Many people cheered when, in December, word arrived that the annual rise in America’s health care costs was smaller in 2013 than in any of the last 50 years.
But we still spent almost $3 trillion on health care.
Washington pols, health care workers, and others continue to worry about how to treat all sick Americans without breaking the bank. No wonder: New cancer drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars per patient and the latest imaging machine has a price tag upward of $1 million.
But what if we go to the low-tech end of the spectrum, and look at steps anyone can take right now that don’t cost a penny, or relatively few of them, at least, to improve their health?
Adopting any — or all — of the following 10 “health hacks” may be just what the doctor ordered.
Use fresh herbs by the handful
Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side, argues that modern farming has left us with produce that’s severely lacking in phytonutrients that can help ward off cancer, heart disease, dementia, and diabetes. Early farmers unwittingly chose plants with the lowest phytonutrient content, based on taste, according to Robinson. “Herbs are wild plants incognito” with their phytonutrients left intact, she writes.
Analyze your recipes
If you’ve ever wondered how many calories and grams of fiber are in a serving of your Italian Nona’s stuffed tomatoes, you can create your own nutrition label for the dish at nutritiondata.self.com. The site requires registration, but once you register for free, you can create and store recipes, complete with nutrient analysis using the USDA’s National Nutrient Database and information from restaurants and food manufacturers.
Fight colds by gargling with water
A Japanese study of 387 healthy adults ages 18-65 showed a connection between gargling with water three times a day and reduced colds and other upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs). People who gargled with water in the study had a lower incidence of URTIs than those who gargled with an antibacterial mixture. Gargling to wash the throat is a common hygienic practice in Japan.
Get more from your dental exam
Dr. Douglas Fogel, a Southfield dentist, says dentists doing an exam to check for oral problems can spot signs of diabetes and heart disease, too.“You can see an unhealthy situation and know they need a full exam” by a physician, says Fogel. For example, chronic inflammation and gums that bleed easily may be a sign of diabetes, he says.
Sleep in the cold
A study published in 2014 in Diabetes showed that turning down the thermostat or opening a window in your bedroom can stimulate production of brown fat in your body. Five men in the study slept in a 66-degree room for a month in hospital scrubs with just a sheet covering. Increases in their brown fat stores gave them metabolic advantages that could lessen their risk for diabetes.
Join a clinical trial
Participants in clinical trials get access to new medicines and treatments not available any other way, and health professionals monitor their condition more closely. Get information about clinical trials at clinicaltrials.gov, a website maintained by the federal government. The site aggregates information on more than 180,000 trials, including about 9,000 available in Michigan, on conditions ranging from acne to Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome.
Check out hospital loss leaders
Both Beaumont and St. John Providence Health System bundle a number of heart and vascular tests that check for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes for less than $100. Beaumont also offers a $300 basic screening in its Cardiovascular Performance Clinic that includes an exam by a cardiologist, an echocardiogram and exercise stress testing with direct measurement of aerobic fitness. Individually, the tests would otherwise costs hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Focus on the breath
Dr. Michael Dangovian, a cardiologist at Healthy Heart & Vascular in Sterling Heights, has been helping his patients reverse heart disease and lower blood pressure, cholesterol, stress, inflammation, and anxiety through yoga and meditation for 20 years. “Any time you follow your breath, you’re meditating,” he says. It doesn’t take much time: Just 15 minutes a day, sitting comfortably. If you get distracted, just re-focus.
Ask a pharmacist
Few may know it, but pharmacists will do a comprehensive medications review just for the asking. “Ask when is a good time to do that” though, says Dr. Nancy MacDonald, a pharmacist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “Obviously a Saturday morning may not be the best time.” MacDonald advises that anyone who is on a lot of medications, frequently hospitalized, or elderly, or whose medications change frequently, should ask a pharmacist for a review.
Be intense at the gym
If you’re pressed for workout time, check out high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which alternates short bursts of almost-maximum effort with less intense recovery periods. This form of exercise has been shown to improve athletic conditioning, metabolism, and fat burning, according to studies.