Ever so slowly but steadily, cultural values and personal habits are shifting toward more healthy lifestyles in both the United States and Canada.

A host of factors figure into this trend, but the soaring cost of health care is certainly prominent among them. The one sure way to avoid high medical costs is to stay healthy. If you don’t need to see a doctor, you don’t have to pay a doctor.

Indeed, our fund – the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America – was established, in large part, to help LIUNA’s funds contain expenditures by improving the health of LIUNA members and their families. Many local funds have instituted their own wellness programs.

The first big lifestyle issue that the LHSFNA tackled was smoking. Even today, Laborers smoke at rates considerably above average for the general population. This is especially problematic because on-the-job exposures to toxic substances amplify the danger of tobacco. LIUNA was among the first unions to challenge members on their smoking habits, and many have responded. In addition, our educational programs have discouraged many others from taking up the habit. Yet, we still have a ways to go.

A few years ago, the LHSFNA began to focus sharply on the closely-related issues of nutrition and exercise and last year, we completed a training manual – Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers – and two brochures on the topic. Eating right, maintaining fitness and getting down to a healthy body mass index (BMI) should be important goals of all Laborers and their families. Fortunately, losing weight has become something of a national obsession, supported by the television, fitness, insurance and health care industries. If you haven’t tuned in, it’s time you do.

So, quitting tobacco, eating right and exercising are three things all of us can do to keep ourselves well, avoid unnecessary medical care and live a longer life. A recent, well-publicized study from England adds a fourth element to the list – moderate alcohol consumption.

As everyone knows, alcohol comes with a serious downside. Alcohol abuse on the job causes fatalities and serious injuries. Outside of work, the consequences are also devastating. So, while we report the findings on alcohol, we do so with some important caveats (see Over 45? Alcohol Can Combat Heart Disease).

he point of the “Four Keys” study featured in this issue of LIFELINES is that the integrated effect of these changed behaviors significantly lengthens life. Doing all four provides the greatest gain, but doing any is better than doing none.

It is increasingly clear that lifestyle choices are a major factor in personal health status. Genetics, work situations, environmental pollutants and other factors also play significant roles. But, most of these things are beyond our control.Each of us, however, can change our own habits and our own lifestyle.

In this issue, we present four keys. Consider the insight and make appropriate adjustments in your life. Your health will improve and so will the bottom lines of LIUNA’s health and welfare funds.