As noted in this UN report, “The combination of four healthy lifestyle factors — maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, following a healthy diet, and not smoking — seem to be associated with as much as an 80% reduction in the risk of developing the most common and deadly chronic diseases.” Yes, folks…a whopping 80%! Examples of these diseases are heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer.

As citizens of Canada with publicly-funded health care, do we have a personal responsibility to adopt healthy lifestyles to minimize our impact on the system? I’m certain some think so, while others do not.

But if we were to improve our health through our lifestyle choices, in turn leading to a reduction in health care costs, just think in theory, of the possibilities. Perhaps those funds could instead be allocated to better mental health care, or better palliative care. Or improved services for Indigenous Peoples or our immigrant population. Or lower cost post-secondary education tuition. Think of a cause you are passionate about, then imagine how it could be improved through funding, when billions of dollars are saved every year if we make better lifestyle choices.

Billions of dollars? Really? Back in 2010, 13 billion (11%) were spent on hospital, physician and drugs costs for circulatory system diseases (predominantly heart disease and stroke). Another 5.3 billion (4.8%) for cancer (see here). Of these costs, 70% were government-funded. So absolutely, as a nation we have the potential to help save billions of dollars each year by adopting healthier lifestyles.

The good news is that it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Any improvements we make to our lifestyles are likely to improve our wellness and reduce health care costs. That includes simply eating more fruits and vegetables and getting out for a daily walk. We can do this one day, one bite, one step at a time.