of healthy lifestyles, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Better nutrition and higher levels of physical activity don’t increase cost, and they bring a huge payoff in terms of lower health-care costs, increased productivity and greater quality of life. Getting more active, eating a bit healthier, incorporating some kind of movement into everyday life – those are the main keys to health, longevity and disease prevention. It was recently reported that treating obesity was responsible for the biggest jump in health care spending in recent years; obese populations accounted for $303.1 billion in health care costs in 2006, nearly doubling the $166.7 billion spent on these individuals in 2001.
In a very real sense, exercise is medicine. Studies repeatedly show that physical activity and exercise can help prevent obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions. And leading a healthier lifestyle needn’t mean hitting the treadmill every night or becoming fanatical about exercise. Walking for 30 minutes each night after dinner or during a lunch hour has powerful preventive effects and requires just a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
Physicians and other health care providers should encourage patients to become physically active. A public survey conducted in 2007 by the American College of Sports Medicine found that nearly two-thirds of patients (65 percent) would be more interested in exercising to stay healthy if advised by their doctor and given additional resources.
Bottom line: While we trim unnecessary costs to better manage health-care resources, let’s keep in mind the powerful and necessary cost-effective potential of healthy lifestyles. Truly, exercise is medicine—a prescription for better health.
Robert Sallis, M.D., FACSM
Chair, Exercise is Medicine™ Task Force