Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Return on Investment for Health, Business and the Body, Part 2

In the first part of this series, we explored health assets (like low blood pressure and bone density) and liabilities (extra weight and LDL cholesterol). Obviously, we want more assets than liabilities. The good news is that healthy behaviors enhance many assets at once.

With the many choices available, how do you decide what health behaviors will do you the most good? We’ll look to the financial world again and use the concept of Return on Investment (ROI).

ROI equals Gain divided by the Cost. So if you invest $100 and gain $20, the ROI is 20%. In the world of personal care, it’s hard to quantify gain. However, we make decisions about ROI every day. For example, what’s a good hair cut worth? Some people pay $18 and others pay $60. In both cases, the return is worth it to the purchaser. Although the value of being vibrant and strong in later years will vary from person to person, most would consider the Gain to be excellent.

Likewise, the Cost of activities such as exercise and eating healthy will be valued differently based on the inputs: time, money, effort, and convenience. However, you can still apply logical criteria.

It’s lunch time during a busy day and you have choices. Do you make a salad chock full of nutritious vegetables, grab a burger from the corner fast food place, or microwave a bowl of soup?

Salad: Gain = High (Low fat and calories, high nutrition, fiber)
Cost = High (Time to buy, prepare and assemble ingredients)
ROI = Fair

Burger: Gain = Low (Probably includes trans fats, low nutrition and fiber)
Cost = Medium (Money)
ROI = Poor

Soup: Gain = High (Good nutrition)
Cost = Medium (Fairly convenient and low cost)
ROI = Good

If you find the best return for the lowest cost, you’ll add to your health net worth. Of course, some health behaviors have a very high cost—a colonoscopy comes to mind—but, like many preventive measures, the benefit is so high, it’s worth it. You’ll also get healthier by eliminating activities that have a high cost and low return, such as harmful exercise. For me, that’s jogging more than a mile since I have to factor in the cost of injury to my weak knees.

Unlike purchasing a stock, health decisions are completely personal, especially for exercise. Jogging isn’t great for me, but it has a high return and low cost for others. Within the five components of physical fitness (cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, and flexibility), you’ll get the greatest return on the component that you neglect the most. Since I avoid cardio, a brisk walk or bike ride will give me the greatest gain.

Look for high health gains and start with the behaviors that have low cost. You won’t be able to buy groceries or a new purse with your return, but you will be able to spend a few more enjoyable years on this planet.

5 components of physical fitness—Centers for Disease Control,

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