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Go for the savings, go for yourself

The question is asked: if you were presented with the dollars-and-cents, years-of-your-life evidence that differences in lifestyle choices produced, would you change your choices accordingly?

For most Canadians, the answer seems to be no.

While evidence mounts that the best known preventative for disease, mental illness, loss of disposable income and early death is simple exercise, most people either ignore or disbelieve the evidence and go on with their lives. Or make attempts at positive change that they cannot seem to maintain.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences followed the case histories of 79,300 people in Ontario, comparing their diet, activity levels and smoking choices with their health records.

They discovered commonalities that could be predicted in a mathematical model. And they were on their way to calculating the life outcome of anyone.

They posted a questionnaire/calculator online — — which will rate your chances of seeing your grandchildren get married, say. Or it can posit the number of days you will spend in hospital over the rest of your life.

They are building a database that so far shows less than eight people per hundred have none of the lifestyle risks that could put them in hospital and/or put them in hospital for longer periods.

They also found that for Ontario alone, poor lifestyle choices — failing to exercise being the top bad choice — accounted for more than 900,000 days worth of hospital stays per year.

That’s at an average cost of $7,000 a day, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The Project Big Life calculator will even tell you how much of that can be attributed to you.

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to complain that tax-funded infrastructure for active living is a waste of money.

Think also about the money you can save right now if you took the National Commuter Challenge and left your car home for your commutes this week. June 1-7 marks this year’s Challenge, and if the Project Big Life evidence inspires you, go to and take the one-week pledge.

Just a week. To walk, cycle, car pool or take transit, and see what difference it could make for you.

The average commute in Red Deer is around five km one way. Pretty short, compared to most other Canadian cities.

Using yet another online calculator (this one from the Canadian Automobile Association) the cost of operating an average type sedan for your 10-km round trip is just under $1.70. That’s $1.70 every time you open your garage door and head down the driveway.

Those figures are from 2013, long before the price of gas shot up. Boost that to $2 or more, and you won’t be far off today’s costs.

Want to know what doing that for the week will run? The CAA calculates the use of a mid-sized sedan for a week costs about $58 (assuming you drive about 18,000 km a year, and using 2013 fuel costs).

How’s that for incentive to leave the car at home, just for one week?

Last week, medical journal The Lancet reported that a third of all the people on earth are now overweight or obese. Despite what we have learned about the medical costs of obesity, we as a society are finding it almost impossible to change the behaviours that are making us unhealthy.

Almost anyone can walk five kilometres. Certainly almost anyone can ride that far on a bike.

Doing these commutes under your own power constitutes all the exercise you need to fill the medically-recommended 60 minutes a day to keep you fit.

Even if you change nothing else in your life, even if you smoke while you walk, you benefit.

If you do it for one week, you can do it for two. One more week, and that beats the standard of making a lifestyle change that will stick; one that you’ll miss if you stop doing it.

The Project Big Life calculator can tell you more or less exactly what that lifestyle benefit will be. Find the change in days of hospital stays that this one change alone can calculate, and multiply it by $7,000. That’s your gift to yourself and the lowering of the provincial tax burden for health care attributable to you.

Save the $58 — tax free — if you walk or bike to work for a week. Who would refuse the money?

Who would refuse a chance to stay out of the hospital for more days of our lives? Who wants to dance at their grandchildren’s weddings?

Canadians’ lifestyle choices need to change. This seems like a good week to start.

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