Monday, February 20, 2006

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

I'm sure we are all familiar with statements like, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." Or how about, "If you have your health, you have everything!"When it comes to fitness and health, a couple of recent studies show that money matters. That is, the greater the income people have, the better the odds they'll be physically fit.

In a 1998 Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System report, the Centers for Disease Control notes that members of households making less than $20,000 per year are 50% less likely to exercise than those taking home $50,000 or more. Likewise, a Shape Up America study shows that people with little disposable income are more likely to fill their spare time with passive activities such as watching television. Let's face it: It's cheap entertainment. If most of your focus is on putting food on the table and paying the rent, when you do have free time you want to vegetate in front of the TV.

These studies aren't the first to show a correlation between wealth and health. In 1996, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Report of the Surgeon General stated that the percentage of the population reporting no leisure-time physical activity is higher among the less affluent than the more affluent. "In general, persons with lower levels of education and income are least active in their leisure time," the report states.

A survey by Yankelovich Partners Inc., commissioned by Shape Up America, revealed a slew of obstacles that make it more difficult for poor people to become more active and eat a better diet. Among the findings were:

One-third of respondents said they did not have anyone in the household to watch the children, which prevented them from getting more activity outside the home.
Lack of access to parks, sidewalks, and recreational areas is a major deterrent for lower-income Americans trying to be more physically active.
Over half of those making less than $15,000 a year (51%) say the inability to afford a gym or health club keeps them from becoming more physically active.
One in four Americans making less than $15,000 a year cited the cost of healthier foods, such as fruits and vegetables, as an obstacle.
Low-income Americans worry about the safety of their neighborhoods for undertaking outdoor activity.

Although lack of money may be part of the problem, lack of time and knowledge also plays a part. Often, lower-income people don't have time to exercise. For example, to make ends meet, some poor people, especially those in one-parent households, hold down more than one job or work long hours. Still, all that's needed, according to federal guidelines, is 30 minutes of exercise five times per week -- something that can be squeezed into the most demanding schedules.

People who take an active role in staying healthy tend to have lower medical bills. When they eat right, exercise and take quality supplements, they tend to get sick less often and take fewer visits to the doctor. This translates to fewer sick days and less time taken off from work to take care of children. When I hear people complain of the high prices for healthty food or supplements, I want to ask, "Have you priced heart disease, cancer, diabetes and the like lately?" Some of the drugs that doctors prescribe for these ailments can run over $100 per month. The cost of health and life insurance can be drastically lower for someone in good health. A 35 year old (non-smoker)male can buy $500,000 of life insurance for $34 per month. If he smokes, it can be four times as much!

Take control of your health today. Carve out thirty minutes of every day to do some form of exercise that you enjoy. It could be as simple as taking a brisk walk. Choose to eat a few extra helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables too.

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