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No matter what side of the debate you're on, your best primary-care provider is YOU. Here's our guide to reforming your own health in 2010.
The future of U.S. health care may be up in the air, but your health doesn't have to be. You can substantially cut your risk of developing several of the nation's deadliest diseases — and their steadily rising costs — by engaging in preventive care now.
Every year, new studies highlight the lifesaving effects of diet and exercise. Consider this example: In a decades-long survey of 20,900 men, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System found that those who regularly exercised, drank moderately, didn't smoke, were not overweight and had a diet that included cereal, fruits and vegetables had a lower lifetime risk of heart failure. For those who adopted just four of these healthy behaviors, the risk dropped from 21.2% to 10.1%.
"I'm always amazed when I hear someone complain that eating right and exercising are too hard," says Lauren Antonucci, MS, RD, registered dietitian and director of Nutrition Energy in New York City. "It's much easier to eat moderately well and stay active now than it is to battle heart disease, diabetes or cancer later on."
For each of the five diseases below, medical experts prescribe diet and exercise as the best preventive medicine. Read on to find out what living well now will save you later.
What It Is: One in three U.S. adults lives with some form of heart disease, making it the nation's No. 1 cause of death. Heart disease is a blanket term applied to several types of heart conditions, including heart attack and stroke.
What It Costs America: An estimated $475 billion in 2009
What It Will Cost You: For individual treatment, $121,200 over 20 years is a conservative estimate. Add surgery and other procedures and that number skyrockets to $4.8 million over a lifetime.
YOUniversal Rx:Hit the gym — often. In a study following more than 27,000 women, those who got more than five hours of moderate exercise weekly reduced their chance for heart attack and stroke by 40% compared with women who exercised for less than an hour each week.
What It Is: A body's inability to adequately produce or process insulin, a hormone linked to glucose, the body's basic form of energy.
What It Costs America: $174 billion in 2007
What It Will Cost You: $13,243 in medical expenses a year in 2002, the most recent year data was available. People with diabetes will pay 2.4 times more for health care than their peers.
YOUniversal Rx:Shave off those extra pounds! In a study released by the American Diabetes Association, overweight adults who lost just 5% to 10% of their weight reduced their risk for diabetes by 58% over three years. Losing about two pounds of weight reduces your risk by 16%.
What It Is: Simply put, too much body fat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or greater. Obesity boosts a person's risk for conditions described here — heart disease, diabetes and cancer — as well as liver disease, osteoarthritis, respiratory illness and reproductive problems.
What It Costs America: $147 billion each year
What It Will Cost You: $1,500 more each year on health care than what an average-weight person will spend. But that number doesn't include the $8,550 "fat surtax" obese Americans end up paying.
YOUniversal Rx:Trim the fat and you could cheat fate. People with double copies of the most important obesity-linked gene identified so far are 2.5 times as likely to become obese — but only if they eat large amounts of fatty foods. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a low-fat diet can actually negate the genetic predisposition for obesity in these individuals.
What It Is: The term is used to describe a number of diseases in which uncontrolled abnormal cells grow and invade other tissues. Many factors determine whether a person develops cancer — smoking, exposure to radiation or inherited genes — and many more remain a mystery. There is no guaranteed way to prevent the disease, but there are certain steps you can take to limit your risk.
What It Costs America: $228.1 billion in 2008
What It Will Cost You: Certain drug therapies can cost upwards of $13,000 a month.
YOUniversal Rx:Fill your plate with cancer-fighting foods. Reach for foods rich in folic acid — orange juice, spinach, asparagus and peanuts — to cut your risk of pancreatic cancer. Get healthy doses of vitamin D, which has been shown to reduce the risk of lung and breast cancer, from shrimp, salmon and eggs. Women who often drink varieties of tea full of the flavonoid kaempferol, such as green tea, had the lowest risk of ovarian cancer. Kale, turnip greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, ginger and the spice curcumin, found commonly in turmeric, have all been shown to have cancer-thwarting abilities.
What It Is: A fatal brain disease associated with aging. Symptoms include memory loss and other forms of dementia. While there are many risk factors that you can''t control (age, family history and heredity), onset appears to increase in the presence of heart disease and diabetes, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
What It Costs America: $100 billion
What It Will Cost You: $174,000 over a lifetime, and up to $36,000 a year for those with severe symptoms.
YOUniversal Rx:Get more sleep! Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently noticed a link between chronic sleep deprivation and an increase in Alzheimer's plaques, protein deposits that interfere with brain function.