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Get active now, save health care money later

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As Nova Scotians prepare for the introduction of a new budget by the government, the fiscal challenges of our province will no doubt take top priority. Minister Graham Steele's budget consultation projections show health care costs for Nova Scotia soaring to over $4 billion by 2012. The staggering costs of health care can be directly linked to the increasing levels of chronic diseases, yet many of these are due to common habits such as tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity.

We currently spend 90 percent of our health care system's budget dealing with the costs of diseases from unhealthy habits, yet the department of health promotion and protection only receives less than one percent of the provincial government's budget.

It is integral to have health care there for people when they need it but we also need to invest in keeping people as healthy and physically active as possible to live independent and meaningful lives.

In May of 2009, the Nova Scotia Alliance for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity, of which the Heart and Stroke Foundation is a member, developed a report, The Case for a Comprehensive Provincial Physical Activity Strategy, demonstrating the physical, mental and economic benefits of physical activity. The report provides examples of effective interventions to achieving results in the short and long term. The cost to support such a strategy---$5 million.

In addition to providing a return on individual and population level health, increased physical activity through a provincial strategy delivers economic benefits. A 10 percent reduction in physical inactivity could mean $7.5 million saved in health care spending, $17 million in productivity gains and $24.7 million in savings. These results will play an immediate role in our current economic recovery as benefits will be felt within two years, providing long-term stability.

If we are to get back to balance in Nova Scotia, an investment in Nova Scotia's health through physical activity and prevention is critical for addressing our current and future health and fiscal challenges. —Menna MacIssac, CEO, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia

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