The Best Investment You Can Make

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You’re probably expecting this post to be about stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.  While financial investments are certainly important for your long-term financial success, there is one investment you can make that will pay dividends for the rest of your life – an investment in your health.

Estimated health care costs in retirement are staggering.  In fact, Fidelity’s annual estimate in 2018 is that an average couple aged 65 retiring today might face health-related costs in retirement of $280,000.  (For more details on this grim outlook, visit Money Magazine.)

Perhaps you are years, or maybe decades away from retirement.  Don’t stop reading this post!  Investing in your health at an earlier age gives you the best chance for maximum benefit.  But if you’re older and nearing retirement, don’t panic.  You can still improve your health.

Of course, you can lead a very healthy life and still get hit by the proverbial bus.  Luck, as well as genetics, certainly plays a role in your life-long health journey.  Nevertheless, it is wise to do all we can to minimize the outflow of cash for medical problems later by investing some cash now in maintaining good health.

“Good health” is a broad topic so I’m offering a checklist of ways to invest in your health now and hopefully avoid big medical expenses later.  As a disclaimer, I am not a medical or health professional.  What I am, however, is committed to knowing what will keep my family and me healthy.  I offer this checklist in the hopes you’ll be inspired and invest in yourself in the ways most applicable to you.

Eat well

The evidence is overwhelming that consuming over-sugared, processed foods we’ve come to love is likely killing us.  If these eating habits are not killing us, then they are certainly contributing to many diseases that are hampering our quality of life.  Set a goal to minimize consumption of junk food, processed food, and refined sugar.  Instead, fill your daily diet with as many whole foods as possible and buy organic when it is available and affordable.

With all of these suggestions, I’m a believer in moderation.  For me, moderation in everything makes logical sense, and in the case of limiting the things I eat and drink, moderation makes me less cranky.  One hundred percent avoidance of certain beloved foods is simply depressing, so approaching meal planning from a moderation standpoint has been helpful for me.

It’s critical to also practice self-awareness and be aware of your individual food sensitivities.  Everyone is different, and certain types of food will cause various types of inflammation in your body.  Of course, true food allergies require avoiding those foods that trigger allergic reactions.   While you may not have an identified food allergy, you know when you eat certain foods, you feel rotten.  Paying attention to this fact as I age (because it absolutely increases as we age, I’m convinced) has become a significant factor in my quest for good health.

Listen to your body, it is wise.  Much wiser than your brain, which will try to override your body with its “party all the time” disposition.

Move your body

This one is tough for me, because the work I do and most of the activities I enjoy do not involve physical activity.   Unfortunately, I’m not one of those folks who craves physical activity.  Consequently, it is always a chore to fit movement into my life.  Nevertheless, I persevere and try to get regular exercise.

A key to making this work, especially if you are like me, is finding activities that you enjoy.  I had a period of time when I got into running and weight training, and then I decided to up my game and train for two triathlons.  The experience became sheer punishment to my body, and so I quit.  My personality tends to be I’m all in or I’m not in at all.  As a result, practicing moderation truly is my solution when it comes to exercise.

Now I strive for a moderate amount of movement and walking best fits the bill.  In addition to being good for my body, I find walking to be good for clearing my mind.  I like to be out in nature, so walking accomplishes that as well.

What if you just can’t find something you truly enjoy?   I have two suggestions.  One is to hire a personal trainer to keep you motivated and accountable.  I had a trainer for two years and found it helpful.

A second suggestion is to find something enjoyable you can do WHILE you move.  Listen to an audio book, a podcast you enjoy, or music while you are getting your movement in for the day.  Distracting yourself from something you dislike by engaging in something you DO like really can work.

Keep your mind sharp

I feel pretty confident I’m working hard on this goal.   I love to learn new things, and I enjoy challenging my mind.  I do, however, have to be vigilant to make certain I’m differentiating between passive consumption of information and actual learning.  That is often tough in our online world.  Falling prey to hours of scrolling or staring at a television screen in the name of entertainment can be tempting.

We can all agree that letting our brains atrophy is a bad idea.  A simple online search for “keep your mind sharp” brings up numerous sites with tips to keep your mind active.  Cutting back passive activities such as mindless scrolling or too much television viewing is an obvious first step.

Getting the most out of keeping your mind sharp requires taking things further.  Active learning is the solution.  You might commit to getting a new college degree or a certification in a skill.  Or, just embrace new activities with a beginner’s mind and dig in deeply to learn all you can.  Shift your mindset to one of curiosity about everything.  Curiosity will keep your brain engaged as you age.

Protect your mental health

In today’s world, it’s important to be wary of the quality of the content we consume, even if it is in the name of learning.  The constant barrage of negative content available in all forms of media is dangerous to your health – your mental AND physical health.  My good mood can disappear when I read a nasty news headline.  You can spiral down into despair in a matter of minutes.  There’s no doubt doing this on a regular basis is a bad idea.

