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Luke Sniewski

Crunching the Numbers Behind Healthy Living

Although you may not be able to fathom the lifestyle of a health extremist, the simplicity of the small steps it takes to get there may surprise you.

March 12, 2012
by Luke Sniewski, CPA

“Organic food is so expensive!” … “I can’t afford to live healthy!” … “I have to save money right now. So Cup Noodles, here I come!”

These are complaints I have heard from clients and peers during my years in the health and wellness industry. Every time personal budget cuts had to be made, healthy options were axed first.

Healthy living has earned a bad reputation as the expensive lifestyle reserved solely for the wealthy. And yet, living healthy is often just living simpler. For example, instead of eating out, I choose to prepare a meal at home with much healthier ingredients and preparation methods. Not only do I control the quality of the meal from the raw materials, but I also control the financial output since preparing healthy food is actually cheaper than fast food.

This may sound surprising, but it is true. I am a CPA and I know accountants need proof. Not just any proof, but proof in the form of calculations, Excel spreadsheets and financial comparisons. So let’s compare the typical daily lifestyles of three individuals: The one always going for the cheaper or unhealthy solution, the middle-of-the-road individual trying some healthy options and the health extremist (see chart).

Though this is just a simple illustration, they do reveal an underlying theme: Healthy living is less about what you choose to do and more about what you avoid doing. As you can see in the chart, in the long run the middle-of-the-road individual who has the diet soda with large order of fries, is actually running the highest tab of $160, and while the all out super-sizer is initially running low costs at $28 by skipping breakfast, the person adds up a large bill with the lifestyle s/he leads. Ultimately, the person who is eating sensibly and being socially responsible by biking to work and hiking to relieve stress, is spending the most on groceries, but still saving overall.

Most people already eat healthy and participate in healthy activities, but do so with many other unhealthy habits. Learning to avoid these choices naturally leads to consistently choosing the healthier ones. Although this elementary spreadsheet may not convince you to plunge immediately into the deep end of healthy living, there are plenty of other short-term benefits.

Accompanying the financial ramifications of healthy habits are the added benefits of improved and consistent energy levels, elimination of brain fog, and even reduction in depression.

In the quest for cash flow, we forget that it’s ultimately our own health that provides the most efficient and effective tool for production.

A 2002 Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine study conducted on the long-term effects of a health and wellness program implemented at Johnson & Johnson lasted five years and followed employees for up to four years after program ended. The study revealed that the average medical care expenditures decreased on average by $224.66 per year, there was a reduction of inpatient use, fewer mental health visits and fewer outpatient visits compared with the baseline period. Companies have much to gain when investing in their associates’ knowledge of productivity, energy levels and work-life balance. This should always start with encouraging healthy living options. A healthy employee is a happy employee and a happy employee is a productive employee.

The long-term financial ramifications paint a clearer picture without the need for a spreadsheet. According to Brett Blumenthal:

  • The annual healthcare costs specific to obesity-related disease and health issues, all of which are considered preventable, represents about $150 billion (about 12 percent of our healthcare costs).
  • Smoking-related illnesses account for $96.7 billion in healthcare (approximately 8 percent of healthcare costs).
  • Sedentary lifestyles account for 15 percent of all healthcare costs. It turns out that only 20 to 25 percent of the population achieves the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity. In fact, most people are sitting or lying down for 23 hours out of the day.

Conclusion

Healthy lifestyle choices require sacrifice and require time for adaption. It is a journey that starts the day you decide to change your life and continues forever. The only requirement is taking small steps out of your comfort zone and lifestyle to allow your new choices to become as routine as brushing your teeth in the morning. This kind of gradual change will increase the likelihood of healthy lifestyles actually sticking. Once again, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

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Luke Sniewski, CPA, through his company, LEAF Lifestyle, teaches CPAs how their physical lifestyles hinder their workplace and personal productivity with a NASBA-certified CPE course curriculum.