We are a society that believes in doing what we please — and we hope the doctor can fix it later.

“I encourage people to value themselves enough to take care of themselves every day,” said one patient.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports only that 20 percent of Americans get the minimum amount of aerobic and strength-building exercise needed to remain healthy. That threshold is 2.5 hours a week, or 150 minutes of moderate activity.

But when faced with teams of doctors, medical bills, pain, suffering, pharmaceutical interventions, side effects, and debilitating conditions, would we do it all over again?

Said Nancy Vest, 55, of Pinehurst, North Carolina, “I would have handled my health better if I knew what I’d be going through later in life.”

Today, she deals with Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lichen planus, and psoriasis — all autoimmune conditions. She also has diabetes, supra-ventricular tachycardia, and anxiety.

“I wish I had sought treatment for anxiety management,” she said. “Then, I wouldn’t have used food as a drug. Food addiction is one of the biggest factors that has negatively affected my health. Both my daughters have problems with their weight and have inherited my tendency for autoimmune diseases, fatigue, and anxiety. One currently takes an antidepressant. She admits food is her drug of choice for emotions.”

Vest urges people who ignore diet and exercise to think about their children.

Health coach Holly Stokes echoes this advice on stress, anxiety, and emotions. She urges people to get to the root of the problem rather than focus on the surface.

“Stress is a hidden culprit in all major diseases, aggravating symptoms, obesity and weight gain,” she said. “Many people reach for alcohol or food as a way of de-stressing. That’s not addressing the real problem.”

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Fifty-two-year-old Mike Johnston of Madison, Wisconsin, and his sisters begged their mother to take better care of herself, starting during their teen years. After watching her overindulge in excess food and alcohol for many years, they now have little patience — they’re caring for her every need. Her diabetes necessitated the amputation of one leg, and she’s had several strokes.

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“We are angry,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to talk about. Her eating habits were embarrassing when we were young. We were often humiliated by her behavior, but we couldn’t see one day we’d be nursing her around the clock. She never listened to our pressure, bribery, or pleading, but now we have to spend enormous time, money, and energy on her care. Most of her grandchildren only know her as an invalid. It’s taken a toll on me and my siblings that’s horrible.”

Fifty-five-year old Yvonne Kay, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and urges an understanding of genetic risk factors. She has twice battled stage-3 cancer. Although she did exercise and eat well, she didn’t understand the risks her heritage implied. Now facing mounting medical bills, she believes everyone should understand the risk factors of their gender, heritage, genetic makeup, and community, and be tested often for those risks. As she counsels others, she finds people’s barriers are often around self-esteem issues.

Exercise eases anxiety and stress. It promotes an overall brighter feeling about life.

In a culture that trumpets competition, fancy professional titles, and breezy Facebook posts — developing self-worth isn’t a priority today.

“I encourage people to value themselves enough to take care of themselves every day,” Kay said.

Exercise eases anxiety and stress. It promotes an overall brighter feeling about life and ourselves. It also helps prevent arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. That’s an excellent return on an investment of 30 minutes a day.

Results from a lack of regular exercise are showing up at an increasingly younger age, too. Registered dietitian Tasha Feilke, of Boston, Massachusetts, sees patients as young as age 50 unable to grocery shop, walk through an airport, or socialize — due to lack of stamina.

She is more direct than many doctors: She tells patients to start getting at least 30 minutes a day of exercise right now, in any fun way they can find. A government research study has shown that 33 percent of obese patients and 55 percent of overweight patients were never told they were overweight by their doctors.

Feilke emphasizes planning and scheduling the time for exercise as a priority, far ahead of socializing and entertainment. “It’s an investment in yourself. You can spend 150 minutes a week doing something fun now — or spend it in the doctor’s office later. It’s your choice.”

Pat Barone, CPCC, BCC, MCC is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating.