My mother-in-law never met Dr. George W. Calver.
She lives in Argentina. Calver was the U.S. Congress' first appointed doctor, hired in 1928 at a time when senators and representatives were dying at the rate of 20 a year.
Over the 38 years that followed, his prescription of moderation calmed congressional nerves. He also gained acclaim for developing what he called the 10 Commandments of Health.
He posted them on placards displayed throughout the Capitol. They were printed on wallet-size cards and distributed to every member of Congress with this admonition: "If a man wishes to be on the job and physically fit, he must obey the following simple rules."
A continent away, my mother-in-law has followed Dr. Calver's protocol almost to the letter. She understands the importance of good health, she is blessed with good genes, she knows how to relax and how to play, and last month she celebrated her 100th birthday.
She has lived an extraordinary, busy and fulfilling life. When she was born, her parents could neither read nor write. Yet she and her husband put a premium on education, and each of her children earned advanced degrees. She owned and operated a small book and paper goods store in Buenos Aires long before women were running businesses. Amazingly, her first day in the hospital was at age 97.
She was especially attentive to the commandment Dr. Calver added to the wallet card. "Give 5 percent of your time to keeping well. You won't have to give 100 percent getting over being sick."
She understands prevention and the common sense that goes with it. She walked great distances, eats well and never smoked. We should follow her example, especially as we confront the nation's soaring cost of health care. There may be no more effective cost containment tool than individual effort to take the crucial and obvious preventive steps that mitigate the onset of chronic disease.
By any measure, it's an essential investment. For example, four diseases associated with obesity and smoking — diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke — today cost $238 billion a year ($134 billion of it paid by Medicare and Medicaid). Seventy percent of the nation is regarded as overweight. No surprise that the Urban Institute forecasts that the rapid increase of these conditions will add another $466 billion to the total cost by 2030 — without inflation!
We may not be able to reduce what we're paying for chronic disease today. Let's start today to focus on tomorrow. The cost of failure is simply unacceptable. Dr. Calver knew that. So does my mother-in-law.
Also of interest: Sitting is the new smoking.
Jim Toedtman is editor and vice president of AARP Bulletin.