Lifestyle Medicine: A Healthy Lifestyle Can Lower Health Care Costs

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According to the World Health Organization, 60% of factors correlated with good health and quality of life are lifestyle choices. Six in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease while nearly 30 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes, often due to poor diet and a lack of exercise. Meanwhile, 1.4 million more Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year.[2]

“Lifestyle medicine” is the art of changing one’s life choices and improving one’s health to lower overall health care costs. While health insurance companies can no longer rate premiums based on health, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, people who make wiser lifestyle choices can save money on expensive and frequent doctor visits, screenings for chronic conditions and prescription medications.

Here’s more on the benefits of various lifestyle choices.

Key Takeaways

  • Positive lifestyle choices can prevent or prolong the onset of chronic health conditions.
  • By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you can save thousands of dollars a year in medical costs.
  • Mental and physical health issues can arise from poor lifestyle decisions.

A Nutritious Diet & Weight Management

A healthy diet is the most important factor affecting people’s health. In fact, food is medicine whereas a poor diet, consisting largely of processed foods and fast foods, has consequences like obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.[1]

It’s a good idea to discuss the right diet for you with a physician, but you can measure your own body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight. This nifty tool will tell you if you are underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.

Weight is not the only consideration with planning a healthy diet. For instance, someone can be thin and have high cholesterol. Someone can also push slightly past normal weight and be in great health because of a proper diet and exercise. However, in most cases of Americans, shedding a few pounds may be good for the heart.[4]

The key to a good diet is not to count calories but to spend more time in the produce section of a grocery store and less time in the aisles with processed foods and sugary treats.

A healthy diet emphasizes:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Controlled portions

A healthy diet eliminates or limits:

  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats
  • Sodium
  • Added sugars
  • Super-sized portions

A nutritious diet will in turn reduce medical costs. There will be fewer doctor visits, fewer medications to compensate for a bad diet and you’ll simply feel better and have a better quality of life. For example, diabetes costs roughly $12,000 per person each year, on average.[13]

Exercise and Activity

Exercise is essential for preventing and sometimes treating general health problems. An active lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle, which will mean fewer doctor visits and medications now and far into the future as well. Along with diet, exercise can prevent heart disease by lowering high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which will in turn prevent heart disease, a heart attack or stroke.

Exercise and a healthy diet are essential to overall physical health and mental health. A large body of evidence shows that exercise can alleviate the symptoms of mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, the most common mental health problems in the U.S.. In fact, sedentary behaviors are linked to mental health problems.[6]

Consider how many medications may be avoided with proper exercise and diet, not to mention the doctor visits, the blood draws and the copays.

In fact, consistently active people save anywhere from $824 to $1,874 annually on health care costs.[14]

Cholesterol and Heart Health

You can prevent a heart attack by making sure that your low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol, is low, especially if you have an increased risk for heart disease or stroke, such as a family history of these events.

On the flipside, low levels of High-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or "good" cholesterol, put you at risk of heart disease.

People with high triglyceride levels also tend to have lower HDL cholesterol, which together are associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in arterial walls of the heart, thereby increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.[6]

Your doctor may ask you to change your diet and to begin exercising to reach the right balance of these three important elements. If that fails to bring you to a safe cholesterol and triglyceride levels, you may need to start taking medication.

It’s important to try to do as much of the work as possible by eating the right foods and exercising regularly. Don’t just rely on medicine alone. You’ll have a better life condition, and you’ll save money.

A heart attack can cost as little as $21,500 for the average hospital stay and over $100,000 (yes, with health insurance), if there is required surgery, like a bypass.[15]

Sleep, Health and Savings

Sleep health plays a key role in overall health, but is unevenly distributed across the population. Older adults often experience sleep disruptions due to a physical or mental disorder. Studies have shown that not only is the sleep problem occurring due to pain, depression, heart disease and many other ailments, but that these problems may occur due to lack of sufficient, uninterrupted sleep.[7]

Sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, have several social, psychological, economical and physical consequences.[1] Due to sleep disorders, people may get sick more often, develop chronic diseases, miss work or school, and they may avoid fun events and physical activities due to exhaustion.

Sometimes, our living conditions, like the street noise below, living near a highway or in a cramped space will affect our sleep. There are ongoing studies about the lack of equity in sleep health, but as challenging as it may be, it’s important to create as healthy a sleep environment as possible to prevent illnesses and economic hardships down the line.

The key is uninterrupted sleep, which is why people who’ve already been diagnosed with sleep disorders must follow their doctors’ instructions and use all the prescribed medicines and technologies before the lack of sleep health takes a toll on bodily functions.

Tobacco Use

Over 34 million Americans smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Addiction to tobacco use can lead to cardiovascular disease, asthma, liver disease, cancer, even brain injury.[1]

Cigarette smoking causes, on average, over 480,000 deaths each year, which includes 400 infants and 41,000 nonsmokers who die from second-hand smoke.[8]

In the U.S. smoking-related illnesses cost over $300 billion each year, which includes over $156 billion in lost productivity ($5.6 billion of this is due to secondhand smoke).[8] People’s compromised immune systems are often the reason behind loss of productivity and work days. Smoking is correlated with illnesses like lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

People can develop COPD later in life, after years of smoking, even if they quit. COPD flare-ups may require inhalers, medications, oxygen machines or hospitalization.

