Friday, April 6, 2012

How to get to chronic health. With three steps into the age of chronic health and longevity.

Into the age of chronic health.

My yesterday's post was all about what's holding us back from achieving chronic health for everybody. Today I want to look at the three important steps we can do right now to enter the age of chronic health and longevity. 

Incentivize health! 

Earlier this year Standard & Poor's told the G20 economies:  Get prevention to work or we will downgrade your triple A rating by latest 2018. Because your economies won't be able to deal with the costs for treating your sick, demented and frail population. Of course Standard & Poor's phrased it more politely but the message was all the same.  Why is that so important? Because it's the first step to making everybody realize that your chronic health is not just this often proclaimed "higher good", it is an economic asset. It makes you more productive for your employer, and less costly for your health and life insurer. Once your health shows up in the shareholder value universe, employers have an incentive to invest into it. And they have an incentive to share with you in the form of a health dividend. The keyword here is incentive. The lack of it is what ails our current health care strategies. Because until now we have failed to incentivize people's prevention efforts. Think about it: Whether it's status or money or anything else that turns your neighbors green with envy, the driving force behind all human endeavors is the prospect of incentives. It's hardwired into our brains. It's why everybody's efforts to achieve chronic health needs incentives, too. As we have seen, the prospect of being healthy in a distant future can't beat the siren call of a humble tiramisu, or of the drag on a cigarette, or of staying on the sofa instead of jogging through the Park. So, if the phenomenon of hyperbolic discounting has taught us anything, it is the need for incentives with which to beat those that lure us into unhealthy behaviors.
What holds our companies and insurers back from incentivizing health big time? Certainly it is not unwillingness, and rarely is it uncertainty about the size of the returns on investment. It is rather the lack of a tool with which to direct incentives to where they are deserved and to withhold them from where they are not. A tool which helps you to express, in objectively measurable terms, not only your health but also your efforts and achievements of preserving it. We are currently testing the first prototype of such a tool. We started to develop it with this and two more goals in mind. The first is to help you to...  

Outfox your brain!

As you have learned above, the evolutionary ape in us is well protected against any interference of free will and reason, the two things that make us human. But whether human or ape, we all have the ability to develop a 6th sense for mastering any skill which improves our chance of survival, makes our life easier or more enjoyable. In your case, think swimming, think cycling, think keeping your in-laws out of your hair. So we thought, how about a 6th sense for your daily calorie balance? We thought, if you knew it intuitively, at any moment, and before it shows on your bathroom scale, you would effectively know your metabolic state. With that knowledge you will be able to correct and to keep that balance always in line with your weight targets. This intuitive knowledge does not eliminate the craving for the tiramisu. But it enables you to recognize the need for taking some compensatory measure and to select the appropriate size of that measure.  This idea was borne out of the results of a new web-assisted intervention which we developed and tested in Germany with the aim to institute lasting behavior change in adults at elevated risk for chronic disease. Once the participants of our clinical trial showed signs of mastering this 6th sense, they also started to drop their dress sizes. And they still keep those dress sizes down.
Now, I can hear your question: Even if, say, my employer pays me a monthly or quarterly health dividend, in the form of money or annual leave or whatever floats my boat, how can you be so sure that my new lifestyle of eating right and exercising right will bring me chronic health and longevity? Which brings me to the last point. 

Take Biomedicine's most powerful tools!

Let's just look at how your chances play out. If, at age 45, you are free of any risk factors, you stand a 97% chance of making it through to your 80th birthday in good health. If, however, you already have 2 risk factors, such as hypertension and elevated blood sugar, for example, those chances shrink to a mere fifty-fifty. And even if you are among the lucky half, who will see those 80 candles on their cakes, chances are that you won't blow them out under your own steam. Because one of those nasty chronic diseases will have taken that last piece of strength and dignity away from you. The good news is that simple health behaviors - physical activity, dietary and smoking behaviors - determine which version of the party, if any, will apply to you. In fact, biomedicine currently knows no intervention which prevents disease and promotes longevity better than physical activity and dietary behaviors. There is one caveat, though: these simple behaviors need to be tailored to your individual health profile, which also means to your genotype AND your phenotype. 
Which is why my colleagues and I are building an intervention matching feature into the tool I mentioned earlier. It will give you the means to match your individual health and risk profile with the physical activity and dietary strategies most suitable for your profile. We call this tool the GPS to chronic health and longevity. It takes its coordinates on the landscape of health from your vital functions and keeps you right on track towards your health goals.
It is the engine which we hope will give you the power of mapping and following your personal path into the age of chronic health and longevity. After all, nobody deserves the indignity of a stroke or a heart attack and the disabilities that come as a consequence. 
I firmly believe we are only a tiny step away from the age of chronic health and longevity. To that tiny step you can contribute.  Just visit me at indiegogo until 31st of May. 
I'm looking forward to meeting you there. 
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