By Kristina Kurkimilis, DO
According to a nationally representative Consumer Report survey of 1,947 adults, more than half of Americans are filling prescriptions for daily medications. And these Americans are filling, on average, four daily prescriptions. These numbers are increasing in ways never seen before, and each prescription medication comes with a hefty cost: the average out-of-pocket prescription drug expenditure is $177 a year. However, if you’re lucky enough to make it to the wise old age of 80, it can be as high at $530. These numbers may not seem that appalling, but if you add a medication that isn’t covered by your insurance, or if you’re a self-pay patient, costs like this can add up very quickly.
Here’s the good news: there is a prescription that is rarely written but can decrease the number of medications you’re taking AND save you money: that prescription is to change your lifestyle! Instead of (or in addition to) medication, try a “makeover” of your daily habits!
Diet and exercise are the first-line treatments for many of the chronic ailments plaguing Americans today. Diabetes? Eat less carbohydrates and less sugar, more protein and vegetables. Exercise up to 150 minutes a week. Hypertension? Eat less salt and drink less alcohol, eat more lean proteins and vegetables. Engage in cardiovascular exercise such as running or swimming, both of which have been shown to decrease blood pressure. High cholesterol? Decrease the amount of saturated and trans-fats in your diet, and add more fiber. Exercise by getting your heart rate to 60-80% of your maximum heart rate for 150 minutes a week. Anxiety or depression? Decrease processed foods and added sugar in your diet; add in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables. Do Zumba, yoga, or whatever it takes to get your endorphins pumping. For just about any chronic medical problem, if diet and exercise won’t fix it, at least there are no negative side-effects!
These simple changes in lifestyle may decrease the number of prescriptions you need to pick up at the pharmacy every week (or may at least prevent you from adding more!). Here are some other quick fixes that you can try without having to pay an extra penny:
- Replace your daily sodas with water (it’s always the cheaper option). If you don’t like plain water, add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or other fruit juice to give it an added kick.
- Cut out the midnight snack. If you stop eating 2 hours before bed, your body will be better suited for digestion throughout the night. Besides, midnight snacks are usually the highest in sugar or fat, both of which can affect your sleep patterns!
- When you are out and about (if the weather is nice, of course), park in the farthest spot in the back of the parking lot. Not only will you get more exercise, but there will always be more readily available parking spots!
- You work on the third floor at work? Take the stairs! If you have a sedentary job that requires you to sit at your desk for hours at a time, set an alarm to remind you to take a 5-minute walk every hour. Not only will this get you up and moving, but the increase in blood flow may help productivity as well.
Lifestyle change sounds like a daunting task. Many people may be motivated to dive in head-first and try for an entire habit overhaul. However, if they don’t succeed in changing their entire diet and exercise routine at once, they give up hope. Start with something small and attainable…one small choice that can add up to big results over time. Pick just one of the suggestions from the list above or come up with your own…but the most important part is to start somewhere. The ultimate goal is to make small changes in order to attain a better lifestyle that will lead to fewer medications, less money spent, and lifelong, sustainable habits. As a family physician, I can promise that my “lifestyle change” prescription will cost less, have fewer side-effects, and will last longer than any medication!