In this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Victor Yehling talks with Dr. Thomas Schiller, medical director of BetterLife Wellness at SwedishAmerican Health Systems, about what individuals can do to improve their health – and what support and encouragement is available.
The idea of a “better life” sounds very appealing, and Schiller makes it very clear that each person can have a profound effect on his or her own health.
“So much of health, so much of disease in the world today is really self-inflicted,” he said. “Certainly in our community, in a developed country, lifestyle choices have resulted in an epidemic of a number of things.”
We hear often and a lot, he says, about the increasing number of our citizens who are overweight, suffering from chronic diseases, taking multiple medications, and make frequent trips for medical care and treatment.
“The World Health Organization would say that probably 70 percent of deaths in the United States are affected by, really, four lifestyle choices: smoking, inactivity, nutritional choices – what we eat and the resulting obesity, and excessive alcohol use,” Schiller said. “So that’s a little sobering, but also I think a little hopeful, because those are all modifiable behaviors.”
He cites these positive factors in the “science for hope:”
- Since the mid- ’40s or ’50s the rate of smoking among adults has been going down.
- Since the mid-’90s the rate of smoking among teenagers has been going down.
- Our epidemic of obesity has kind of plateaued around the year 2000 and flattened out a little bit.
- The rates of our children who are obese and overweight, although much higher than it was 10 to 20 years ago, has leveled off in the last few years and started going down.
“But then, those are all modifiable behaviors,” he noted. “What makes life better is personal choices that impact any of those and result in healthier employees, healthier citizens, healthier people.”
What can people do to deal with any or all of those issues?
“I’m a firm believer that you want to make the right thing to do the easy thing to do,” Schiller explained, “and a lot of that has to do with availability and access to healthy choices rather than less healthy ones.”
He also says that incentives can play an important role – even if you have to create them yourself.
“Certainly on a personal level you can say, ‘Well, if I do A, the result might be B and I like the result B,’” Schiller says.
He also notes that employers can provide incentives to entice their workers to do things that make them healthier – things like promoting additional activities, offering or encouraging smoking-cessation classes, providing programs on buying and preparing healthier foods, and more.
There can be a double benefit for employers who encourage their workers to be healthy, Schiller says, in terms of productivity and insurance costs. His own employer has some 3,000 people under its umbrella, so it’s self-insured: It pays all health-care costs for its workers rather than buying an outside policy to cover them.
“For years (SwedishAmerican) has incentivized employee behaviors,” he said. “To have a lower premium for my health insurance, I’m incentivized to participate in activities, to exercise, to know my (blood-pressure and cholesterol) numbers.”
Employees can opt into or opt out of those programs, Schiller explained, but “with cost savings to me, I’m incentivized to participate.”
He notes that not all companies are large enough to insure themselves, but even small companies might win lower rates on the health policies they buy if their employees take part in healthy activities.
“The system certainly saves money,” he said, “the individuals’ out-of-pocket costs would go down, and supplies or other health-care costs would be less.”
Healthy people also feel better and are able to enjoy the things they do more, Schiller adds, and employers benefit because healthier workers are more productive workers and they don’t miss work as much.
“Really, it is a win all around for those things,” he said.
Schiller says the community also can get involved to encourage healthier living, citing the Blue Zone Project that was discussed as part of the continuing Transform Rockford interaction.
“Although there’s a fair amount of work to be done for that,” he said, “societal infrastructure certainly plays a role in those healthy choices and doing the right thing.”
That “societal infrastructure,” he explains, would include certain factors within the community:
- Easy and ready access to healthy foods – a problem for those who live in so-called food deserts
- Effective public transportation – having the option to walk and/or take the bus to work rather than drive
- Available recreational activities — like walking and bicycle paths, parks, and participatory athletic or sporting events
“If they’re not there,” he said, “it’s hard to make that choice. The more available they are, the easier it is to opt to participate in those things and make the healthy choices.”
Schiller also is a strong supporter of physical education in the schools and “would not want to see that diminished in any way.”
Although many factors – including genetics – can affect any given individual, Schiller said, “For any individual, the benefits of specific interventions or very specific changes are undeniable.”
And, he says, you don’t necessarily have to make massive changes to see positive results. “Everybody doesn’t have to have a marathon runner’s body, but five pounds of weight loss can have a very significant impact on quality of life, length of life,” Schiller said.
“It’s not that somebody who’s 50 pounds overweight needs to lose 50 pounds; they can lose five pounds and start reaping benefits,” he summarized, “which is why even little interventions – walking even a little bit more, being a little more mindful of what you’re eating, quitting smoking – small steps toward a healthier life can make huge differences.”
News Source: http://northernpublicradio.org/post/little-things-can-make-big-difference-health-and-life-expectancy
T-Map Project: Blue Zones click here