When we think about financial planning, we take a long view. We plan decades in advance for our retirement or our children’s education. Yet with our health, the overwhelming majority of us are quite short sighted. If we focus on our health at all, it’s to try and lose 10 pounds by our reunion or to get in shape for the summer.
This approach is unsustainable both personally and collectively. Most of us don’t think about our personal health in the context of the greater good, but I believe the better we understand the impact of our choices on our families and the world, the greater the likelihood that we will effect lasting change.
To that end, let me state a fact: the cumulative impact of individuals making poor health decisions is putting an incredible burden on the developed world. Our collective poor health planning is leading to ever rising incidence of lifestyle based disease such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even many cancers. In turn, these diseases are what are driving the ever-increasing percentage of our national budgets being devoted to healthcare.
An analysis by the Commonwealth Fund highlights this trend. While the United States is certainly leading the world in rising healthcare costs (not to mention healthcare inefficiency), the developed nations as a whole are experiencing rising health costs.
Graph from Commonwealth Fund National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance, 2006
The data does not lie. Whether you live in Canada, the United States or Australia, our collective poor lifestyles are putting a burden on our communities and our countries.
What does that mean for you?
- If you are not taking care of yourself, you are in good company, for example in the U.S. close to 50% of the population is overweight. You can take comfort that it’s not some personal failing that led you this. As a society, we need to change the way we eat, work and live.
- Your decisions have an impact on more than just yourself. Your children and grandchildren will have to clean up the financial mess being caused by your poor health planning.
To that end, it’s time we approach our personal health the same way we would our financial health. That is with a long term strategy or a personal health plan. To create a personal health plan you need to answer two questions: Where is your health today and what do you want your health to look like tomorrow.
- Where are you today? Start by understanding your family history. Genetics play an important role in our health AND in how we combat disease. If you have a history of breast cancer or heart disease, you can start addressing your risk of getting those diseases and dying from those diseases through lifestyle changes and preventative screening. Capturing this data allows you to establish a baseline health profile for you. In essence you are creating a personal health audit. Every important health metric should be included. I have written extensively on the topic of Personal Health Indicators or PHIs elsewhere, you can read a primer here. At the end of the day, your baseline health statistics will be unique to you, taking into consideration your health history. For example, I struggle with the amount of exercise I get, so I track my weekly steps via a wireless pedometer that captures my data on Fitbit.
- Where do you want to be? Once you have established your baseline, you need to understand where you want to go. You can’t get directions in Google Maps until you know the address. It’s the same concept for developing a health plan. We need to know where we want to go before we can figure out how to get there. What does this mean in the context of your future health? Your health audit should have helped you figure it out. For me, I want to have good BMI, be able to have a catch with my sons, get rid of my back pain, reduce my risk of cancer and improve my cardiovascular health. The last two goals were created because I have a high risk of both heart attack and cancer in my family. When you finish your audit and put some thought into what a healthier you looks like, write it all down and review it periodically. It will help improve your ability / willingness to stick to your course of action.
I get push back from a surprising amount of people as it relates to the concept of long term health planning. They say, “I am already in good shape and will continue my good habits so why do I need to plan for my future health.” A personal health plan can seem too abstract.
But once you start to dig into their family history and uncover risks for the onset of chronic disease or cancer, then dig further into their diet or the preventative screening they have taken advantage of (or not), they realize how little thought they have put into their health. Inevitably, many of us are unaware of our own risks of disease and what it takes to prevent the onset of certain diseases. They aren’t taking advantage of screening for prostate cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, blood pressure among many, many others.
Don’t take my word for it. Conduct a health audit and talk to your physician about it. You will be surprised how much you can do today to improve your health in your later years. And once your physician helps you build your action plan, share it with your family and friends. Seek support for sticking to your plan through tools like Fitbit or even Facebook. At the end of the day, most of us save regularly for our retirement to insure we have financial well-being later in life, why not take the same approach to our health well-being?
Photos from Microsoft Office Clipart Collection
Graph used with permission of Commonwealth Fund
Guest Author Bio
Bill Paquin is the CEO of Vertical Health, an internet health publisher dedicated to tackling chronic disease. Vertical Health publishes DiabeticLifestyle.com, EndocrineWeb.com, PracticalPainManagement.com and SpineUniverse.com. Paquin is a 15 year veteran of internet healthcare marketing and education. For the last decade, he has helped launch start-up companies pioneering online education and community, including Medsite (acquired by WebMD), HorizonLive (now Wimba) and Developers.net. Paquin also sits on the board of Children’s Aid & Family Services of NJ, the largest child welfare organization in the state.
Blog/Website: Spine Universe