Healthcare is broken. Chronic diseases consume an increasing share of health care resources in every health care system around the world in ways that are unsustainable. Yes, a golden age of innovation is underway in the form of new technologies such as gene therapyneural technology, immunotherapy and increasingly the impact of AI on diagnosis and drug development, but we cannot be blinded by these extraordinary technological advancements to the tragedy of modern healthcare and to the much-neglected panacea before us: our everyday behavior. Whether preventing disease or optimizing disease treatment, behavior is indeed a panacea.
There are five basic everyday behaviors that make up this panacea: sleep, eating, exercise, stress management, and connection. Because the science is clear that when we improve these everyday aspects of our lives, dramatic improvements in our health and well-being follow. The breakthroughs this can bring to our health are not yet on the horizon, they are here now.
What is clear is that what we are doing now is not working. According to the World Health OrganisationChronic and non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease, kill 41 million people each year. At the current rate, chronic diseases will be responsible for this by 2050 86% of the 90 million deaths an astonishing 90% increase in raw numbers every year since 2019. More than 500 million people worldwide live with diabetes, and that number is expected to rise to 783 million by 2045. By 2040, the International Diabetes Foundation will predicts that spending on diabetes could exceed $800 billion a year. ‘The most heartbreaking symbol of America’s health care failure’ writes Nicholas Christopher The New York Times“are the preventable amputations that result from poorly managed diabetes… A toe, foot, or leg is cut off by a doctor about 150,000 times a year in America.”
There is no health care system in the world that successfully counteracts health outcomes this attack of chronic diseases. Whether single payer, nationalized health care or systems based on private insurance, all health care systems are losing the battle. In the US, about 90% of our $3.8 trillion in health care spending goes to treating chronic and mental health problems. From 1960 to 2021, US healthcare costs rose from 5% to 18% of GDP. In Britain, the list of people waiting for medical care has been reached 7.47 million. It is clearly not just a failure of prevention; our healthcare systems fail even at the narrower goal of providing adequate patient care.
The potential to reverse it trend lines can be found in the data: medical care is only responsible for an estimated 10% to 20% of health outcomes, while our daily behavior determines 36% of the outcomes. What does that mean for our health? According to the UNthe combination of maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking can reduce the risk of developing the most common and deadly chronic diseases by as much as 80%. The dramatic decline in smoking in America over the past two decades and the impact it has had on health is one example of what is possible.
Both our lifespan and our health – the period during which we are not only alive but also healthy and enjoying a good quality of life – are greatly influenced by our lifestyle. Harvard economist Raj Chetty has done just that found it that behaviors such as diet, exercise and smoking affect our life expectancy even more than access to health care. In other words, how long we live and how well The world we live in is largely determined by the choices we make every day. To truly transform healthcare, along with the power of life-saving medicines and technologies, we must focus on the power of life-transforming habits within each of these foundational behaviors. Because while health care is episodic, health itself is continuous. Health is what happens between doctor visits.
A study in the journal Circulation gives us a vivid picture of how powerful behavior can be. Researchers found that by age 50, people who practiced five healthy habits — exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and not drinking excessive alcohol — added more than a decade to their lives (14 years for women and 12.2 years for women). year). for men). “The main message is that huge gains can be made in terms of health and longevity just from simple changes in our patterns of behavior.” said study co-author and Harvard Medical School professor, Dr. May Stampfer.
Why is the power of behavior change so overlooked? Some dismiss it because they think it’s too soft: how can something like behavior change fall into the same category as technological advances and new diagnostic tools? Others give up on behavior change because it’s too hard. It’s the doctor telling us to eat our broccoli and hit the gym. Eating healthier and exercising are things most of us know we should be doing, but simply being told to do them doesn’t set us up for success.
As for the first objection, it’s not an either-or. Of course, behavior change is no substitute for drugs and medical treatments, but there is a lot of hard science showing that behavior change is an essential companion that optimizes the treatment of disease. For example, a study by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that a good night’s sleep can increase the survival rates of breast cancer patients. “Sleep is definitely something that can be controlled” said epidemiologist and lead author Dr. Amanda Phipps. “We have more control over it than the family history of the disease. Overall, these results suggest that the more attention we pay to sleep as an important aspect of overall health, the better we can do for breast cancer patients.” Have studies also found that chronic stress increases the growth of cancer cells. And exercise can reverse stiffness in the heart associated with a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy. All five of our basic daily behaviors have a major impact on how effective a medical treatment will be.
And regarding the second objection: yes, behavior change is difficult. But here too, science shows that behavior change is absolutely possible if done the right way. Behavioral science has a long history. Our habits are not formed in a vacuum, and there are certain conditions and strategies that make behavior change much more likely to succeed.
One of those proven strategies is to start as small as possible. That’s what Thrive’s behavioral change platform is based on Microstepssteps too small to fail that you can take to immediately start improving your life. Not only is behavior change possible, but it will become easier and more effective with the rise of AI, which Thrive uses to give people real-time nudges and personalized Microsteps in their lifestream when they need it most.
Besides Microsteps, other proven strategies include storytelling, engaging content and a community that engages, inspires, motivates and supports people to take charge of their own health and move from awareness to action. This is the scientific methodology that makes behavioral change not only achievable but also sustainable. We’ve seen the dramatic results that starting with small microsteps can have in the lives of employees at the companies we work with around the world.
For example, there’s Pele Mase, a Walmart employee who lives in Tulsa. She started with a single Microstep drinking water instead of soda, and moved on to Microsteps around her nutrition, exercise and stress management until she lost 50 pounds.
And then you have Jerry Ouellette, director of network services at AT&T. After being told he was pre-diabetic by his doctor at his annual checkup, Ouellette started with a goal of walking one mile a day, then worked his way up to five: “I’ve lost 32 pounds, my sleep apnea is gone. I feel I’m feeling great and I’m preparing for my annual wellness checkup and I expect my doctor to give me much better news. It was a great trip.”
Of course, there are chronic systemic health care inequalities that make it much more difficult for people to live healthy lives — food deserts, violent neighborhoods, housing instability, lack of access to health care — and we need to relentlessly focusing on solving them, both on a policy and policy level. and at the community level. But again, it’s not either-or. As we work to improve the social determinants of health, people do not have the luxury of continuing to ignore the impact of behavioral determinants of health by taking small steps to reduce their suffering and improve their lives and the lives of their children . That also means taking advantage of modern digital solutions, such as the availability of Instacart to 93% of people living in food deserts. These steps can’t wait for the systemic issues to be resolved. Too many lives are at stake.
People are hungry for help and support in managing their health. A recent questionnaire of CharityRx found that 65% of Americans turn to Google for health advice, but only 40% find online health information reliable. What makes this moment so exciting is that this growing focus on behavior change is happening at the same time as new powerful technologies – such as AI, personalized digital tools and wearables – are emerging to support real and lasting behavior change.
Yes, we can look forward to new medical breakthroughs, and we should celebrate them when they happen. But if we really want to tackle chronic diseases, we also need the panacea of everyday behavior.