The Obama administration and the 111th Congress have chosen to tackle Health Care Reform as their top domestic priority -- and rightly so. Costs are out of control, millions of people are uninsured or under-insured and too many Americans are receiving sub-standard health care. We are the greatest country on earth. In health care we can and must do better.
The administration has said that its dual goal of reducing health care costs and making quality health care accessible to all is an economic and moral imperative. As many previous presidents and Congresses have found out, effective health care reform, while clearly needed, is tremendously complex and politically challenging to attain.
I am not a politician, nor am I a policy expert, but I do know a thing or two about promoting health and fitness having been a pioneer of the personal training industry, a successful fitness entrepreneur, and for the last four years, Chairman of the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. In each of my endeavors I have successfully encouraged people to take ownership over their own problems and break down their health and fitness goals into small, simple steps.
Take a look in the mirror America. As a country, we're overweight and out of shape and regardless of whatever health care reform package we end up with, we will not be able to effectively reduce overall health care costs if we don't exercise more and eat better.
So, while we wait for our political leaders to finalize an effective health care reform package that extends access to quality health care to all Americans, I suggest three simple things we can do to help reduce overall health care costs NOW:
1. Doctors and other health care providers - Prescribe exercise to patients who would benefit from being more physically active.
Research proves that exercise has a role in the treatment and prevention of more than 40 chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and hypertension. People who exercise regularly are less likely to develop these chronic diseases and less likely to burden our health care system with unnecessary costs. The American College of Sports Medicine with support from the American Medical Association has developed an initiative called Exercise is Medicine that encourages doctors and other health care providers to prescribe exercise to their patients. Doctors participating in this program report that patients feel better and are being prescribed less medication as a result. Every medical professional in the country should take this pledge and begin immediately prescribing exercise to patients who would benefit from being more physically active.
2. Principals, teachers and other educational leaders -- Consider it part of your mission to encourage your students to be physically active inside and outside of school.
Childhood obesity has risen at an alarming rate over the last 30 years and is causing too many of our children to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and other health problems, which in turn burdens our health care system with skyrocketing medical costs. In California, our Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports initiated the Governor's Fitness Challenge four years ago to encourage California children to be physically active for at least 30-60 minutes a day, at least three days a week in addition to regularly scheduled physical education. Over the last four years participation in our Governor's Challenge has grown from 10,000 participants in year one to over 339,000 participants last year. Some educators shied away from this challenge because they thought spending time promoting health and fitness would jeopardize their students' academic growth. Turns out, the schools that recorded the highest levels of physical activity per student in the Governor's Challenge not only made a positive impact on student health, they also had rates of academic improvement that surpassed the rest of the state. Given our experience in California and the growing body of evidence across the country showing that academics and fitness do go hand in hand, it would serve our children and our country well if educators at all levels would aspire to developing our children's minds and bodies to their full potential.
3. Moms, dads, kids and all Americans - when it comes to exercise, do something fun, do something simple and Don't Quit!
We all know that exercising is good for us. Still, too many of us don't exercise regularly because we can't find the time, we don't have the energy, and we treat exercise as a chore. Don't get caught up in what so called "experts" say you have to do -- whether you hike, bike, swim, surf, play lacrosse or do yoga, the most important thing is that you find something you like and that you get active and stay active. By choosing something you enjoy, you're more likely to find the time to do it. And if you're ever tempted to quit, remember that by being active you're not only building your health, confidence and self-esteem, you're reducing unnecessary medical costs thereby improving the health of our overall economy. After all, what John F. Kennedy said nearly 40 years ago rings true for health care today, "ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."
There are a thousand other things that we can do, the three I've listed above are just a start.
I know that health care costs have been spiraling out of control for decades and that despite the best efforts of politicians on both sides of the aisle we have been unable to contain them. However, I also know we are the greatest country on earth because we do not shrink from our challenges and we do not give up until we get things right.
I leave you with the ending line of the poem called "Don't Quit" that has inspired me for the better part of the last 40 years:
"Stick to the fight when you're hardest hit, it's when things seem worst that you must not quit."
Don't quit on you, don't quit on your health, and don't quit on this great country!
Jake Steinfeld is the Chairman of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting physical activity and fitness for all Californians especially children and youth and is one of the fitness industry's reigning icons, responsible for creating the personal fitness training industry over 30 years ago.
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