Time magazine reported this week that the U.S. spends more per capita, $7,026, on health care than any other country in the world. We also pay more for health care as an overall percentage of the GDP, with 16% going towards health-related costs. With that kind of spending, one would expect our health outcomes to be superior. But in truth, the state of Americans’ health is shameful when you realize how much money we spend.

For example, the Japanese have a life expectancy of 83 years, while Americans just beat out Panama (76 years) with an expectancy of 77.9 years. Japan only spends 7.9% of its total GDP on health care costs. Looking at these figures, you could make an assumption that the Japanese might have a genetic advantage; that they naturally are a healthier people. But multiple studies have shown that after immigration to the U.S., the health status of a family or an ethnic group as a whole will decrease dramatically in the second generation, before there has been any chance for ‘bad genes’ to come in and ruin things.

The reasons for the disparity between the health of people in the U.S. and other developed nations, despite extravagant healthcare spending, are complex. I have taken courses that devoted entire semesters to trying to figure this conundrum out. Nevertheless, there are still things that you as an individual and we as a nation can do to try to improve our health and quality of life.

1. Don’t Smoke, Even Socially – Tobacco use is the number one “actual” leading cause of death according to the Center for Disease Control. Smoking increases your chances of getting several different forms of cancer (not just lung and mouth cancer) and heart disease. Plus, smoking gives you wrinkles.

2. Be Active – Poor diet and physical inactivity combined are a close second true cause of death for Americans. The modern ‘conveniences’ of today make it easy for us to just sit around and get out of shape. There are little things you can do in your everyday life to avoid inactivity, like taking the stairs instead of an elevator, using a bike to get around, and actually getting your hands dirty once in a while by gardening or doing home-repair.

3. Limit Your Alcohol Consumption – Despite its legal status and high social acceptability, alcohol is now commonly understood to be bad for your health. Alcohol usage has been linked to liver, mouth, colon and even breast cancer as well as the more classically associated alcohol diseases such as Cirrhosis. While many people relish recommendations regarding the potential heart benefits of having an occasional drink, this should not be considered a carte blanche for binge-drinking or even having more than one or two drinks in an evening (depending on if you are a female or a male respectively). In fact, recent studies have shown that earlier reports of the benefits of low level drinking turned out to be misleading.

4. Eat a Well-balanced Diet By Cooking For Yourself – Fast food restaurants provide little choice over the kind of ingredients that go into their calorie and cholesterol feast. By cooking for yourself, you can have absolute control over the quality of the food you eat. Work with your busy schedule by cooking large portions a few nights each week, and then enjoy the leftovers for lunch and evenings when you don’t have time to cook. The Department of Health and Human Services has a list of healthy and simple recipes that you can try and the vegetarian/vegan blog Post Punk Kitchen has some more radical approaches to healthy eating.