Is Fitness Discretionary?

Most of us do not have unlimited resources, so life involves regular decisions about what we can afford to do and what we cannot afford to do. Those who follow a budget know that there are certain items that are non-negotiable and need to be accounted for each month like rent/mortgage, groceries, transportation costs, etc. What is discretionary? Going to get a $6 cup of coffee, seeing a movie in a theater, attending a concert, buying that umpteenth pair of shoes….

Where does keeping fit and healthy fit in?

In the United States this is a sticky issue. I recently returned from a trip overseas and had a few conversations with folks who live in countries where health insurance is provided to the public through their taxes. Everyone is insured. No one goes bankrupt because they become ill. No one is denied care because of a “pre-existing condition.” These people find our system in the US to be quite puzzling–especially since our country has the resources to provide medical care for all its inhabitants if only we would set our minds and resources to it. (As a point of interest, these people come from countries like Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and Portugal–all of which have higher life expectancies than the US and all of which provide free healthcare to legal residents).

This, however, is not the system we have in the US. We have to look out for ourselves and our loved ones at our own cost. Even though the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is meant to increase the number of people with health insurance, there are still far too many who do not have access to affordable healthcare. Tough choices have to be made all too often.

What can we do to lower the cost of staying alive and free of illness? As always, a proper diet, exercise, sufficient rest, as well as avoiding smoking and excessive drinking are a big part of the solution. Much of what I do in my work as a personal trainer is helping individuals stay fitter, stronger, and healthier for longer–but the services I provide are not free. For some people, the cost is prohibitive. Even those who can afford it often view fitness expenses as discretionary. Belonging to a gym, taking yoga classes, or working with a personal trainer are seen as luxuries rather than healthcare necessities.

As long as we have the system in place that we do in our country, we need to think about the money spent on fitness and self-care not as discretionary, but rather as an investment in our present and our future. The better job we do of taking care of ourselves now, the more likely that we will have better health outcomes in the future.

I am not sure why the US stands nearly alone in the world in its broken system of healthcare, nor why so many people are so opposed to systems that work with more success in other countries. We should ask ourselves and our elected representatives about this.

In the meantime, consider what is discretionary and what is not. Where does your health and fitness fit in for you?