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by Carole Carson, AARP, November 21, 2008
First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
My decision to get fit had financial implications—I had to pay for a trainer, get some gym clothes, pay membership fees, and potentially replace my wardrobe. To reassure myself that I was worth the money and that we could afford the expense, I talked the matter over with my husband. He suggested that the hidden costs of not being fit were greater. When these costs were calculated, he said, our definition of what was affordable would change.
I looked at my recent medical expenses. Over the past two years, high blood pressure and unusual heart sounds had put me in the hospital three times, with thousands of dollars spent on tests and specialists. While our insurance covered much of the cost, we still had paid hundreds of dollars in medical bills. For my torn hamstring—injured because I was out of shape—my insurance company and my husband had coughed up $4,000 for emergency services, hospitalization, doctors, and ambulances.
My husband, who married me in sickness and in health, had started asking, "Where's the health?" With a mounting number of claims, the medical insurer probably stored my thickening file under C, not for "Carson" but for "Chronic."
Although my illnesses and prescriptions resulted from my choices—I had chosen to be overweight—at the time I considered them a function of aging. For years already I had been noticing aches and pains, especially arthritis in my back and bursitis in my shoulder.
A vague depression had crept into my outlook. I was asking myself, "Am I just getting old?"
Clearly, I had lost the childlike joy of living in my body. Not only that, but long-term I risked being a burden to my family and the health-care system. Possibly I was also shortening my life span.
And so, spurred by articles warning of premature death from lack of fitness, months earlier I had tried the low-cost approach to fitness. I went for a walk alone now and then on a country road near my house. No money needed: the road was free, and I could walk anytime I wanted. The downside was that weather sometimes interfered, walks were limited to daylight hours, and a few times I barely escaped being run over. In addition, I had no support. No one else cared if I skipped my walk. As a result, exercise sessions were sporadic. My low-cost plan produced zilch.
This new fitness plan at the outset sounded expensive. Over four months, my husband and I figured out we would spend around $1,600. This included the cost of a trainer for three sessions a week, 16 weeks of gym-club membership, a pair of running shoes, and miscellaneous gear.
Then we thought about my medical expenses. Over time, we knew we would save at least that much and more on groceries, prescriptions, doctors, and tests. By way of comparison, we had spent at least $1,600 driving and maintaining our car in the previous year; surely my body was as valuable as our automobile!
In measuring costs, though, how do we place a value on feeling better and living longer? Or being able to move pain-free with tons of energy? Or looking and feeling younger? Or being able to play tennis? Or reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer?
The rewards were priceless, so the question was not hard to answer. I needed to invest in my body for both current and future dividends. I could only hope it would be the best money I'd ever spend.
Next: Carole runs the gauntlet when she encounters feasting in France.
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