How Should We Cut Health Care Costs?

With a presidential election coming up it is hard to avoid hearing about the issue of rising health care costs and what politicians are planning, or not planning, on doing about it. I figured it was worth sharing some of my thoughts on the matter and the best research I have found so that you can make your own decision.

Before we get into any details I must stress that I am talking from the perspective of a U.S. citizen talking about the U.S. Health Care system as it stands in 2012. I am also talking from the perspective of someone who believes that the U.S. has one of the best, if not the best, healthcare system in the world. And by best I mean has some of the best patient outcomes, regardless of price in the world.

I specifically use the word price as well because I think to a certain degree you get what you pay for. You want the best healthcare, you have to pay for it. On the flip side, I do believe that some of the best treatment methods also cost the least.

When looking at healthcare costs you have to look at a number of things. The administrative cost, hospital costs, doctor costs, equipment costs, drug costs, etc. For the most part nearly all these things have very competitive market based prices that can’t really be lowered without sacrificing quality.

Some of the biggest costs in the medical systems are paid for new drugs and new technologies, all of which are optional for the doctor and patient to choose. While these contribute to overall costs in the medical field I don’t think anyone wants to sacrifice our research and development.

Perhaps one of the biggest costs of the medical industry is misdiagnosis. Doctors aren’t perfect, and I won’t even begin to try and say how they can get better at diagnosis. What I will say is that some tests and procedures are very expensive and oftentimes unnecessary in diagnosing a problem.

For instance, one doctor did a scan on the shoulders of perfectly healthy baseball pitchers and found that nearly 90% had abnormal cartilage and tendons that many doctors would have recommended surgery on. Sports Medicine Said to Overuse M.R.I.’s Remember that these are people with no injuries and no pain.

That is one example among many where expensive procedures are used that end up costing everyone more in rising insurance and Medicare costs. We really need to find a way to discourage both doctors and patients from doing unnecessary procedures.

At the end of the day though, whatever laws get passed, I think we all need to focus on preventive medicine.

Here is a list of the Top 10 most expensive conditions to treat

“Heart disease, cancer, mental disorders, trauma-related disorders (anxiety and stress), osteoarthritis, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, back problems, and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).” While not all of these are preventable, there are many risk factors for each and every one of these conditions that we can lower and eliminate altogether.

Did you know that if we could get people to stop using tobacco so much we would limit cancer deaths by 22% a year? (Source: World Health Organization)

Besides mental disorders and trauma-related disorders nearly all the rest are easily and successfully treated and prevented with good dietary interventions. Yet for some reason we keep using expensive procedures and tests that may or may not help us in the long run.

No one wants to admit it, but to lower health care costs we need to move toward a value based system. In other words, what will give me the most effect for my dollar. What will be more cost effective in the long run? Spending money and time on getting the best possible food in my diet, or suffering through test after test and procedure after procedure to ultimately realize this was all preventable in the first place? The choice is yours.

This is our 33rd challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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Health is Wealth

Back when I was writing my personal finance challenge series I wrote an article called Invest in Health.

Basically it was about not being afraid to spend some money on good preventive health practices such as spending a little more on quality food.

I was reminded of this concept when I walked in the gym the other day and looked at the poster they have on the wall in there that says “Health is Wealth”. Now I look at this poster every day when I go to the gym, but it hit me in a new way recently. Just how valuable is our health?

If you really sit down and think about it health is practically everything. Without health we are slow in mind and body. The things we enjoy to do eventually become hard to do with poor health.

And have you ever really truly thought about what it means to be wealthy? I think there are multiple ways to be wealthy and I am sure you think the same thing too. We can be wealthy in mind, spirit, and body just as we are wealthy in money.

This is mainly a thinking and feeling challenge for you. To really consider the value of health. To think of all the costs to having bad health. And to maybe start do something about it. Or to continue what you are already doing to invest in your good health. This is an encouragement to continue on.

Remember to count your good health the same way you count your wealth.

