Myth Busters: The Opportunity Cost Of Healthy Food & Exercise

Episode 83

Do you remember that show Myth Busters?  We loved that show because it took a scientific approach to popular myths to bust them or uphold them.  We took that approach on this episode to two myths we can not stand!  It’s too expensive to eat healthy, and I don’t have time to work out.  Do you think these myths are going to stand up after they run through the Strive for Great Health Podcast Gauntlet?  Tune in to find out!

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Episode Transcripts

Dr. Richard Harris: [00:00:00] Welcome to Strive for Great Health Podcast with your host, Dr. Richard Harris, a podcast where we empower you to take control of your health with lifestyle medicine and the health mindset to live with purpose and joy. And today’s episode is myth busters. We’re going to be breaking apart two of my least favorite myths.

I can’t stand these myths and they’re so pervasive and yet they are so wrong. These two myths are it’s too expensive to eat healthy and I don’t have time to exercise. At the end of this episode, we’re going to show you why it’s too expensive, not to eat healthy and how exercise literally creates time. Are you ready to boost your health EQ and IQ? Cue the music

JOin me. Dr. Richard Harris, as we strive to unlock the secrets of the human body. Strive for wellness, strive for great health. Follow the show on iTunes, Spotify, Google, and Android.

Real quick before we get started. The Strive for Great Health Podcast is a lifestyle wellness and mindset podcast, but we can’t put everything about health, wellness, and mindset into the podcast, there’s just not enough time. It’s such a complex subject. That’s why we created our lifestyle medicine and health mindset wellness courses. Now you may be asking, are these courses right for me? If you’re someone who wants to increase their health span, longevity, how long we live without chronic disease. If you’re someone who’s been told you have risk factors. If you’re someone that’s been told, there are some things that you need to watch out for. Some things you need to change otherwise you’re heading down a road that leads to disease.

Or if you’re someone who has a chronic ailment and you’re wanting a more holistic approach to fix your self, to heal yourself, then the wellness courses are for you. If you’re not willing to invest in your health, if you’re not someone who is willing to do things in a sustainable manner, if you’re someone who’s looking for a quick fix, then the courses are not for you.

The courses are designed to teach you everything that I have learned through reading hundreds of studies, hours of clinical practice, years of devotion to this lifestyle medicine and the health mindset so you can live a life full of joy and purpose. If that sounds good to you, head to and click courses at the top. Now to this week.

Welcome to Strive for Great Health Podcast with your host, Dr. Richard Harris, that’s me. And in this episode, we’re going to be talking about some myths, but before we get into that, we got some housekeeping things to take care of. Number one, I’m sure you noticed there was no episode last week. That was intentional.

I’m actually going to go back to every other week releases. I’m just getting too busy with some of the things I have going on. I will talk about those on the podcast soon, but you can check out the Nimbus healthcare app in the app store right now. And that’s one of the things we have going on. Another we’ll have an announcement coming soon.

But the second thing is I wanted to give a shout out to my good friend, Sean Sessel friend of the podcast, been on the podcast twice for donating to the Coral Reef Alliance, we talk about how we don’t take donations here at the podcast. We want you to donate to charities that you are passionate about.

Then, if you reach out to us, we’ll give you a shout out on the podcast. Give the charity a shout [00:04:00] out. We are all about giving. Okay. Let’s bust up these myths. All right. So the first myth it’s too expensive to eat healthy. This one drives me crazy because when you actually look at the numbers and the data, that myth is completely busted.

So let’s bust it. On average it costs about a dollar fifty more per day to eat healthy. And this was from a British medical journal,BMJ study from 2013, that converts to about a dollar seventy five in today’s dollars because of inflation. Other studies show around the same between a one to two dollar per day increase for eating healthy.

That’s a total of $548 per year in direct costs. Now what we’re going to be doing in this episode is we’re going to be breaking down total costs, direct, and indirect costs and also opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is just that, the cost of other opportunities. In this episode, we’re going to be looking at the money you lose treating disease.

What happens if you put that money to work for you? What does that generate? Let’s dive in and we actually have some data here. One study showed poor nutrition in cardio-metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, and type two diabetes costs, $50.4 billion per year. This was a 2017 study.

So that was $301 per person who has these conditions due directly to nutrition that adjusts a $320 and $53 billion in 2021 money. A subgroup analysis was done and is actually more expensive for men, $380 for people above the age of 65, $408 for African-Americans $320. For those with less education, $392.

And it really jumped up for the Medicare population, $481. And then the dual Medicare Medicaid population, $536. This is mostly driven by a high consumption of processed meats. We’ve talked about processed food before on the podcast. 65% of the average person’s intake of calories is from processed foods and how they’re linked to just about every single bad disease on the planet, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s and all that bad stuff.

