An article by Jeannine Stein in today's Los Angeles Times reports on a new study by Kenneth E. Thorpe and Zhou Yang in the journal Health Affairs. According to the authors of the study, expanding a successful YMCA diabetes prevention program to a nationwide audience could save Medicare $1.8 - 3.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.
The YMCA program cited by the authors targeted overweight or obese adults ages 60-64 who were prediabetic and had risk factors for heart disease. By losing weight and learning healthy lifestyle habits, the program participants lost an average of 7% of their body weight and maintained the loss over 2.8 years. The incidence of diabetes in the group went down 71%.
The study's authors extrapolated these findings to estimate the cost savings to Medicare by rolling out the program to a national audience. No big surprise: losing weight has significant health benefits and prevents the development of a number of chronic (and expensive) diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
The savings to Medicare would depend on what percentage of eligible people actually enrolled, but the numbers are staggering. Maintaining a healthy body weight before you become eligible for Medicare saves the country money, and it saves you money.
So how to go about losing weight? Here are six simple tips:
1. Choose real food from the perimeter of the grocery store. Fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meat, poultry and seafood and whole, unprocessed grains are the foundation for a healthy diet. Steer clear of processed foods that are often packed with salt, sugar and fat.
2. Eat your calories; don't drink them. Sugary sodas and sports drinks, high-calorie gourmet coffees and an excess of alcohol will pile on the empty calories. Before you know it, you'll have used up a whole day's quota of calories, but you'll still feel hungry. Choose water or unsweetened tea instead, and save your calories for real food that satisfies your hunger.
3. Get moving. You don't need a fancy gym membership or special equipment to lose weight. And you certainly don't need to be a triathlete to get fit. If you haven't been a regular exerciser, walking is a great, free way to get started. Begin by walking just 10-20 minutes per day, at a pace that's challenging, but doesn't leave you out of breath. Build up to at least 30-40 minutes, and try to make your walk a part of every day.
4. Flex your muscles. If you're not doing resistance training while you diet, you'll be losing muscle in addition to fat. Muscle tissue requires more fuel than fat, so building muscle helps turn up your metabolism and helps you burn more calories even while you're asleep. Muscle tissue is also more dense than fat, so you'll look leaner and your clothes will fit better.
5. Get help. Everybody needs a cheering section sometimes. Losing weight is a lot easier if you have a like-minded buddy to help you resist temptation and get you out walking when you'd rather stay home. Do yourself a favor; hang out with other people who are motivated to lose weight, and tune out the naysayers.
Whatever your position on the value of Medicare as a government program, it's hard to argue with the benefits of preventing chronic disease by maintaining a healthy weight. So whether you do it so Medicare is available for future generations or you do it just for your own benefit, get moving and get healthy!
(photo credit: accent on eclectic)