Can You Live a Healthy Lifestyle in the 21st Century?

By Congressman Heath Shuler

Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to play in the National Football League. I knew that my athletic ability was no guarantee that I could become an NFL football player. I knew I’d have to work hard to be in the right shape to be a pro football player.

Although my pro football days have come and gone, many aspects of the game have greatly influenced the way I live my life. Most important is keeping healthy. In being a husband, father, and a United States Congressman, it is often hard to find time to exercise, but I make it a priority. I started using the P90X workout platform, which I find fun to do and a challenge for my body.

To maintain a healthy regimen, it is important to enjoy the exercise I do. Finding a fun form of exercise helps me stick to my routine, which also makes me choose to eat healthier foods.

In today’s fast-paced society, people are finding it harder and harder to eat healthy meals on a regular basis. As obesity rates continue to rise, people, especially children, need to know the benefit and importance of health and fitness. I have been part of camp programs and other volunteer events for children. These events gave me a firsthand look into the benefits that an active and healthy lifestyle can bring. By educating and inspiring Americans to live healthy lifestyles, we can help prevent a number of illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

More than 20 million Americans have diabetes. We must increase efforts to treat those who have this disease. We must also make sure that our most vulnerable populations have access to preventive measures. Certain types of diabetes are caused or worsened by poor dietary and fitness habits. So, raising awareness about the importance of active lifestyles and healthy food choices will greatly reduce the number of Americans affected by this chronic and often debilitating disease.

A ground-breaking program designed to manage various illnesses, including diabetes, asthma, and depression, has been developed in North Carolina. The Asheville Project, which started in 1996, is designed to lower health costs by helping people manage their health conditions correctly. This keeps health care costs down. The program educates employees of the city of Asheville and guides them to become an active part of managing their chronic diseases. Employees who are enrolled in the program work closely with trained pharmacists to better manage their conditions. By creating close relationships between patients and healthcare providers, the program has been able to dramatically increase the health of patients.

The Asheville Project has been successful in improving patient health and decreasing health care costs. Since the Asheville Project started, over 80 similar programs have been adopted across the country. These programs service thousands of patients. On average, employers spend much less on employee health care, and employees pay less in co-pays. In cost savings, employers get a Return on Investment (ROI) of at least 4:1 in the second year. Also, employee sick days are cut by about half, and workers compensation claims are reduced or eliminated. I believe that programs that are holistic, patient driven, and cost efficient, such as the Asheville Project, will help our nation progress toward more effective health care services.

The Asheville Project is based on personal responsibility. We all bear the burden of taking care of our bodies. As individuals, family members, and role models, we must promote wellness activities such as exercise and healthy eating. Also, our elected officials need to support programs that support and assist those who fight illness on a daily basis; and, they must initiate programs that promote preventive approaches to help people avoid chronic disease.

As we move forward, new health care policies must target the true cost of health care sickness. Our health care system should not only care for those that are ill, but should also be more effective at keeping people healthy. By promoting accountable care and rewarding responsible health care professionals who help keep patients from requiring special care in the first place, we can fix a wasteful, broken system. The first step in fixing our health care system is building a healthier America.