Investing in your health will lead to a richer life - opinion

So, if we have the proven answers to both preventing disease and reversing it, what is holding us back?

 WALKING IN central Jerusalem: It doesn’t cost any money to go out for a walk everyday.  (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
WALKING IN central Jerusalem: It doesn’t cost any money to go out for a walk everyday.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

‘In food excellent medicine can be found, in food bad medicine can be found,” wrote Hippocrates – the 5th century BC Greek physician – in his treatise on nutrition, De Alimento.

The Food Revolution Summit is a yearly event that deals with the direct relationship between the food we eat and the diseases, both physical and mental, that they can cause or heal. A statistic was pointed out this year that I found truly frightening. For the first time in modern history, Western culture has more sick inhabitants, than healthy ones.

So, if we have the proven answers to both preventing disease and reversing it, what is holding us back? We now know, after thousands upon thousands of food studies of all kinds, that what we call “lifestyle” medicine can prevent and reverse 80-85% of disease. In practical terms, we are talking about saving the lives of millions of people on our planet.

So what is keeping people from jumping in and having a great life? There are multiple reasons they don’t take advantage of the latest findings in order to maintain good health. However, one of the most common reasons is cost: Yes, money.

Health and money have, unfortunately, become inseparable. But are our perceptions about the cost of health and healthcare in line with the truth?  As someone who is in private practice – meaning that the services I offer are not covered by the health funds here in Israel or by most private insurances, I am often asked to justify the prices I charge for the service I give.

It’s a legitimate question. I realize that many people have misconceptions about this money-health intersection.  When it comes to the perception of what it costs to be healthy and what it costs to be unhealthy, there is a definite disconnect.

A week ago, I had an eye-opening conversation with a client who has been highly successful in regaining his health. Now 32 kg. lighter, he is attracting a lot of attention in his community. He unabashedly tells people that he has also dropped five medications and is now a former diabetic, used to have high cholesterol, used to have high blood pressure, used to have anxiety and certainly was obese.

Then there is that question they all ask: “How did you do this?” 

He tells them about the program, tells them about me, and offers my contact information. The second question is almost invariably: “How much does it cost?” After he tells them, some respond that it seems expensive.

My client then gave me an education. He talked about the time period when he did a Medifast (now Optavia) diet. All those cans of shakes, all those packages of bars; they cost a fortune. Once he did Weight Watchers online, and ended up ordering a lot of their products. That was also a small fortune over time. And the end result was the typical weight loss followed by gaining it all back and then some. Additionally, the food consumed in these programs is not necessarily the type of diet that reverses disease.

He then pointed out that whatever he paid me, he has got back twice over with a smaller grocery bill due to the type of food he now purchases.  He pointed out how much money he is saving by not needing medications each month. So, aside from feeling and looking much better, his bank account is also healthier. 

THERE ARE more US residents who are sick than there are who are healthy. Think about this. The country that spends the most money per person on health from all OECD countries has some of the worse health outcomes. 

Some of you might live in countries where medication is heavily subsidized and others might live in countries where it isn’t.  People in Israel have health funds; in the UK they have the National Health Service; and there is socialized medicine in Canada as well. However, there are times one might need a medication not covered by insurance, or may need to pursue private medicine.  This can become extremely expensive.

We know that in the US a good insurance policy costs a lot of money, and that if you don’t have insurance, you need to be wealthy to get the best care. With cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death, consider the following for a person with typical heart disease who doesn’t have complete coverage for their medication.

Most of the time, multiple medications are needed to control symptoms and risk factors. When one takes into consideration that most cardiac patients take drugs to lower cholesterol and blood pressure; blood thinners; and often specific drugs for heart failure, the monthly cost can be close to $800-$900 or higher. That is a lot of money.  And even if your insurance covers some or most of that, there is still an out-of-pocket expense.

That is just the pharmaceuticals. What about visits to the doctor which can become increasingly frequent with more and more specialists getting involved?  What about days missed at work or from one’s own business, due to illness?  Plain and simple, it is very costly to be sick. Obviously, this also negatively impacts ones quality of life.

As we live in an era of relatively long life, if we don’t make sure that those extra years are full of wellness and vitality, it could get very costly. But acquiring vitality and health quality in our later decades shouldn’t cost a lot of money at all. The opposite is true if we use what has been proven to prevent and reverse disease, and all these expenses can just melt away.

WE LIVE in an age when we have become accustomed to instant results from the actions we take. Just like our phones and computers are faster, we have this same expectation from medicine. We take an antibiotic and want to feel better in a day or two. We have a surgery or a procedure and we want to be better immediately. But in healing and curing, it doesn’t always work that way.

This is an area where patience is certainly a virtue. But it is also what leads people to try remedies that may not really work. Alternative medicine – as it has become known – can be helpful, but only those disciplines which have been put to the test, and passed. Many of these disciplines can produce the desired results alone, while others can be used in combination with medicine and lifestyle to bring great results.

But others are just fraud, plain and simple. They might have a placebo effect, but they also can take a lot of your money with little or no return.  Before you throw your money away, carefully research the method involved.

Leading an unhealthy life comes at a cost

THE COST of an unhealthy lifestyle manifests itself greatly in the sphere of public health. Here are some examples. A study model was set up to see what would happen if Medicare and Medicaid in the US were to subsidize 30% of the cost of fruits and vegetables.  The research team found that subsidizing fruits and vegetables would prevent 1.93 million cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, as well as 350,000 deaths from the those events.

Subsidizing fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods would prevent 3.28m. cardiovascular events, 620,000 deaths, and 120,000 cases of diabetes. The fruits and vegetables program would save nearly $40 billion in healthcare costs, and the addition of other healthy foods would save over $100b.

Additionally, the Union of Concerned Scientists – a US-based nonprofit science advocacy organization – ran a model on fruits and vegetable consumption and discovered the most amazing thing. The report concluded that if Americans consumed just one additional serving of fruits or vegetables a day, the nation would save $5b. in health care expenditure and prevent 30,301 heart disease and stroke deaths annually.

If we went a step further and ate a full 2.5 cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit daily, as recommended by federal dietary guidelines, it could prevent 127,261 deaths each year and save $17b. in medical costs. The economic value of the lives saved from cardiovascular diseases is an astounding $11 trillion. These numbers are staggering but real.

As my client has seen, it is a money saver to eat a predominantly plant-based diet. It doesn’t cost money to go for a walk every day. Going to bed earlier and getting seven to nine hours sleep a night is free. How much money do people save when they quit smoking? If you’re a pack-a-day smoker you will keep an annual $3,000 dollars in your pocket – let alone not having to pay for medical care when you get sick later.

You may need the help of a health or wellness coach schooled in lifestyle medicine to get started. It’s an investment in your health, an investment that will return that money many times over. Health is an investment well worth the outlay.

Like any good long-term investment, try to see beyond the relatively small initial outlay and think about collecting a fantastic return. Investing in your health with both money and a change of habits will add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your life.”

The writer is a health and wellness coach and personal trainer with over 25 years of professional experience. He is director of The Wellness Clinic and can be reached at