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Time for sustained exercise to bend the healthcare cost curve — and promote better thinking

January 1, 2013 2 comments

Knowledge workers earn their livings analyzing, abstracting and communicating.  In today’s Information/Internet economy, all too many knowledge workers needlessly do so working under legacy Industrial Age 8-5 office schedules, spending even more time each day relatively immobile than sleeping.  Add to that another 1-3 hours spent sitting in a daily commute to a central office location.  Month after month, year after year of this occupational lifestyle sets the stage for the development of preventable chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity that drive the health cost curve and the health insurance crisis.

But that’s not all.  Lack of physical movement can also dull the knowledge worker’s most important tool: their brain.  This Sacramento Bee article cites research linking physical activity to the brain’s ability to perform learning and memory tasks.

The clear conclusion to be drawn is sustained exercise could produce dividends for organizations by not only lowering their healthcare and insurance costs, but also the added bonus of better and more creative thinking.  For knowledge organizations, affording workers control over their schedules and time for sustained exercise probably is likely the most cost effective “workplace wellness” program going.  A key program component is ditching outmoded Industrial Age commuting and office hours and becoming a more virtual organization and maximizing the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).  Knowledge work can be done anywhere, and some of the most creative thinking happens during and after sustained exercise.  That requires freeing up time for it every work day by getting people out of their cars and cubicles.

Sedentary (and obsolete) office/commuter culture drives epidemic of obesity and diabetes, pushing up health costs

Today’s Sacramento Bee has an article spotlighting a public health crisis that has been developing over the past two decades: rising levels of diabetes that are in turn driving up medical costs — and the cost of health insurance.  As the article point out, whether or not people develop diabetes (with particular note given to the large cohort of aging Baby Boomers approaching 65) is largely within their control through healthy diet and regular exercise:

The good news is that unlike type 1 diabetes – an autoimmune disorder often with onset in childhood – type 2 diabetes often can be prevented by healthy lifestyle habits: walking 30 minutes five times each week and eating a balanced diet.

It’s a simple solution to the epidemic. But by the millions, people don’t do it.

“We have more sedentary jobs now,” said Dr. Debra Bakerjian, a UC Davis Nursing School adjunct professor and president of geriHealthsolutions, a long-term care consulting firm. “We work long hours, and many people commute.

“It’s hard to work exercise in there — most of us don’t have jobs that allow us to be mobile. And with the time crunch, we lean toward fast food.”

The obvious implication for the health cost crisis is combating it will require changing how information work gets done.  Smarter, not longer.  And reducing the time spent commuting to and sitting in cubicles and offices in order to free up time for exercise and healthier eating habits.  With the near ubiquity of Internet connections, commuting to an office to get Internet access is not only becoming obsolete — it also has negative public health implications.

Obesity drives health care spend more than previously estimated

A major contributing factor to the health insurance crisis is an epidemic of obesity that’s boosting the health care spend and accounting nearly a quarter of health care costs.  A Cornell University study published in the January issue of the Journal of Health Economics estimates obese patients incur medical costs that are $2,741 higher in 2005 dollars than if they were not obese. Nationwide, that translates into $190.2 billion per year, or 20.6 percent of national health expenditures, according to the research, which notes earlier estimates measured the cost of obesity at $85.7 billion, or 9.1 percent of national health expenditures.

While a major driver of health care spending, obesity is merely a distressing symptom of a larger dysfunctional set of American cultural economic and lifestyle choices that drive up health care utilization.  They include poor work-life balance (long workweeks, long commutes to obsolete office spaces and associated stress), lack of exercise (and sufficient time for sustained daily exercise), too little sleep, unhealthy diets (and their commercialization via the “foodie” culture) and the expectation that health issues can be “repaired” by medical treatment and the state of the art pharmaceuticals.

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