Are you too worried about your waistband or your bank account to enjoy the holidays? Did you know that by taking some simple steps to take better care of yourself, you can also save money? Then you could fit into that great holiday sweater AND know that you could be saving yourself some health care bills.
Making lifestyle changes to improve your health.
We don’t have total control over our health. (Some problems are in our genes.) But most of us have a few things in our life that we can change to improve our health. We can…
- Eat healthier foods
- Get more sleep
- Be more physically active
- Reduce stress
- Stop smoking
These changes will not only make you feel better, but also can reduce your doctor bills. Studies show that $1 out of every $10 in health care costs is spent on conditions caused by inactivity and obesity. There are no hard-and-fast numbers about how much you’ll save. It’s different for everyone. Chances are good though that you can make choices that improve your health and help you keep more money in your pocket.
Step 1: Get the lay of the land
First, know your risks. Your doctor is your best source for this information. You can also take an online health risk assessment to get an idea of where you stand. Your insurer or employer might offer one (see how one Aetna member used this tool to totally change his life).
Next, make sure you and your family are getting all the disease screenings and vaccinations for your age group – and remember, most health plans cover these at no extra cost to you. Screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies can find problems early, while they are easier to treat. Tests can check your cholesterol, if you are at risk for diabetes and detect some types of cancer. Vaccinations help to prevent the flu, tetanus and other conditions that can keep you out of work and even land you in the hospital. Talk with your doctor to make sure you are up to date.
Step 2: Own your health
A specialist can prescribe a drug, but can’t make you take it. Your doctor can suggest that you exercise more to reduce your risk of a heart attack, but won’t come to your house and force you to do push-ups. Doctors, dentists and specialists can order tests and treatments, prescribe drugs and make recommendations. They are the medical experts – but in the end, it’s your health that’s at stake. And you’re the one who will reap the benefits from making changes.
Keeping track of your good work is easier than ever. Track your exercise, sleep and more with wearable health and fitness trackers. Use a personal health record, such as the one offered on Aetna’s iTriage mobile app. These secure online tools let you log your medications, conditions and treatment plan. And you can opt to share that information with your doctors.
Step 3: Start small
Once you know where you stand and how to motivate yourself, you can start making changes. You can’t change everything at once! Think small. Little changes add up. Some people find that making one small change every week works best. Here are some ideas:
- Add physical activity to your day. Walk for 15 minutes, three times a week. Add a little time or distance every week.
- If you drink a lot of soda, replace every other soda with a glass of water. Then slowly wean yourself off sugary beverages.
- Eat more fiber. Substitute beans for meat one night at dinner, or try whole-wheat bread instead of white for a sandwich. The next week, try to make these substitutions twice.
- Eat less salt. Put away the shaker for a few meals. Try other seasonings, such as pepper, herbs and spices to amp up the flavor.
- Try weight training.You don’t have to wait to go to the gym. Many exercises can be done at home.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. Skipping a meal seems like a great way to lose weight, but it’s not true. Eating a balanced breakfast gets you going in the morning and keeps you from over-eating later.
- Understand portion size. One serving of meat is about the size of your palm; an ounce of cheese is about the size of the first joint of your thumb. If cutting back initially leaves you hungry between meals, grab a healthy snack, like fruit or raw veggies.
- Be careful when eating out. Most of us eat what’s put in front of us, and many restaurants serve huge portions. Ask for half of your meal in a to-go container right away, or split an entrée with someone else.
Step 4: Stay aware
There’s no need to swear off ice cream forever, or become a marathon runner. By simply being aware of choices that can affect your health, you can gradually become more fit, eat healthier, and be on your way to better health and lower costs.