If you made a New Year’s resolution to get healthy, you may get more bang for your resolution buck than you bargained for. That’s because healthy habits can benefit your wallet as well as your body.
The link between health and money
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic conditions–including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer–account for more than 75% of all health-care costs nationwide. Nearly half of all Americans have a chronic disease, which can lead to other problems that are devastating not just to health but also to a family’s finances. People with a chronic condition pay five times more for health care each year, on average, as those without a chronic disease.*
Many chronic diseases can be linked to four behaviors: tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, poor eating habits, and inactivity.* A closer look at each of these behaviors demonstrates the health-money connection.
Tobacco and alcohol
The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that the average price of a pack of cigarettes in the United States is $6.36. That means the average annual cost for a pack-a-day smoker is more than $2,300. However, the average health-related cost to a smoker, says the ACS, is $35 per pack–or $12,775 per year for someone who smokes a pack a day.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and two for men. Drinking more than that can lead to health problems, including various forms of cancer as well as impairment of your brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. Such outcomes have economic costs. The CDC reports that in 2006, the national cost of excessive alcohol consumption was $223.5 billion, 42% of which was shouldered by excessive drinkers and their families.
Eating habits and activity level
Proper nutrition and regular exercise are vital to staying healthy, but they can also save you money. For example, reducing the amount of high-in-saturated-fat products, processed foods, and red meat in your diet can result in benefits to your heart and wallet. Replacing high-fat ingredients in some recipes with healthier, low-cost options–such as using beans instead of ground beef–can help trim your grocery bills. And replacing high-calorie meals eaten at restaurants with meals made at home using fresh, in-season ingredients can benefit both body and bank account.
Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend at least 2½ hours of moderate physical activity per week. Many opportunities exist in everyday life to both accumulate active minutes and save money. Instead of driving to your destination, walk or ride a bike. Do your own yard work or house cleaning instead of hiring help. Go for a hike or play ball with your kids rather than going to the movies or visiting an amusement park.
Chronic disease also has indirect long-term costs. Leaving the workforce for extended periods–or having to retire early–means fewer paychecks, less chance to benefit from workplace-provided retirement plans and health-care benefits, and lower earnings to apply toward Social Security benefits. In addition, chronic diseases often necessitate home renovations, the hiring of specialized care providers, or even permanent nursing care. When viewed over the long term, taking steps today to reduce your risks of getting sick down the road may make good health and financial sense.
*Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease
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