This is our 32nd challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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Keep a Food Journal for Weight Loss

The title is “Keep a Food Journal for Weight Loss”, but this article can easily be used for any diet plan. Dieting isn’t simply for weight loss. You can also form a diet plan to improve your health, to gain muscle and get stronger, or to improve your athletic performance.

When you think about it, we really are what we eat. Good food goes in, and our bodies become good machines that allow us to do what we want. Bad food goes in, and our bodies start breaking down and don’t allow us to accomplish what we want to do in life.

Just think of the body as a biological machine. I have always loved the car analogy in this regard. A car needs the appropriate gas for the engine. It needs regular oil changes. Fluids need replaced periodically. It needs cleaned on a regular basis both inside and out.

Put the right stuff in on a regular basis and your car runs at top performance. Neglect any of these things and your cars performance begins to suffer. It is the same with our bodies.

Food gives us energy to run. Food helps us to lubricate our joints and ligaments. Food helps us create new blood cells and adds to all the other things we need in out blood. Food also have a cleansing effect for cleaning out any harmful things in out body.

Now if food can do all that the opposite should hold true as well. Bad food can make us feel lethargic, gum up our joints and ligaments, destroy beneficial things in our bloodstream, and just make our whole bodies a garbage dump.

Food is important. And I will emphasize over and over again, we really can’t get anywhere with our health and fitness goals if we really don’t have a handle on what we are putting in our mouths. And it all begins with a food journal.

What is a food journal?

Simply this…

It is a record of everything you put in your mouth. The type and amounts of food as closely as you can measure them. Recorded every time you eat, no matter how small it is. With the time of day, and preferably how you feel before and after eating.

The knowledge you get from doing this is priceless.

A week of doing this will open your eyes like never before. A month doing this will set you on the right track to meet each and every health and fitness goal you have. A year of doing this will change your life forever.

To start buy yourself either an actual journal or a day planner that has a page per day and possibly includes the hours in the day. A journal entry doesn’t need to be long and drawn out. Here is an example of a journal entry:

Friday July 13th, 2012

7:30am – Woke up feeling pretty good this morning and drank my normal glass of water.
8:00am – Ate a bowl of greek yogurt with raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Put in my normal 3 scoops of yogurt using one of our bigger spoons (equals roughly 1/4 of the container and 250 calories) I used a handful of each type of berry. (This equals around 50 calories per handful or 150 altogether). My breakfast this morning is 400 calories and makes me feel full for a long time.

You get the idea. Try to get a rough idea of how many calories the food has, and how it makes you feel in a very general sense. And remember to add every little snack and drink. Brewed coffee and tea don’t have many calories until you add milk and sugar, but add them anyhow so you can write down how you feel using them.

Once you write everything down you might be surprised how much you are eating everyday. For instance, maybe you never really eat a big meal, but you are snacking on food way more than you realized. Or maybe you are the opposite type of person that skips breakfast, but eats large portions later in the day. You might be surprised how many calories you can actually eat in one meal.

In any case, a food journal is the foundation for any food planning you will do in the future, and is a very practical necessity.

This is our 31st challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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Control Your Food Portions, Control Your Waistline

Recently I have been reading a book about making decisions and the psychology behind it. Actually this book is more about neuroscience than psychology but more on that later.

One of the studies in the book talks about how we automatically eat more when we don’t control our portion sizes. It was a study done by the University of Pennsylvania in 2006.

The researchers placed candy and pretzels in a variety of public places and studied the effects of how much people consumed depending on the serving spoon or serving size available. As you can probably guess people ate more when the serving spoon was bigger even though they could have eaten more by using the smaller serving spoon multiple times.

Perhaps we are culturally ingrained to eat everything on our plate. Waste not, want not, right? Unfortunately when it comes to food, by eating all the food on our plates we eventually want to lose weight.

In a “super-size” world, controlling our portions isn’t easy, but it can still be done.

First we need to realize that this is something we need to think a little about before we are hungry at the dinner table. Eating food is pretty much an automatic event for all of us. We develop patterns of eating over the years and don’t really think much about what we are doing. Until we want to lose weight…

Whenever someone asks me for help in losing weight (or any type of diet plan), I always tell them to start a food journal or log. This is the single most important tool you have in your arsenal. Don’t even think about starting a diet plan without one.

