20 Secrets to Long-Term Health and Wealth
If you didn’t realize there was a connection between a healthy bank account and healthy body, join the club -- or read “Age-Proof: Living Longer Without Running out of Money or Breaking a Hip,” which argues that the same principles, strategies, and tactics used to help achieve good health can improve your financial picture. To put it more boldly, as the book does in chapters alternating between the two themes: Without health, you cannot have long-term wealth. And without financial success, stability, and peace of mind, long-term health will also elude you.
That’s in large part because when we’re stressed about money or debt, it eats away at our health. And when health issues cost a fortune, well, there goes all the money. “Focusing on just health or just money is not enough. ... One without the other won’t be successful,” said Jean Chatzky, an NBC “Today” show finance expert who wrote “Age-Proof” with Dr. Mike Roizen, chief wellness officer for the Cleveland Clinic. Here’s a look at some of the steps the book offers for becoming healthier and more financially successful.
Embracing a current reality means fully acknowledging the exact state of your finances and health -- important because you need to measure where you are to determine “where you want to be and chart a course for how to get there.”
We’ve all heard health or finance horror stories that scared us into action. But fear cannot be a long-term motivator for health or financial improvements. “Fear can work very well in the short term,” but it’s “not the basis for lasting motivation.”
So what should be the source of long-term motivation for good health and finance habits? “Wanting to do better because it improves your life and makes you feel better” is a good base, but there’s also “the thrill of the chase -- and the joy of seeing and feeling improvement. These are often what inspire people to keep going, to live better.”
Chatzky and Roizen advise doing a “fiscal physical” to be confident and comfortable, taking stock of finances as though it’s heart health or a car that needs maintenance over time. “If you don’t take stock of where you are, you never know when you’re going to fall apart. And what you are trying to avoid is a financial flat tire that leaves you stranded and desperate.” Do periodic assessments, including annual reviews of income, expenses, net worth, and retirement options. Assess emergency savings every month.
The golden years will include more expenses then many realize -- living expenses, medical expenses, unforeseen expenses “and your spoil-the-grandbabies expenses.” Make sure there’s no need to fear outliving your savings. A 65-year-old couple should have an extra $260,000 in retirement to cover health care costs alone, according to Fidelity Investments. “Earmark some of your savings budget specifically for those health care costs. Simply being aware that the costs are coming and that you have money slotted for those expenses will give you some very crucial peace of mind.”
Breaking bad habits can be hard. It comes down to what the book describes as “creating a life rhythm -- an underlying beat to your life that creates the foundation” to form habits, make decisions, and create “an automatic lifestyle of good health and strong wealth.” For people whose rhythm includes outspending income or eating more than is healthy, it’s time to find a new beat. One way to do this is to find a destructive habit and replace it with a new one. Instead of a smoke after dinner, take a walk instead. The key is that it’s not about simply quitting an action -- it needs to be replaced with a better action.
Chances of success on a life rhythm “increases when you don’t try to knock out all of your bad habits at once … Life will always get in the way of making smart decisions, so it tends to be easier on your brain to try to make one or two changes (or replacement actions), and then let those domino into the next two.”
There are many competing demands for money -- housing, retirement, college funds, car payments, and more. It can be exhausting and maddening trying to cover them all. Chatzky and Roizen say priorities should include: earning a decent living, paying yourself first with savings, spending less than you earn, protecting your financial life (i.e., preparing yourself for accidents or health issues), and giving back in a meaningful way.
Half of Americans are “financially fragile,” meaning they have so little money saved that they’re just one emergency away from a financial crisis such as a medical or car emergency. Many people would need help from others in a crisis, such as from a bank or family members. To help avoid this, sock away some income. Ideally, about 15 percent; if that’s too high, begin with a smaller amount. “Think of it as giving yourself a paycheck -- one that you’ll cash down the road.”
Stress causes people to eat too much, leads to high blood pressure, fatigue, and anxiety. One of the biggest causes of stress is money, but too many people just let that stress go on “by doing things like burying your head in the sand about financial troubles or not going to the doctor” thinking a pain will go away. “Rethink your approach to stress management” and deal with stress directly. Figure out “which stressors are really damaging your health, address them, then come up strategies that make everyday stress feel like a normal part of your life.”
