We Can Aim for More Than a Long, Sick, Expensive Life

The problem is actually that we're living longer, but the longevity is fueled by very expensive chronic diseases that were preventable. The dream of living a long, healthy life has been replaced by living a long, sick life.
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My mind is still on overdrive with images and concepts that I picked up during a three-day whirlwind of learning from our nation's medical visionaries at the recent TEDMED conference in Washington, D.C.

But although many of these notions are dressed up in a new outfit of flash and "buzz," at their core you'll still find wisdom that we've all heard before.

An example: America's central health problem isn't so much that we're dying early. Our system is quite good at pulling people back from the brink of death, whether they've fallen off a ladder or had their second heart attack. The problem is actually that we're living longer... but the longevity is fueled by very expensive chronic diseases that were preventable. The dream of living a long, healthy life has been replaced by living a long, sick life.

Is that what we really want?

The TEDMED conference -- like the other TED rallies that show us what Americans can attain -- highlights technological breakthroughs that could enrich and elevate our daily lives, providing the future that was promised to us when we were kids. (Hey, they're working on self-driving cars, even if they still don't fly!) But these cost money. And unfortunately, too much of our money is spent helping people cope with chronic diseases that ideally they wouldn't have.

We're spending in the neighborhood of $175 billion or more annually to treat and cope with diabetes, which 26 million Americans now have. Add to that about $450 billion for heart disease. And we're spending more than $227 billion for cancer-related costs. Those three diseases may set us back a trillion dollars each year! How many wind turbines, solar panels, and smart electrical grids could we buy with that?

Can we completely prevent these expensive ailments? No. Our nation will always have a need to treat these. Can we find radical ways to slash the number of Americans with these diseases? Yes. Innovators are working to find solutions that encourage Americans to make choices that will make them naturally disease-resistant. But why wait for new ways to do this? Odds are good that they'll be new variations on these themes that you can do today:

1. Be deliberate with what you put in your mouth. Eat a reasonable amount of food, and make each choice as nutrient-packed as possible.

2. Move your body more. Ideally, your body should be in motion more than it's sitting still... and the opposite is the norm for most of us.

3. Don't smoke. If you do, break free of it. If you don't, why start?

And be kind to your brain and spirit. If anxiety and depression are eating you from the inside out, take steps to achieve a brighter outlook.

That's a starting point. Does the story end there? Of course not. And that's where our medical capabilities and advances come in.

Innovation has always been a huge part of what America is all about. I don't think it should stop. I do think that we can each do so much more on our own, with minimal to no cost, to reduce the need for quite so much innovation, at every potential opportunity. I believe we can get what we really want (better health outcomes and better health at much lower cost) with innovative thinking that empowers the patient in all of us to adopt a healthier mindset and lifestyle... utilizing innovative technology only when the preventive efforts leave us needing more.

For more by Dr. Cindy Haines, click here.

For more on TEDMED, click here.

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