Low consumption of nuts and seeds, low consumption of seafood containing omega threes. We’ve talked about the omega three ratio on the podcast before how that should ideally be two to one, maybe one-to-one, but the average person’s like 10 to 20 to one, and that causes a shift from anti-inflammatory profile to pro inflammatory profile.

Now the study estimated that 20% of heart disease stroke and diabetes is caused solely by poor nutrition. We know that these diseases are multifactorial and there’s a lot that can go into it. We talked about all the root causes of chronic disease at the beginning of the podcast. And you can have more than one root cause affecting it, but poor nutrition in this study was the sole cause of about 20% of these conditions and 45% of the deaths were associated with poor nutrition. So this is a pretty significant factor. Let’s focus on the diabetes because diabetes affects about 11% of the population. That’s an excess of about 35 million people. It’s the six or seventh leading cause of death, depending on how you group together, the other causes of death.

And it’s predicted to affect 15% of the population by 2030, which I think will probably be accelerated because like we talked about on a previous episode, last year, people gained 1.5 pounds a month, which is what most people will gain in a year. [00:08:00] That’s going to accelerate that projection to 15% of the population having diabetes.

 It’s estimated and why I’m saying this, because this goes into the direct and indirect costs. It’s estimated that for diabetes, people will miss about 5.5 extra work days a year, compared to people who don’t have it for full-time employees. 4.3 days for part-time employees. Total for employers, this is about 58 million unplanned work days per year.

That’s a very significant amount of work missed due to diabetes, which can largely be due to nutrition. In June of 2019, the median us worker hourly rate was $19 and 33 cents. That’s $20 and 54 cents adjusted to 2021 dollars. So it’s about $164 per day. Why did we use the median? Because that’s the number where half are above half or below.

We didn’t want to use the average because the millionaires and billionaires are going to skew that number slightly high. Absenteeism, which is not being at work may account for 29% to 47% of an organization’s healthcare costs. And we know that healthcare costs are the biggest or among the biggest costs for organizations.

Now, if you look at 5.5 days of work missed at that rate, that’s about $902 per year. So that’s the cost of absenteeism associated with having diabetes. We’ve got that $320 in medical costs related to nutrition. But let’s add in reduced productivity. This is called presenteeism and that’s you’re at work, but you ain’t doing anything.

Somebody’s paying you, but you ain’t doing no work. That’s reduced productivity. A study in 2017 showed there’s about 8 million people with diabetes in the workforce with a productivity loss of an estimated $27 billion. This is about $3,375 per person in 2017 dollars, which is almost $3,600 adjusted for inflation for today’s dollars.

Okay. Now we’re going to dive into some scenarios. But before we do that, let’s look at the direct cost of eating healthy. We said that that was $548 per year. Now, in this scenario, we’re going to be looking at someone who’s diabetic. They’re diagnosed with diabetes at age 30, the life expectancy of someone who’s diabetic is 74 and a half years.

The direct cost of eating healthy over that same time period, this is our comparator group. It’s $24,386. The opportunity cost if you invested that money is $90,000. Sounds like a lot. Well, the numbers that are about to come from poor nutrition are a lot higher. Let’s look at scenario. nUmber one, diagnosed with diabetes at 30 life expectancy, 74 and a half that’s 44 and a half years.

Let’s look at the costs. You have $902 per year for absenteeism, 320 in healthcare costs related to the nutrition, $3,600 from presenteeism. This scenario you have the diabetes is a net loss of $4,822 a year. If you look over that 44 and a half year horizon, that’s $214,000 loss from not eating healthy.

So you got 214,000 compared to 24,000. That’s a no brainer to me. Let’s say you invest that money. And that opportunity costs I talked about earlier for the eating healthy, that 90,000 that was invested based upon, let’s say a return of 5%. That’s a nice number, easy number to work with. And that’s a return that is plausible with several different investment vehicles now.

So you’re losing $4,822 per year cause of diabetes, 5% return. That is almost $700,000 over that time period difference. So you’re losing $700,000 in opportunity costs versus 90,000 opportunity cost for eating healthy. [00:12:00] I’m going to eat healthy. Let’s up the stakes a little bit. Scenario number two, you’re making $75 an hour.

Now you’re balling. That’s $150,000 salary roughly. Your absenteeism cost now per year is $3,300. So your net loss actually goes up to $8,122 a year for a direct cost over that 44.5 years of $361,000. Your opportunity costs now skyrockets to $1.3 million. So I can lose $1.3 million in opportunity costs, or I can lose 90,000 opportunity costs.

I’m going to lose 90,000 opportunity costs. Eating healthy wins again. Now this is just looking at the costs for nutrition. Let’s play a different scenario. Let’s look at total cost of diabetes out of pocket costs for diabetes can range from 2,000 to 5,000 per year, depending on what study you look at, what population, what drugs people are on, a lot of factors.