Negativity is stressful and anxiety provoking.  Managing stress has been an extremely difficult challenge for me over the past decade.  My work as a financial planner is incredibly rewarding but it can also be incredibly stressful.   I’m an example, in fact, of someone whose stress from work has damaged my health.  That experience was a catalyst for getting serious about researching well-being.

So, let me save you a lot of time and frustration: Reduce and manage your stress now and always.  Do what it takes to eliminate as much stress from your life as possible.

Get a life … a spiritual life, that is

If organized religion doesn’t appeal to you, consider simply being aware of yourself as a spiritual being.  Work on meditation and mindfulness.  Admittedly, I’m a novice when it comes to meditation.  Ironically, practicing mindfulness requires a bunch of reminders so that I don’t forget!

It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day crises and stresses of life.  As a result, it’s even more important to connect with the Universal energy that resonates with you.  Reminding ourselves there is more in the world than just ourselves is healthy.

Avoid toxic stuff

In the 21st century, we are surrounded by toxic chemicals.  Some are obvious and known, while others lurk in the wings waiting to be uncovered.  It’s impossible to avoid absolutely every potential toxin.  Nevertheless, I strive to minimize my family’s exposure to toxins.  I can certainly do better, and once I can finally devote some time to focus on it, I intend to.

Meanwhile, we avoid what we can.  I try to buy foods that have had minimal to no exposure to pesticides.  We attempt to use (room for improvement here!) non-toxic cleaning supplies and personal products.  I don’t have all the research, nor am I an expert.  But I believe my family’s health will be improved whenever we reduce exposure to known or possible toxins.  My goal is to do the best we can for now and aim to up our game going forward.

Foster healthy relationships

There’s no question that family relationships can be stressful.  For long-term good health, work to improve relationships with various family members.  Having the love and support of family can factor in to a happy life.

However, if your family members are toxic, keeping your distance may be the very best thing you can do for your health.  I don’t consider any of my family to be toxic, but I have been around enough toxic people in my life to realize that life is too short.  Now I do whatever I can to remove myself from situations involving involve toxic people.

Whether or not you have a loving and supportive family, find supportive friends whose company you enjoy.  Having someone as a sounding board, a companion for fun activities, and a confidante who understands you can go a long way toward improving your outlook on life.  And improving your outlook on life will improve your health.

If you’re introverted and being around people isn’t your idea of a good time (I admit I have days like that!), consider sharing your life with a pet.  Caring for a pet provides great satisfaction and companionship.  Best of all, pets rarely talk back!

Get adequate rest

I’m challenged by this these days.  To bring my stress level down, I need an adequate amount of sleep at night.  At my (ahem) stage of life, waking up during the night is a regular occurrence, and often results in an inability to get back to sleep.  So, I’ve been researching and practicing what I’ve learned to improve my sleep quality.  What a huge improvement this has made in my life!

If you can’t get enough sleep at night, try napping.  I know many people who nap regularly, but for me, naps are a random, infrequent luxury.  However you achieve it, make getting good rest a priority – sleep is restorative to your health.

Take advantage of preventative care

If you have health insurance, be sure to study your policy benefits and take advantage of any and all preventative services offered.  Annual physicals are important, and if your policy provides it for no cost, schedule one.

If you do NOT have health insurance, or your policy is bare bones and doesn’t provide preventative care, explore options in your community.  You may find free or low-cost preventative care among the community agencies in your town.  The point is that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

And please don’t forget your teeth.  Too often people neglect regular cleanings and checkups due to the cost involved.  But listening to our clients, it’s clear that dental work in your later years if you have not cared well for your teeth is prohibitively expensive.  While it might seem like a bit of “pay me now, pay me later,” better preventative care will come out ahead.

Always have something that lights you up

We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  For some people, that positive motivation is going to work.  Once you retire, however, be mindful that your usefulness in the world has not ended just because paid employment has.  Find a hobby or volunteer opportunity, something you feel passionate about.

Perhaps you are still working, but your paid employment is a far cry from a passion project.  Follow the same plan – find something in your free time that lights you up and makes you want to get out of bed every morning.  Having the fire in your belly to contribute in some way to the world, to your community, or to your well-being will go a long way toward keeping a positive mindset and good health.

In summary

I know this is a lot to think about but once I started looking into things we should do to stay healthy, I realized what a big task it is.  A worthy task, but a big one.  Choose one or two things and fully incorporate them in your life.  Then pick a few more.  Over time, you’ll find you’re doing everything that YOU can do to keep yourself healthy – and keep those medical costs later in life at bay.

What did I miss?  What do you do to keep yourself and your family healthy?  Do you do these things with an eye for cost-saving later in life?  Share your thoughts below.  Or if you want some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your stories!


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