The second most important tool in your arsenal is all the people who support you. Sometimes it is hard to stick with a plan when it is up to ourselves. Our minds are weak for chocolate cake. Surround yourself with supportive people and you can achieve almost any goal.

If you have the two things above in place, then the next couple of practices should come easily…

First you should never eat directly out of a container that has more than a single portion size you have determined beforehand. The slogan for Pringles potato chips really speaks the truth, “Once you pop, you can’t stop.” Measure out correct size portions into plastic baggies, or whatever container works, and only eat that portion.

Recognize what a serving size really is. As I mentioned in my article “How To Read Nutrition Labels“, serving sizes really can be deceiving. There are a lot of great articles on the internet that show you in pictures what a real serving size looks like. I previously wrote about this in my article What Does 200 Calories Look Like. And here is an example of What 300 Calories Looks Like. A Google search for similar terms should give you some good results.

Finally you should do some food planning. You don’t need to plan every meal, but when you are first starting out you should plan a whole day or week worth of food, calculate the serving sizes, and calories consumed. Once you get enough practice doing this, you should be able to reasonably estimate how much calories you are eating at any meal, and then adjust you serving sizes accordingly…

This is our 30th challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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Back From The Colorado Trail

Hi All,

This is just a quick message to let everyone know I am back. I recently completed a month long trip hiking the Colorado Trail. It was an amazing experience. I met a bunch of great people and I learned a lot.

Here is a link to my personal website if you are interested in reading about it…

Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail by Jeremy Day

And here is a link to some of my best photos from the trip…

Colorado Trail photos on Google Plus

I eventually will write a book about my experience on the trail. It will be a mix of “how to backpack”, details about the Colorado Trail, and my experience of it. If you are interested at all please follow the link to my website and sign up for the email updates so you will know when the book comes out.

As far as Insight Writer goes I do plan on getting back to a regular posting schedule. At least posting once a week and hopefully more.

In the coming months I will finish the Better Health Challenge Series. My current goal for the release of a book on this topic is January 2013.

I originally planned on releasing my Personal Finance Challenge Book by this time, but my focus was taken away by my interest in the Colorado Trail. And I honestly lacked the motivation to write about the subject. One way or another I will finish it, and my current goal for release is also January 2013.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Or suggestions to make this website better. There are a lot of things in the works as you can tell, and this website is more or less on cruise control at the moment. But I do hope to keep improving it and making it better.

Thanks for reading!


Posted in Interesting Things, Personal Development, Personal Finance, Personal Health Tagged , |

How to Combat Fatigue and Tiredness

If there is one symptom that people complain about more than any other it is fatigue. With our busy lives and general lack of sleep it is no surprise we suffer from fatigue. But sometimes fatigue can have a deeper cause…

An infection, a thyroid problem, a kidney disease, and even diabetes can cause fatigue. There are many causes of fatigue and it is important to remember that is can be a symptom to a much more dangerous disease. Regardless of the cause there are also numerous ways to help combat fatigue and general tiredness.

Ways to Fight Tiredness:

  1. Simply Sleep – Nothing can overcome tiredness like simply sleeping more. A daily nap, or setting a solid sleep schedule can do wonders for making you feel more alive during the day.
  2. Eat Better – Even with a good amount of sleep everyday sometimes you are still tired. Food plays a big role in your alertness during the day. Eating a lot of junk food and sugary snacks and drinks may give you a quick up, but they can bring you down even quicker. Eating green leafy vegetables have a lot of B vitamins that have been shown to increase energy levels. Eating a little more protein and fat earlier in the day will help keep your energy levels pretty steady over the day.
  3. Exercise – Sleep more, eat better, and exercise more seem to be the prescription for everything, but they truly do work. Exercise has a moderating effect on our energy levels. It helps flush out toxins through sweat and push a nourishing volume of blood to the far regions of our body. Better blood flow pretty much equals better energy levels.
  4. Practice breathing – Oxygen is what gives us life. It only takes a few minutes without oxygen for us to die. Like blood flow, breathing deeply helps us to gain better energy levels through increased oxygen uptake. At any point of the day remember to get a few good belly breathes. Focus on moving your abdomen to bring oxygen into your lungs, and push out as much air (carbon dioxide) as possible.
  5. Drink water – Increasing your energy is all about bringing good things into your body and pushing bad things out. Like blood and air, our bodies need water to perform those tasks. Good clean water is vital for life and most of us need to drink more water than we normally do. Go grab a drink of water anytime you think about it. Maybe even set the alarm on your phone to drink something at least every hour or two.