According to the American Lung Association, COPD medical costs average roughly $4,322 per patient each year.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Roughly 22% of males and 17% of females used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs within the last year.[16] Substance use disorder includes unhealthy behaviors, such self-treatment with alcohol and street drugs, using medications without prescription, getting multiple prescriptions for the same drug from various doctors and disregarding contraindications with other drugs.

Not only are there unavoidable and hefty health care costs for those who abuse substances, but the habit also becomes increasingly expensive over time. Holding down a job becomes a challenge, and treatment is expensive.

On average, it costs a person with health insurance roughly $15 640, to get medical help for an SUD.[9] Outpatient detox ranges in price from about $250 to $800 per day while inpatient care costs $5,000 to $80,000, depending on location and length of stay.[10]

Addiction to Social Media and Cell Phones

Described by the BBC as “worse than alcohol or drug abuse,” addiction to social media is on the rise.

Misuse of technology by most Americans has health care costs. For example, being online until past a healthy bedtime will affect one’s overall physical and mental health, causing absenteeism at the job or at school.

Also, addiction to mobile phone usage is related to depression.[1] Social media addicts report feelings of loneliness, depression, reduced self-esteem, and reduced ability to develop meaningful relationships.[11]

To save on therapy costs and possibly medical interventions in the future, develop healthy online browsing habits now by setting limits on internet and social media usage.

Hour-long therapy sessions can cost from $150 per hour and more, while detoxing retreats cost more than $500 for several days.[17]

Recreation, Relaxation and Hobbies

Neglecting leisure time can affect brain health.[12] However, lazing around and watching television is not the best way to use downtime and can lead to weight gain due to a lack of exercise.

Making study a hobby may lead to improved physical and mental health. Study may slow the process of dementia and Alzheimers.[1]

The cost of dementia is roughly $23,796 per person per year.[18] While it may not be able to avoid Alzheimers, which is genetically linked, it is possible to postpone aggressive decline by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Positive Relationships

Forging healthy connections is an important factor in one’s lifestyle. Toxic relationships, on the other hand, can become physically toxic, adding stress to one’s life.

Stresses within close relationships, interpersonal interactions, including workplace interactions or other social events, may affect sleep health.[7] Avoid gossip and negative conversations as much as you can in the workplace as well. Use your paid time-off wisely, to ensure that you do not experience burn-out.

Bonus Tips on How To Lower Health Care Costs

  • Comparison shop health insurance policies
  • Enroll in an HSA or FSA
  • Take medical expense deductions
  • Switch to generic medicines
  • Buy medications in bulk
  • See if your health insurance company offers discounts on gym memberships
  • Use a standing desk to avoid sitting for long hours and buy a treadmill to go with it!
  • Take frequent work breaks: walk, meditate, stay hydrated, move around
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How To Lower Health Care Costs FAQs

Can negotiating medical bills lower costs?

Negotiating medical bills can lower your cost. Speak with your providers about your financial situation and ask about discounts and payment plans.

Can I use telehealth or teladoc to save on healthcare costs?

Telehealth and teladoc services may be a cheaper alternative for non-emergency medical problems. See if your insurance covers telehealth or teladoc visits.

What is lifestyle medicine?

The American College of Lifestyle Medicine is a medical professional society that advocates “lifestyle medicine,” consisting of  a plant-dominant diet, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of substance abuse and positive social connections.


  1. National Library of Medicine. Impact of Lifestyle on Health.
  2. American College of Sports Medicine. A Health Insurer’s Perspective: Challenges of Lifestyle Medicine Implementation.
  3. Santa Clara University. Voluntary Health Risks: Who Should Pay?
  4. American Heart Association. Shedding pounds may benefit your heart — even if some weight is regained.
  5. American Heart Association. Lifestyle Changes to Prevent a Heart Attack.
  6. National Library of Medicine. The Role of Exercise in Management of Mental Health Disorders: An Integrative Review
  7. National Library of Medicine. Sleep Health: An Opportunity for Public Health to Address Health Equity.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Topics – Tobacco
  9. JAMA Network. Medical Costs of Substance Use Disorders in the US Employer-Sponsored Insurance Population.
  10. American Addiction Centers. The Cost of Going to Rehab: How Much Does Rehab Cost?
  11. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Too Much Social Media Can Be Bad for Our Mental Health.
  12. Cleveland Clinic. Why Downtime Is Essential for Brain Health.
  13. National Library of Medicine. Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2022.
  14. New York Times. Lifelong Exercise Adds Up to Big Health Care Savings.
  15. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. Cardiovascular/Cerebrovascular Conditions and Procedures 2001 to 2012.
  16. National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. Drug Abuse Statistics.
  17. BBC. The addiction that’s 'worse than alcohol or drug abuse’.
  18. Alzheimer’s Association. The worldwide costs of dementia in 2019.

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