Another “excuse” to live healthfully.

October 5, 2006 | By | 4 Replies More

With the obesity epidemic at its current rate, we can easily conclude that a lot of people have a lot of truly excellent excuses not to eat properly and exercise. In my experience, two particular excuses take the cake, so to speak: “I don’t have time” and “I can’t afford it.” These justifications seem to work wonders, trimming responsibility and slimming guilt- we all have more important things to spend our money and time on than something as fleeting and vain as health, right?

I’ll cut the sarcasm for a second. In all fairness, the perception that healthy living comes at a high price has some root in reality. Take this study by Northern Ireland charity NCH, which demonstrated that poor families frequently cannot afford balanced diets, based on the higher pricing for healthful food. And with the steep price on gym memberships and exercise equipment, many also get the impression that an active lifestyle must come at a paltry sum. Or at least the excuse sounds plausible.

But some recent economic analysis tears this web of self deception apart. Healthy lifestyles in fact save a sizeable amount of money in the longrun. Smartmoney Magazine puts an estimate on the total payoff: $84,000. Prescription medications, quadruple bypasses, and other such health care expenses cost more than fresh produce and a workout routine, as it turns out:

“According to a [RAND Corporation] study, overweight people pay 10 to 36% more a year on hospital stays and ambulances, depending on the severity of their weight problem. Smokers pay 20% more. Fitness counts too. Aging couch potatoes who started exercising at least three times a week saved an average of $2,200 a year on medical expenses, according to a recent study by Bloomington, a Minn.-based HealthPartners Research Foundation.”

USA Today also recently wrote about the financial impact of health. A few more interesting tidbits:

    • People with Diabetes pay 240% more per capita on health care costs.
    • A walk a day can save a middle-aged adult $50-$100 per month by avoiding the cost of blood pressure and cholesterol medications.
    • The average healthy 35-40 year old American doubles his wealth in ten years; those in poor health typically see a decline over the same period of time.

It doesn’t stop there. With retirement getting financially rockier by the second, physical wellbeing has become even more crucial (and its inverse more expensive). Fidelity Investments gives a couple’s retirement a $200,000 health care price tag, not including dental care, long-term treatments, over-the-counter medications, and assisted living (which costs around $70,000/year in its own right). Fortunately, exercise and healthful eating can greatly diminish rates of dementia and other taxing age-related conditions as well as its other myriad benefits.

I believe that settles the cost-of-healthy-living dispute, to what extent the conflict even existed. As for the “I don’t have time” excuse, I have yet to find a water-tight response. I suppose one could argue that if you take the time to live well now, you’ll have more time alive to enjoy it, of course. It all comes down to what you’ll willingly invest.


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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Culture, Food, Health, Medicine, Statistics

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (4)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's another angle on "I don't have the time." In my experience, I sleep much better when I exercise much better. In fact, when I am exercising, I tend to wake up refreshed with about 1/2 hour less sleep. Therefore exercising 1/2 hour a day pays for itself –there is no net loss of time. Perhaps this is not true for everyone, but it is true for me. For more on exercise improving sleep, see here.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    I chuckled when I saw the CDC website mentioned at the beginning of Erika's post. The CDC says it hopes to reduce obesity in America from its current level of 30% (some estimates are even higher) to an improved level of less than 15%. That sounds great until you see the date when they hope this will happen: 2010. Have we seen ANY effort by the Bush Administration to reduce obesity in America, much less cut it in half within four years? Obviously, the title of Bob Woodward's new book about the dysfunction in the Bush Administration must also apply to the CDC: State of Denial.

    As regards the excuse of "not having time to exercise," there are many ways to debunk that excuse. First, exercise is a choice. It's a choice between spending more time doing other things (e.g., working overtime to afford that fancy SUV) or spending more time burning a few extra calories. (Indeed, the large number of fancy SUVs on the road also debunks the excuse of being unable to afford a gym membership: anyone who can afford to buy and feed an SUV has more than enough income for a gym membership.)

    Second, "exercise" need involve nothing more than getting 30 minutes of activity every day. Walking, gardening, shoveling snow, etc., all can qualify.

    Third, one great way to "exercise" is to take it in small doses: use stairs instead of an elevator, park farther away from the places you drive to, get off the bus or subway one stop before your actual destination, etc.

    One thing I do is ride a bike for short errands. For most people, short errands (buying a gallon of milk, returning books to the library, etc.) involve trips of less than five miles. Over that short distance, riding a bike doesn't take much more time than driving a car. In fact, using a bicycle can actually save time — see my comment here.

    Whatever the answer, we should all take action (pun intended) to reduce the obesity problem in America, because we are all paying for it in the form of higher medical insurance premiums. Obesity is one of the leading causes of prolonged (i.e., insanely expensive) illness in America and, just like smoking, it's preventable.

  3. Jennifer says:

    One major problem is that poor families are often uneducated about the most basic health issues, like the fact that it is not wise for babies to be drinking Pepsi out of their bottles. Second, healthy food takes longer to prepare. If a single mother is working two jobs to keep food on the table, chances are that food is going to be processed junk. And people in those situations aren't thinking about the long-term effects of an unhealthy lifestyle; they're concerned about making it from one week to the next.

  4. Scholar says:

    I joined the health club at work, but it doesn't seem to be paying back the dividends I had hoped. Maybe the fact that I haven't gone there yet to workout since I signed up is the underlying reason…anyhow…

    Have ya'll heard about the lyme disease hub-bub going on? …I just found out my dog has it (not to mention many people might, me included), so I did "some" research on the net. It turns out the insurance companies are doing their best to *stifle* research on lyme disease. Similar (maybe not on the same scale) to what we have seen with the fundamentalist crowd stifling science. The insurance companies have a pretty good reason though, the new scientific research recommends extending lyme antibiotic care for *years* as opposed to the current *weeks* dose of pills allowed by the big insurance companies. The reason being that the lyme is now thought to lie dormant (in nerve tissue), for certain stages, and then resurface later (it is the same bacteria group as syphillis).

    The symptoms are often vague and coincide with other ailments…such as chronic fatigue syndrome, gulf war syndrome(some cases may actually be from tick bites at training camps here in america), depression, autism, and has been found to accompany, or been found to be the root of these other illnesses, or "simple" misdiagnoses. The tests are often false positive, or worse, come up negative in people that actually have the disease. It even passes from pregnant mothers to babies, going unoticed for years.

    A quick internet search brings up ( and others such as one by writer Amy Tan, who became afflicted, and has since recovered enough to tell her tale. The internet is "filled" with testimony about lingering effects, misdiagnoses, insurance wars, and destroyed lives. (

    Here, some anonymous folks figured out how to "effectively" combat the lingering lyme spirochetes…with table salt and vitamin C… Yuck. Some studies suggests that 20 times more people have lyme disease than previous estimates. This website actually recommends 2+ years of antibiotic regimen for stubborn lyme infections . I will inquire further to see what my vet thinks about the issue, but my initial reaction based on all the stuff I encountered is to err on the side of too much treatment rather than too little.

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