If all of the above doesn’t work it is probably a good idea to consult a doctor and have them test for some other possible problems. As I mentioned in the beginning fatigue can be caused by a lot of things, but doing the 5 things above will go a long way to improving your energy levels each and every day.

This is our 29th challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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How to Read Nutrition Labels

I have been looking at a lot of nutrition labels lately and they sure are confusing. It seems like they give very little useful information and seem so disorganized. I am sure there is a better way but we are stuck with what we have. In any case, let’s start out at the beginning and see if we can sort a few things out.

The very first thing you see might be the most confusing. That is the serving size. There are no set rules to serving size and companies often list simply ridiculous serving sizes to distort the truth about their product.

I have seen serving sizes in ounces, fluid ounces, cups and fractions of cups, grams, and all kinds of other units of measure. Even if you know exactly what all these units of measure are, they still don’t give you a good idea of what a serving size looks like.

For instance, something dry and light can have a lot of calories per ounce and seem like a very small amount, while something that is water laden and heavy can have few calories and seem really big for the suggested servings. A tomato is very heavy and has few calories per ounce, but sun dried tomatoes are very light and have a lot of calories per ounce.

Luckily food manufacturers have to list the servings per container. By doing a little math you can figure out the total amount of calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, etc. per container than figure out your own serving size. Of course, this is more math than most people like to do.

It is very interesting to note that nutrition labels list calories then calories from fat. Some fat is good and some fat is bad. My opinion is that this is a holdover from an old idea that all fat, or too much fat is bad for you. Too much good fat is good for you, too much bad fat is bad for you is another way of saying something closer to the truth.

Next up Daily Value is listed. Daily Value is of almost no use to us because it varies depending on our calorie needs among other things. Various types of activity place a higher or lower demand on your daily needs as well. It can act like a somewhat good reference point though.

Most labels today list Total Fat and then list the various types of fat underneath it. Trans Fats are the worst and I would say you should have 0% of them in your diet. You can’t go wrong by avoiding trans fats if any is listed on the label. Mono-unsaturated fats (those found in high amounts in olive oil) are some of the best fats out there. Eat plenty of those. All other fats fall on a spectrum between those two from bad to good.

Cholesterol is next up. My opinion is that cholesterol is good for you. And recent research has shown that dietary cholesterol has little to no effect on blood serum cholesterol.

Sodium and Potassium are next up on the list. These are micronutrients that are essential for the proper functioning of ion transport. This basically means that sodium and potassium are essential for getting all nutrients back and forth across the cell membrane. Without them cells start dying off.

Although imbalances are rare, people tend to get more sodium than they need and not enough potassium. These should be roughly equal when added up in all the foods you eat over the course of a day. Sweat producing exercise/work causes people to lose a lot of sodium through sweat so those people may need to worry about their sodium needs more than sedentary people. Likewise, sedentary people should really focus on having a low sodium diet.

Total Carbohydrate is next up. Again, this is broken down into dietary fiber (good for you) and sugars (bad for you in excess). This is another place things get confusing. The “health” community keeps saying that complex carbohydrates are good for you, but that too much sugar is bad for you. Well complex carbohydrates are still made of sugars, no matter how much fiber they have. Yes, your whole grain cereal has a ton of sugar in it. I’m sorry. But it is ok. Your body will do just fine with some sugar. Just don’t overdo it.

