In traditional Chinese medicine, there is a phrase used called the “concession of morbidity.”  What does that mean?

concession:  to accept as true, valid, or accurate

morbidity:  the relative incidence of disease

Basically, it means that we accept that we are going to get sick and die.  It can be a harsh reality, I know, and sometimes a little scary to think about.  But here’s the light at the end of the tunnel, or rather, before the end of the tunnel!

…ideally, your death is not until you have reached a very old age; you’ve lived a great life; and the period of time where you suffer with ill-health is short.

Unfortunately, what is happening in the US currently is that we are getting illnesses early on.  There are childhood illnesses such as allergies, eczema, digestive problems, and behavior problems.  Then, in adolescence, we add in some hormone problems and injuries.  In adulthood, we certainly have more stress which wreaks havoc on our health.  By the time the average American is elderly, they are on 17 medications, have a 2 in 3 chance of being physically or cognitively impaired, and have average annual healthcare costs of over $13,000.   

Here’s a graph of what this idea looks like (with wellness represented by the vertical axis and time on the diagonal):

decrease lifetime healthcare costs by better health

As a practitioner of Oriental medicine, when I talk about healthcare costs, I am talking about the cost over a single person’s lifespan.  If your HMO or other major medical plan covers everything except a $20 copay, it may seem relatively inexpensive.  

But what of the cost over the long-term?  What of the cost to your family and their potential inheritance if you end up in a nursing home or needing full-time care?  What is the cost of not being able to work anymore and being forced into retirement or early retirement?  What is the cost of not being able to enjoy your retirement?  

Our health starts this slippery slope downward when we try to mask the problems that arise, but don’t actively figure out what may be causing them.  

For example, you are under a lot of stress at work and over a few years of increased demands and less down-time, you develop high blood pressure.  Covering up the symptom with a pill would be a quick-fix and is very tempting for cost (if your high-powered job provides health insurance) and time efficiency, but over the long run…  the medication works by slowing down your heart so you will feel tired and your circulation will not work as good; the stress is still there and hasn’t *really* been handled so it will lead to other stress-related problems (ulcers / shoulder pain / headaches / etc.).

In this same example, a more wellness-oriented approach may involve more up-front cost (gym membership, fewer overtime hours at work, healthier foods, a monthly massage, etc.), but over the long-term, the maintenance of your health has tremendous value.  You avoid the nursing home (if you choose to) and further related health incidents (and the requisite doctor’s and emergency visits, testing, and procedures).  And your quality of life and enjoyment of it increases.  Up-front costs for long-term gains.   

Our lives and the value therein are much, much more than just numbers and facts.  We live our life to be happy.  Playing with the grand-kids, taking a cruise, and maybe still doing some work that you love to do is all a part of our value of life.  I tell my clients, I’m not fixing your elbow, I’m fixing your golf game!  Our motivation to live boils down to getting to do what makes us happy.

So, how do we achieve a long, healthy life and afford to do so?  Where is the balance in this equation?

Here are my ideas:

1.  Make health a priority.  In other words, health is not something you pay attention to only if it’s bad or problematic, but something you continually, actively engage in bettering.  Set a regular schedule for exercises that you enjoy; plan healthy meals; and take vitamins.

2.  When you’re at your primary physician’s office, ask him or her for ideas in how to either reduce or eliminate the need for medications.  For example, are there any dietary changes that they would recommend?  How about exercise plans?  Could talking to other specialists – physical therapy, acupuncture, psychology, massage, personal trainer – be helpful?  If your doctor doesn’t support your need for more information…find a new doctor.

3.  Don’t rely on your medical insurance to care about your health.  Your insurance company is just that – a company.  Their priority is not your health.  Their priority is making their shareholders happy.  They do this by taking your premium and paying fewer claims.  Ultimately, if your priority is to stay healthy, you may need to seek help that is not covered by your Medicare or insurance.  A healthy body is your responsibility.  Take ownership of your health and live the life you always dreamed of.