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Studies underline economic benefits of healthy aging

Canada needs a more proactive model of medicine, doctor says
Sara Hodson, left, and Ali Zentner of Live Well Medical + Exercise Clinic are part of a push toward a more preventive health-care model  | Rob Kruyt

The Liberal government’s recent decision to move old age security eligibility back to age 65, reversing the former Conservative government’s plan to raise it to 67, has helped thrust the economics of aging into the spotlight.

Last fall, Statistics Canada revealed that for the first time, there are more Canadians who are over 65 than under 15.

In 2015, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), health expenditures in Canada reached $219.1 billion, almost 11% of the country’s gross domestic product, or $6,105 per person, a number that has been steadily rising with the country’s median age.

Ali Zentner, an internal medicine specialist who is also the medical director of the Live Well Exercise Clinic, which has a branch in Surrey, said she frequently works with people who are successful in the business world but who can’t seem to put a price on their health.

The clinic is “a really interesting business model that expands on the model that good health isn’t the default,” she said. “I see this all the time with executives. I joke with them [that] if they were treating their health like they were treating their business, they’d be bankrupt.”

The clinic, which uses a proactive approach to health-care maintenance, is part of a growing trend in which people are taking preventive measures to reduce health risks.

“What’s good for the economy is good for the body and good for the environment,” Zentner said. “For example, this country only spends 10% of its health-care dollars on prevention, but the average Canadian spends the last decade of his or her life suffering from some form of chronic disease.”

A 2011 report for the Library of Parliament lays out a cost-benefit analysis of aging.

The report noted that according to the CIHI, Canadians aged 65 and over account for about half of hospital expenditures by provincial governments in Canada.

Zentner said there needs to be a shift in mindset, and one way to achieve that might be to encourage people to think of their bodies as being like a business venture.

“If you think about that from a business model perspective it’s really interesting,” she said. “I’m not a businesswoman, I’m a physician, but by the same token when you’re starting up your business, how you invest and what you do in your first decade of your business impacts what kinds of things are going to happen in the next decade.”

A recent report by the Canadian Senate committee on social affairs, science and technology calls for a national campaign to combat obesity, which would include a tax on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, and a ban on food advertising that targets children. Zentner said she is in favour of the sugar tax, which would follow the business model of taxing cigarettes.

“We’ve made it very challenging to smoke anywhere in North America,” she said. “And I think there are some lessons to be learned from that. I do think people associate being healthy with being costly, but in the long run being unhealthy costs a patient a lot more money, not just in medication but in things like time lost and productivity.”

Sara Hodson, founder and president of Live Well Medical + Exercise Clinic, who recently won a Women in Business Award from the Surrey Board of Trade, said she started the clinic looking to help people focus on proactive health care.

“People with chronic disease need more monitoring and care around their exercise programs in order for them to exercise safely and get the medical outcomes they need to treat and manage their chronic disease, and stick with it.”