And protein is last. Protein is made up of different amino acids. Some better than others, but it isn’t necessary to talk or worry about every single one. The average person should aim for half their body weight in grams of protein a day. If you work out a lot than you should probably up your protein requirement. Just remember to drink a lot of water with your protein. Your kidneys will thank you.

Next up we have the daily values for a few micronutrients represented in the food product. As I mentioned before the daily values are almost useless if you don’t have a good handle on the actual amount you are eating. Eating a large variety of nutritious foods will help you ignore this section entirely.

Last but not least we have the ingredient list. The ingredients are listed in the order of their amounts. This means that the #1 ingredient is the main ingredient in the food. The last ingredient usually represents less than 2% of the actual final product. Things to look out for are foods that you are allergic too, and any nasty ingredients such as MSG (monosodium glutamate). yum!

That about does it for this article. Hope this helps in your future nutrition facts label reading odysseys. :-)

This is our 28th challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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Be Ready For An Emergency

This might seem like a detour from your normal health advice, but it certainly isn’t. Emergencies sometimes turn out to be a life or death situation. If you have the knowledge and tools you need to improve the situation, you can literally save someone’s life, including your own.

The best way to prevent an emergency is to avoid them in the first place. Be a defensive driver, avoid dangerous situation, etc. But no matter what we do accidents can and do occur all the time.

I, along with many other people, are under the belief that everyone should have basic first aid and CPR training. Watching it on tv does not count. You have to get in a classroom and practice the necessary skills. If it has been a number of years since you have taken the course then perhaps it is time you took a refresher course.

(Disclaimer: While I offer some of the basics here, reading about this stuff can never replace actually practicing it.)

So some people watch CPR happening on tv and actually believe they can do it in an emergency situation without proper training. They think that CPR is just blowing air into a person’s mouth and pounding on their chest. This is foolhardy at best and dangerous at worst.

The easy way that we all remember how to do CPR (or at least used to) is by minding our ABC’s. First comes Airway, then Breathing, and finally Circulation. If you haven’t taken a class in a few years then you won’t know that the guidelines changed a bit. It is now CAB. Circulation comes first because recent research has shown that circulating the blood to the brain is more important than getting more oxygen in the blood by breathing. Again, please go take a class, even if you took one 10 years ago.

2010 CPR Layman Guidelines2010 CPR AHA Scientific Guidelines

In a situation requiring CPR you should ALWAYS call 911 first! Only then can you proceed to CPR. If your workplace has a defibrillator you should know how to use it. Then proceed to do CPR.

The American Heart Association has shown through its research that a “hands only” approach to CPR is still much better than doing nothing, and almost as effective as managing the the airway and breathing for the person. If you go into panic mood and all else fails simply doing chest compressions fast and hard will prolong a person’s life, hopefully long enough till emergency responders can get there.

The other part of being able to respond to an emergency situation is to have a first aid kit AND first aid training.

You should have some basic emergency supplies in your home, car, and place of work. The type and amount in each kit will just depend on where you are traveling and what type of work you do. Your home emergency kit should be well stocked as well.

So when it comes to what you have in each kit it is good to think about the function it will serve instead of actual specific items. For instance, when you need pain relief you should have some ibuprofen or aspirin.

You should have things to clean wounds such as antibiotic ointment and a syringe to irrigate the wound with water. If you think about it, it is always good to have a bottle of water just to stay hydrated.

You need to have something that can stop bleeding, bandages, gauze, medical tape, all the way up to a large trauma pad.

You should also think about having things that can relieve burns, reduce allergic reactions, keep you warm, and well hydrated. The types of things you carry with you will all depend on the most likely situations you will face.

Having good knowledge about first aid will help you buy and build the best kit possible. And again I will emphasize the need to take a class and practice this stuff. Reading it here should only spark your interest. Right now you should be saying to yourself, “Maybe I should go sign up for a CPR and first aid class”. I can guarantee you won’t regret it!

This is our 27th challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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Change Up Your Exercise Routine

I have had a pretty steady workout routine in the gym for about 8 months now. I work out with weights either 2 or 3 days a week and hit all the major body parts at least once during the week. I saw some good gains when I first started out, but I have had a couple of months where I didn’t see any gains at all. Then almost suddenly I started to have major gains again. What is the secret?