The total cost is estimated around an average of 17,000 per year, which 10,000 of which is directly related to diabetes. So people with diabetes are costing about $17,000 per year in healthcare costs on average, 10,000 directly related to the diabetes. Let’s go back to our hourly worker at 1933 an hour.

That’s the median. Which is that 20.54 in current dollars. Now your direct cost is $5,000 out of your pocket. Plus $902 and absenteeism. Plus $3,600 in lost productivity. Now you’re losing $9,500 a year about. Direct costs over that 44.5 year period, $422,000. Our opportunity costs. If we had invested that money, 5% return year, $1.55 million.

Lot of monye people. A lot of money from being sick. Now let’s look at our baller or a $75 an hour, 150 K a year, six figure person. Now they’re losing almost $12,000 a year, 530,000 over that window, that 44 and a half year period for a net loss of $1.94 million in opportunity costs. They’re losing almost $2 million in opportunity costs.

So as you can see. The more money you make the costlier it is for you to eat garbage food, to not eat real food. So I think we can collectively saythat this myth that it’s too expensive to eat healthy has officially been busted. And we just looked at one scenario. You can run completely different scenarios, completely different numbers.

You could run different investment returns and things like that. I’ll give you access to the Google sheets. You can do what you want. Download a copy, make a copy, whatever, play with this stuff. Let’s look at myth number two, I don’t have time to work. You think this myth is going to be standing by the time we’re done looking at this?

Nah, you’re right. It’s not all right. Let’s look at the economic impact of exercise. Let’s start off with the money. A 2012 study showed you can save up to $2,500 a year in health care expenses with moderate intensity exercise. The CDC recommends we get 150 minutes of that a week. That’s about 2.5 hours a week, and then vigorous exercise about 1.25 hours, 75 minutes a week.

That $2,500 is about $3,000 in total in 2021 dollars. We’re going to get into the opportunity cost here. Moderate intensity exercise is like three to six metabolic equivalents or METS. So that’s like a brisk walk mowing, the lawn doubles, tennis, light biking, water aerobics, gardening. Vigorous or higher intensity exercise is hitting the weights, jogging, hiking, basketball, soccer, HIIT that type of stuff.

Another recent study showed that in your Medicare you’re 65 plus, the earlier you start exercising, the more money you save later in life. All right. Let’s look at this. Let’s say you start [00:16:00] exercising at 18 and live to 80, and let’s assume a 5% return on that $3,000. Well, what’s that going to get us over that time period?

That’s $1.2 million difference from cost savings for exercise. If I take those cost savings and I invest it, that’s a pretty significant difference. And even if I don’t invest it, let’s take the $3,000 every 10 years. That’s actually $30,000 in my pocket. Even if I don’t invest it, let’s look at the productivity impact of exercise.

Presenteeism, let’s look at that effect. A 2008 study showed a 21% increase in concentration, a 22% improvement in finishing work on time. A 25% improvement in work time without needing a schedule break and a 41% increase in motivation for doing work. It also showed improvements and perspectives and attitudes regarding self, tasks, and colleagues.

That’s some great benefits for the workplace. So we ran some predictions. Again, we base this upon a average of a 22% increase in productivity. And if you do these projections, we looked at a 40 hour work week. I know no one actually works for 40 hours in a week. Like consistently works. The number’s probably much lower than that, but that’s just an easy number based upon a number we all know.

So we ran some projections, we ran two models here. We had 2.5 hours of exercise, which is that 150 minutes a week. And we did the 75 minutes, which is the 1.25 hours. So we did these projections and we looked at if you exercise and add in the time it takes to exercise based upon a 22% improvement in productivity, does exercise save time.

The answer was a resounding yes. In one week, it saves you 6.3 hours of time. In three weeks, it saves 19 hours. In eight weeks, 50.4 hours. And in 24 weeks, a whopping 151.2 hours. Significant amount of time. If we did the 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, you get 7.5 hours for one week. 22.65 hours for three weeks. Eight weeks, 60.4 hours. 24 weeks, 182 hours.

Now, if you look at both of these over a 42 year period, why do we choose 42? Because that’s the average work span of an American. The average age of retirement is 64 ,65, depending on where you look. If we extrapolate this data outwards, that exercise time is going to save you 638 days or 1.7 years. That’s a lot of time and that’s, if you’re doing the two and a half hours a week of exercise, if you’re doing the 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, it’s almost two years of time saved. Who doesn’t want two years back?

