Have you ever decided that you're going to spend more time at the gym, or out walking, or at home stretching, only to back off on your commitment because it seemed too costly? What about deep breathing exercises to lower your blood pressure and reduce stress in your life? Maybe you want to spend more time cooking instead of going out to eat? Ultimately, if you made the choice not to do any of these things, it probably had something to do with the cost of them. Maybe it was too much time to spend in the kitchen or finding stress relief, or it could have been a financial cost, like gym memberships. Well, let's talk about the latter in this case. What is the financial cost of chronic illness?
According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, the cost of cardiovascular disease in 2016 was $555 billion. The expected cost in 2035 is expected to be over $1 trillion as obesity and diabetes continue to grow uncontrolled. This this value includes indirect costs such as lost wages, but much of this amount is from medical bills. This report from 2010 states that the average heart attack overall cost for a person having a heart attack surpasses $750,000 when including follow-up care and lost wages. If just considering the hospital stay alone, the average bills for a person suffering a heart attack or stroke were over $50,000 and $30,000, respectively, for uninsured patients.
What about diabetes? These numbers won't make you feel much better. The American Diabetes Association found that the average person with diabetes spends 2.3 times more on health care than those without, and the combined direct and indirect costs of diabetes rose from $245 billion in 2016 to $327 billion in 2017. These costs also include the many patients who require limb amputations and dialysis to treat the complications of diabetes.
Surely, having something as "benign" as high blood pressure can't be that costly? Well, the Journal of the American Heart Association found that the average person with hypertension spends $2,000 more per year than someone without, and this trend has been stable for over a decade.
Though we have made advances in medicine in treating the complications associated with these illnesses, the complications and costs persist. Even after a patient with a stroke or heart attack is treated, often there are still long-term complications that cannot be measured financially. There's no way to assign a monetary value on the loss of independence after a stroke, the need for dialysis interfering with travel, or the inability to walk without becoming short of breath due to heart disease. The list and examples go on and on, as I'm sure is obvious.
So, what can you do? Are you just supposed to take your pills and hope for the best? There are better ways. A whole-food, plant-based diet has been shown to reduce incidence and reverse known disease in patients of all of the above-mentioned diseases (see our Research page on our website for sources). Stress relief and maintaining healthy levels of activity are also vital. Patients with presumed white coat hypertension (elevated blood pressure due to anxiety of being in the doctor's office) was reduced just by deep breathing for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, the CDC recognizes inactivity as a leading cause of death among Americans. These lifestyle changes can keep you out of the hospital and away from the costs of medical care, both financial and personal.