Health & Medicine

There are many inexpensive and free ways to stay healthy

Instructor Louise Booth led a Silver Sneakers yoga stretch class at the North Lexington Family YMCA. Unlike most gyms, the YMCA offers financial assistance to people or families who qualify.
Instructor Louise Booth led a Silver Sneakers yoga stretch class at the North Lexington Family YMCA. Unlike most gyms, the YMCA offers financial assistance to people or families who qualify. Lexington Herald-Leader

A year or so ago, I interviewed a dealer at a gun show, and he was passionate about his rights.

Protecting himself and his family were paramount to him, he told me.

And yet, I thought, he walks around with a potential killer every day: This man was a good 200 pounds overweight, at least.

Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke are the biggest killers in Kentucky, where between 158 and 210 deaths per 100,000 people are considered preventable by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eastern Kentucky, where this fellow was from, has some of the highest rates of deaths from heart disease and stroke in the whole United States.

The lesson here is that if you want to protect your family, take care of your health. Setting emotional concerns aside, the loss of a parent, a spouse, a breadwinner can damage a family's economic plans beyond repair.

Imagine what would happen to your well-laid financial plans if just as you're ready to retire or send a child to college, you suffer a heart attack or stroke.

Even just poor health can take a serious toll on a family's budget in terms of more visits to the doctor, medicine to treat chronic conditions, and possibly surgery or other treatments down the road.

Now that I have your attention, here's some good news. There is one aspect of your financial life where you can "exercise" some control.

And it isn't an all-or-nothing proposition: Relatively few of us are going to run a marathon or get in perfect shape. But even small steps can be enough to nudge you away from pre-diabetes or hypertension.

"It costs less to stay healthy than it does to fix a problem or treat a disease," said Jeannie Thé, executive director of the North Lexington Family YMCA on Loudon Avenue.

There can be a difference of $10,000 or more between the annual health care costs for someone with diabetes and costs for someone who is just "pre-diabetic," with elevated blood sugar.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care costs for diabetics are more than twice that of people without diabetes.

"Sitting is considered the new smoking," Thé said. "It causes the same diseases. It's important to get up and get oxygen into your blood."

The good news is that 58 percent of all cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, she said. The YMCA has support groups and a diabetes prevention program focused on the disease.

"You achieve better body weight and help your glucose. The goal of the pre-diabetes program is to reduce weight by seven percent, and increase physical activity by 150 minutes per week," she said. "It can be something as simple as getting up off the couch while you're watching commercials, depending on what stage you're in."

For busy parents, Thé said, the answer might be to build walking time into your schedule: While your kids have soccer practice, do a lap around the field.

At the office, maybe you take the stairs, park farther away, or stop texting colleagues and go talk to them.

"It's just good to get up and get moving," she said. "It doesn't have to be but two minutes, three minutes. It's enough to make a difference, if you're doing it on a regular basis. And you'll feel better."

The cost of a good gym might be considered cheap when weighed against the health benefits, but even that can be out of reach for some of the people who need it most.

Which is where the YMCA is different: Unlike other gyms, The Y is a non-profit and has financial-assistance programs for those who qualify, Thé said.

Many people can't do it all on their own, and support groups and a little help from a trainer can go a long way, she said. But you can get a good start without setting foot in a gym or buying expensive equipment.

"Body-weight exercises are very popular these days," Thé said.

Do sets of squats, lunges, sit-ups and push-ups, she said. "Or a 'plank' exercise, on your arms, steel from head to heel. In the beginning it might be 10 seconds, then 30 seconds. If you can achieve three minutes, it works so many muscles — stabilizers, your core. All the muscles from your hips to your pits."

Get outdoors and walk, and get your kids to go with you. Stretch on steps or curbs; build muscle with steps. This might seem too simplistic. But exercise is like compounding interest: Small amounts over time add up.