That’s pretty crazy, right. In a 2011 study in dentists showed reducing work hours by 6.25% actually increased productivity, how many patients they saw by 1.3%. Again, this exercise time saved them time by increasing productivity. Let’s look on exercise effects on absenteeism. A 24 week study based upon CDC guidelines at 150 minutes, 75 minutes using Fitbit data, those meeting the highest amount of exercise, miss less time at work.

So those who exercise zero to 74 minutes of exercise a week had a 4.1 higher rate of illness related absenteeism. Those who got the 75 to 149 minutes, 2.7 times increase rate of [00:20:00] absentees. In 24 weeks, those who got the greater than 150 minutes missed about an average of five hours in 24 weeks. And the 75 to 149, the middle group, 11 hours and less than 75, 19 hours when they even broke this down by if you had illness and if you didn’t have an illness .And those who didn’t have an illness for the 150 minutes, They missed about two hours. Those with illness eight hours. In The medium group, it was six verse 15. In the lowest group, it was eight verse 25. So we did some projections. Again, we extrapolated the original five-hour ,11 hour, 19 hours out to 40 years.

And in the study they found there was a 23% increase for every five years of age. So we put that into our model. What we found is the difference is pretty significant. If you exercise over that time period of 40 years, you missed about 51 days of work, in the medium group 112 days, and in the low group, 194 days.

And this averaged out over that time span of about 1.27 days a year for the high exercise group, 2.81 days a year for the medium 4.86 days for the low. That was the average, but we wanted to take a look at something interesting. So we took a look at the 40 year model when at year 40 and the high exercise group versus the low exercise group.

In 40 years at their job, the high exercise group, missed about 11 days in a five-year period, due to illness, verse 43 days in a five year period for the low group. That averaged out to about two days a year versus nine days a year, pretty significant numbers. So again, we’re seeing exercise actually generates time.

Well, what about health span? What about biological age? What about longevity? Again, exercise generates time here. One study showed that if you had matched groups, those who exercise versus those who didn’t had a biological age, that was nine years younger, that is a significant difference. Imagine that you’re 40, but you feel like you’re 30 only due to exercise alone.

And we know there’s other ways to reduce biological age. We’ve talked about that in the longevity podcast. Another study showed that active seventy-year-olds had comparable heart and lung capacity and muscle strength to men and women in their forties. That’s pretty incredible. And we know all the benefits of exercise.

You can have reduction in premature death by 24% by all medical causes, 29% reduction in cardiovascular death, 11% reduction in cancer. This is just from one study. There’s tons and tons of tons of studies on the reduction capacity of exercise for disease. Well, let’s look at longevity directly. Those who met those CDC requirements that we talked about on average live 4.7 years longer.

And that’s, if you’re normal weight, even if you’re obese and you exercise, you live 2.7 to 3.4 years longer than those who didn’t. And then 3.9 years longer in people who are overweight, if you compare the people who are normal weight to obese, that’s a 7.2 year difference in longevity, highly significant.

We ran a model here as well. Let’s say you start exercising at 18 and pass away at 80 that’s 62 years of exercise. Now in that time period, you’re going to exercise for about 8,060 hours or about 335 days of exercise. That’s starting to look really good. If you compare spending a little under a year to gain 2.7 or 4.7 years, who’s taking that trade off?

I’m taking that trade off. I spend less than a year to gain [00:24:00] 4.7 almost five years. That’s a trade off I’m taking. What if it’s 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, then it’s 167 days. You spend that’s a little under half the year to gain almost five years. That’s a no brainer in a trade-off. Now, what do you guys think?

Do you think these myths have been completely busted? I think they’ve been busted. I think we’ve proven that exercise generates time. We’ve proven that you can’t afford to eat poorly. The opportunity costs of eating poorly is so high and that exercise helps us generate time in multiple different areas in health span, in lifespan and in productivity.

All right. Well, I hope you guys enjoyed this again. I will post a link to the Google sheets on the website. There will also be a transcript there, so you don’t have to remember all these numbers. And if I mess up the math, I’m not a mathematician. I did the best I can. All right, guys. Thanks for listening to strive for great health podcast.

I really appreciate you guys. I appreciate all the love. I appreciate those who are in our Strive for Great Health Podcast Facebook group, interacting with them. And we’re going to keep it rolling. We’re going to keep it moving. It’s going to be a little bit less than before, but we’re not stopping the podcast.

I have no plans to completely stop. I’m just taking a step back as I’m increasing some other activities, but we’re still going to have a lot of great content planned for you. All right, guys. Thanks for listening to Strive for Great Health Podcast with your host, Dr. Richard Harris. Have a blessed day.

Thank you for listening to Strive for Great Health Podcast with your host, Dr. Richard Harris, it’s our mission and goal at the podcast to impact as many lives as possible to empower individuals, to take control of their health and live a life full of joy and purpose. You may help us achieve this mission by leaving a five-star rating and review on your preferred podcast platform.

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