Time Value of Health

Traditional Polish pączki
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s introduce a simple term to an old problem in health care. As health problems increase, and their costs rise, we need to start thinking about ways to make it easier for the public to improve the lifestyle choices they make.

What you do today influences what happens tomorrow. Eat a deep fried donut today, have a heart attack later in life. Your health has a time value. Let me explain.

DO YOU KNOW THE TIME VALUE OF YOUR MONEY?

The concept is simple and it borrows from finance the concept of the time value of money:

A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.

This is important because the opportunity cost of taking a dollar tomorrow is the investment that you could make with that dollar today. In terms of health, exercising today is an investment of effort that pays of in the future. Another way to look at it is the future value of a donut:

The future value of eating a donut today is a heart attack years later.

THE TIME VALUE OF YOUR HEALTH

It’s a simple concept. One of the reasons Americans are so unhealthy these days is because we don’t consider the consequences of our lifestyle choices in ecnomic costs. Invesment always involves effort, sacrifice and consideration of options. Long-term investors almost always enjoy prosperity over the course of their lives. The essence of (good) capitalism is discipline and self-restraint. So my definition of the Time Value of Health is this:

The time value of health is the interest you accrue from delaying the cost of an acute or chronic disease later in life.

If you don’t think that the time value of money is a matter of health, just look at the primary cause of our current economic health. Do you think that if all of the people involved in the biggest ponzi scheme in history exercised discipline, that we’d all be in better financial health?

Weight-management is harder for some people than others. So is daily exercise. Our culture isn’t helping: as we move more online, it’s easier to forego healthier choices that enhance our cardiovascular systems.

HOW CAN I USE THE TIME VALUE OF HEALTH IN MY LIFE?

The Time Value of Health doesn’t require complex calculations. It doesn’t need a number. It just requires a little imagination. Don’t make too much of this concept I’m offering you.The next time you’re tempted to go nuts on foods that you don’t need, ask yourself a simple question: is it worth the pleasure of eating this eclair to endure a stroke in 20 years?

Consumers If your a consumer, consider incorporating the idea into your lifestyle. Don’t be a nazi about it. Maybe just use it to save the goodies as a treat once in a while, or for your weekend. Create zones of healthy living. We all need indulgences (there’s health in feeling good about a nice dish). Investing some effort and discipline how you live earns a healthy return over time. What’s more, often the returns pay sooner: being fit and active produces a sharper, happier mind.

Providers If you’re a healthcare professional, consider ways of introducing the Time Value of Health into your practice. You probably don’t have much time anymore to give long speeches with tons of advice (too bad). A simple meme can often travel far. What’s to lose?

Readers Does this intuition pump help? Is it frivilous or does it offer a meaningful practical way to help improve the lives of good people who have a hard time with making healthy choices? The next time you grab those wings, or all that sugar in your coffee, could you imagine yourself on the floor panting in agony for breath in front of your children or granchildren?

What is the time value of your whole life?

(Sorry for tempting you with those donuts above. It’s OK, one won’t hurt you, will it?)

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3 Comments

  1. STRONG WORK!
    Looooove the analogy, and so true to society's form lately.
    It's sad how it takes a near tragedy or full fledged accident to wake one up to the reality of how fragile your health really is.

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