Going solo is a mistake when it comes to health and wealth. “Almost every successful endeavor we can think of has a team structure. Bands don’t just have musicians; they have road crews, producers, agents.” When it comes to finances, it’s great to have a financial adviser, estate planning attorney, and tax team member; the most budget-friendly suggestion is to find a money buddy -- a friend or family member who will hold you accountable and coax you along. When it comes to health, a thoughtfully assembled team not only treats issues when they occur but develops a plan to improve health now and over the long term. Key members include a primary care provider, pharmacist, OB/GYN (for women), and urologist (for men over 50). A culinary coach, phys ed teacher, and counselor are good additions. “You are the CEO of your body and your bank account. ... Make smart decisions about whom you want to add to your team.”
Here’s an analogy that will likely catch you off-guard: Credit cards are like stretchy pants. They “offer you some give -- to perhaps live beyond your limits. They give you a false sense that things are the way they should be. They allow you to feel comfortable, even if it’s not good for you in the long run. Because eventually, if you stretch enough, you’re going to put the waistband under more and more tension until something pops.” And when that pop occurs -- well, here comes the stress again.
Bad diets spell trouble, no matter how much you exercise. “A bad diet means you will either get obese or have other aging health defects, or both.” Maintaining a healthy diet maximizes your body’s ability to lose fat, drop weight, and gain energy.
Put these activities on a to-do list to get serious about fighting aging: physical activity, resistance training, jumping, and cardio -- they’ve all been shown to slow or reverse aging. Doing resistance exercises for 15 to 20 minutes two times a week lowers your “RealAge” (how much older or younger your body is than your actual age) by about 1.8 years.
Think of walking as the foundation to a healthy lifestyle. It’s a simple activity, but the most effective. True, it’s not a huge calorie-burner, but ”research shows that walking 10,000 steps a day ... helps give you about 50 percent of the maximum age-slowing effect that all physical activity can give you, improves your health, helps you manage your stress responses and your weight.” It also is the easiest, least daunting way to begin an exercise routine for those without one.
Once each year, go through all monthly bills and look for costs to eliminate or reduce. Call companies to find out if they can give you a better deal; and review the interest rates on credit card, mortgages, and other loans. “if you’re a good customer, you pay on time, and you’re slowly chiseling your way out of debt, it makes sense to call your issuer and ask for a better interest rate. You’ll be surprised how often they give it to you.”
Creating goals puts you on the right track, and committing them to paper increases the chances of success, according to a 2014 study from California’s Dominican University. Also important: The goals need to be specific and measurable. Indicate exactly how much you are trying to save, for instance, or how much weight you are trying to lose, and set deadlines.
Slow your spending. Don’t save credit card information on shopping websites; unsubscribe from email notifications that encourage shopping; and establish some rules, such as “one in/one out” -- meaning before buying one kind of item, you have to get rid of one of its kind that’s already in the home, ideally by selling it and using the money to help pay for what’s next.
Being middle-aged and having little saved for retirement can’t be fixed by skipping a daily Starbucks run. Try saving 20 percent from income instead of 15 percent and consider downshifting immediately, trimming living costs so there’s more to set aside. “Look at the big items: housing, transportation, education, even health care. You want to sacrifice quantity without quality.” And finally, plan to work longer. For each year between 62 and 70 that retirement’s delayed, Social Security benefits grow at a rate of 8 percent guaranteed.
Poor health affects “your body, your family, your finances” and more. But achieving success on health is not tied to how hard you try, but “how easy it is to do -- to make changes that feel as if they’re automatic, that don’t require heavy lifting, that don’t make you feel pain every time you do X, Y, or Z.” Self-control, applied to finances and health, can be transformative. “The same skill set that enables you to gain control over one aspect of your life allows you to control other aspects as well. The skill you are learning is not a financial skill or a health skill, it is self-control. It’s about teaching people to be strong,” Chatzky said.