Cheap strategies to improve your health in tough economic times

During difficult economic times, we all have to develop strategies to be better stewards with the money we have. But, tough economic times don’t mean that you have to shortchange your health. Here are some tips how to not only maintain, but improve your health.

More Information:

HealthDay News is reporting that experts with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston say people can live healthy and cut their risk of cancer without breaking the bank by following several free and low-cost strategies.

Get moving. 

Moderate to intensive aerobic exercise, including brisk walking, are good for the heart and can help prevent a wide variety of cancers. For cancer survivors, brisk walking can reduce the risk of recurrence. 

“The most consistent evidence we have so far for reducing the risk of several types of cancer is exercise and avoiding becoming obese,” D. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, a Dana-Farber gastrointestinal cancer specialist, said in a news release issued by the institute. 

Activities can include taking the stairs instead of an elevator, using a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV, or playing a team sport.

Eat healthy. 

Keeping consumption of processed sugars, red meat, and calories low. But, keep your intake of fruits and vegetables high.

These two strategies not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but also reduce the risk of a number of types of cancer. 

“Many of the beneficial nutrients in fruits and vegetables are concentrated in the pigment or rich colors, which are often in the skins,” said Stacy L. Kennedy, a nutritionist at Dana-Farber. 

An apple a day is a good start. The uncooked skin contains the cancer-fighting antioxidant quercitin. 

Pumpkin, sweet potato, squash (butternut and acorn), carrots and other orange fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids, cancer-fighting nutrients shown to lower one’s chances of getting of colon, prostate, lung, and breast cancer.

Quit smoking. 

Kicking the habit will save you money later in health-care costs. 

“Even though there have been many recent advances in lung cancer treatments, the most effective way to eradicate lung cancer is to prevent it from ever happening,” said Dr. Bruce Johnson, director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber, noting that smokers who stay off tobacco for at least 10 to 20 years cut lower their chances of developing lung cancer by 50 percent. 

Though smoking is the cause of 80 percent of all lung cancers, according to the American Cancer Society, it also increases the risk of oral, throat, pancreatic, uterine, bladder and kidney cancers.

Mind your Ps and Qs. 

Obviously you save money by cutting out alcohol consumption, but you may also lower the risk of developing some cancers. 

For example, Dana-Farber researchers found one drink a day for postmenopausal women may raise their risk for breast cancer.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

I would add to the Dan-Faber recommendations that you get a good night’s sleep as often as possible – which is associated with a decreased risk of colds, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. And, who can argue with a prescription to get more sleep?

Another report, this one in the New York Times says, “About one in three Americans say their family has had problems paying medical bills in the past year.” This is based upon a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group focused on health care. 

More alarming, almost half of those surveyed said someone in their family was postponing or cutting back on medical care they said they needed.

If you or your family are forced into this type of economic triage, you’ve got to do it wisely, says a good friend of mine, Dr. Ted Epperly, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The truth is, some health care can probably be safely put off until you’re feeling more flush. If you’re due for your annual physical, for instance, and you feel fine, you can wait a few months before forking over that hefty co-payment. Even children, once they are past vaccination age, can skip a check-up or two, as long as they are healthy and at a normal weight.

And while this suggestion is surely controversial, some experts say routine screenings like mammograms for women or PSA tests for men can also be postponed for a few months, as long as the person doesn’t have any symptoms and no family history of health problems in these areas. “The American Cancer Society wouldn’t like me saying so,” Dr. Epperly said, “but you can stretch out those tests when you need to.”

But the things you can safely skip make a far shorter list than the treatments most health care professionals consider mandatory — no matter how cash-strapped you may be. 

The following three areas of health care are ones you simply can’t afford to ignore, not only for your immediate well-being, but to avoid even more costly crisis care later. Fortunately, as you’ll see below, there are ways to get help paying for the care you need.

1. Your Medicine.

More than a third of the people in the Kaiser survey said they were splitting pills, skipping doses of medicine or not filling prescriptions in the first place. “If you’re suffering from a chronic illness such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma, you already know how important taking your medicine is,” Dr. Epperly said. “You’re on these medications for a reason, and going off without a physician’s advice will almost always make you sicker.” Even seemingly minor illnesses like strep throat or an ear infection can turn into an emergency room visit if left untreated.

What you can do: If you’re having trouble affording your medicine, talk to your doctor immediately. He or she may be able to switch you to a less expensive alternative or a generic version of the drug you’re now taking. “Generics have the advantage of being much cheaper,” said Dr. Sydney Wolfe, the director of health research for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “But they are also often safer than new, brand-name drugs because they have been in use long enough for potential side effects to be known.”

Your doctor may also be able to help you enroll in a prescription drug aid program like the one sponsored by the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a coalition of pharmaceutical companies and health-care advocates, says Cheryl Fish-Parcham, the deputy director of health policy at Families USA, another consumer advocacy group.

Another good source for help with finding affordable prescriptions (and all types of medical financial assistance) is MedlinePlus, a Web site backed by the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

2. Your Symptoms. 

Delaying care can work for fully healthy people. But the minute you have symptoms or start to feel something is wrong, that all changes, says Dr. Epperly. Skipping tests and treatments is no longer an option. Still, even if the doctor thinks you really do need an expensive diagnostic test, like a CT scan or M.R.I., there may be ways to get it done at reduced cost.

What you can do: Ask your doctor about free screening programs and low-cost clinics in your community that can provide an affordable test. In New York City, organizations like the Community Service Society offer resources for finding low-cost care. Also, if your test or treatment is related to a specific illness like Crohn’s disease or diabetes, look up the Web site for the association or foundation that specializes in that illness, Ms. Fish-Parcham says. These organizations often provide resources for financial assistance to patients in need.

3. Your General Well-Being.

When you’re feeling out of control financially, it’s easy to let good habits and routines go out the window and resort to a vice or two. But this is not the time to smoke or drink more, Dr. Epperly advises. You could blow the budget and maybe cause real problems down the line.

What you can do: As described above, keep eating a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and get a good night’s sleep.

“All three of these low-cost treatments have proven health benefits for you,” Dr. Epperly said. And all that healthy living may help you relieve some of the stress you’re feeling about money.

 

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