Changing things up…

Whatever your workout routine is, your body will eventually adjust to it. If you lift the same amount of weight all the time you will never get bigger or stronger. If all you ever do is run 3 miles a couple times a week, then you won’t get faster or be able to run longer distances that well.

As far as weight lifting goes I was making steady progress in the big 3 powerlifting moves (bench press, deadlift, squat). I didn’t change up my routine at all and after a few months my squat started really lagging behind my deadlift. After reaching a max on my deadlift that I was proud of I went back and worked on my squats. Better technique, using lighter weights to go lower to the ground, focusing on positioning, etc. After a few months of work there I finally hit a new max in the squat.

What is interesting is that the exact opposite happened to me in the bench press. I reached a max I was proud of and stopped working on it. Instead I worked a lot on my shoulder press and some other complementary movements. What happened? I came back and increased my max by 20 pounds overnight!

What I have noticed is that 3-4 months is the optimal time to try something new. Nothing too drastic, but just something that might have a big impact on your performance.

Weight lifters often focus on the big movements, but forget that some of the complementary movements can help them increase the amount of weight they can move in the big movements. Power cleans help the deadlift, shoulder presses help the bench press, lunges help the squat. Sometimes it also pays to lower the weight and increase your reps while working on your form.

Runners can benefit from sprint intervals and hill running. Runners also benefit a lot from doing pace work. Running their race pace in shorter distances.

Athletes in every sport can benefit from cross training. Swimming is a much more intense cardiovascular activity than practically anything out there. Volleyball or basketball can improve the power of your legs as can biking and hiking. Various activities can help your performance in your chosen sport, but it pays to learn about what can benefit you and what really doesn’t help.

No matter what, whether you play a sport or just practice an activity for your health, it pays to mix things up a bit. See what works and what doesn’t. It is better than constantly wearing down your body in specific areas and not improving at all. A balanced workout routine will keep you healthier in the long run.

This is our 26th challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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On the Mind Body Connection

Have you ever just sat down and thought about how amazing the human body is? It is a wonderfully complex machine capable of so many things. How variable the human body is continues to confound scientists, and certainly will continue to confound scientists for generations to come.

Sometimes I wonder if the only limits the human body has is the mental limits we set upon it.

Take Roger Bannister for instance. For a very long time people thought that running a 4 minute mile was impossible. Maybe it was improbable because no one had ran a mile that fast up to that point, but certainly not impossible because on May 6th, 1954 Roger Bannister proved it could be done.

We are now reaching another milestone in running history. Since 1908 the world record for the marathon has dropped from 2:55 (breaking 3 hours was a big deal then too) to an all time low of 2:03:38 set by Patrick Macau on September 25th, 2011. We are now close to seeing a sub 2 hour marathon which many people thought would have been impossible up to recent times.

Another amazing person is Wim Hof. He has set many records associated with extreme cold including a 1 hour 44 minute ice bath. He has also run a full marathon in -20 degree temperatures in only shorts, and ran a full marathon in the desert without water. He attributes his amazing abilities to his meditation techniques. Keep in mind that any three of these records he holds would probably kill or severely injure someone else, if they could even finish them.

This just includes what people can do with their bodies alone and not technology. With technology we can do so many more amazing things. One of my favorite daredevils is Jeb Corliss who is known for “flying” dangerously close to the ground in what we would call a “flying squirrel” suit. One of his most famous videos is called Grinding the Crack where he flies off a mountain and down through a canyon hence the name, “Grinding the Crack.”

I don’t mention all these people to inspire you to do similar things or even to achieve similar records. I mention all these people to inspire you to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Maybe you just want to get in shape or lose a few pounds. Maybe you just want to be able to be healthy enough to participate in a sport or hobby. Your mind can lead the way.

Read their stories… Be inspired… Get out of your house and do your thing, whatever it may be…

This is our 25th challenge in The Personal Health Challenge Series…

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