There are essentially just two ways to look at your health: short-term or long-term.
It's a lot like investing (although I'm no expert in that).
If you take the short-term approach, you're something like a day trader, working for quick results. Overall, you try to make good decisions. If a symptom or problem comes up, you get it evaluated and treated. You may opt for a few screening tests, and you probably try to do what you can to be healthy, but you're not thinking 10, 20 or 30 years out.
On the other hand, if you take the long-term approach, you may be putting your intellect and energy into prevention. You're more likely to consider what you can do now to prevent big problems later. You're looking for big, far-off dividends, rewards based on investments made and held.
The long-term approach is better. But most people are day traders when it comes to health care.
Here's an example. I love to swim, but the Olympic-length pool I use two to three times a week is about 25 minutes away. Some days the time involved to drive, swim, shower, get dressed and return seems like just too much.
But then I ask myself, "Wouldn't I rather be spending the time now getting great aerobic exercise -- prevention for all sorts of things -- than be driving to the doctor's office to have a condition or problem checked?" That longer-term thinking is all I need to get in the car -- and the pool -- and swim that mile.
Study after study points to things we can do now that are ultimately likely to benefit us in the long run. But we live in a quick-results society, and when the rewards are not in plain view, we can easily lose sight of the goal.
The healthcare system itself is designed for the day-to-day approach. Most appointments are with a physician,whose focus is typically on diagnosing and treating in the here and now.
Physicians are paid for doing things to you and ordering things for you, not counseling you about how you're preparing for your 70's when you're 30. Even if the healthcare provider was interested in having that sort of conversation with you, he or she would probably feel a 30-year- old is not interested in that sort of long-term investment -- yet.
What if we all thought differently?
We had a used car once that we had to take into the shop not long after we bought it. The mechanic took one look under the hood and asked, "Are you gonna keep this car long?" It's not a question you want to hear.
What if your physician asked you, say when you're in your early 20s, 30s or 40's, "How long and how well do you want to live? Maybe you'd say you'd like to be a healthy 85.
That could start the conversation about what it might take to get the investment you'd like out of your body.
Just like with investing, there's sometimes luck but rarely miracles. You get what you put into it.
If you want to live a healthy, long life, you can't be a day trader. Issues like weight, exercise, diet, nutrition and stress management don't offer big premiums on a day-by-day basis. Long term, they're winners.
Looking decades out, the decisions you make really add up.
Granted, we've all got to deal with genetics, the possibility of accidents, and the influence of the environment. Much about those factors is still unknown. Not everything's in your control. Some people already are knee-deep in issues that take plenty of energy and attention. The same is true with investing. But on the whole, your decisions matter a great deal.
When it comes to your health, are you in for the long term? What habits would you change if you faced the fact that day by day you're either blowing it or you're investing in a healthy future?