Capitalize During Your (Health) Earning Years

The image to the left is three different MRI's of three different individual's thighs. The person on the top is a 40 year old triathlete. The person in the middle is a 74 year old sedentary individual. The person on the bottom is a 74 year old triathlete. Do you see the difference in the amount of adipose tissue (fat) versus muscle? Notice how similar the 40 year old and the 74 year old triathletes are?

This summer and fall I am signed up for 3 5K’s and 2 triathlons. This is my first attempt at triathlons, though they have been on my bucket list for years. To prepare for the swim portion of the event I have been averaging about 3 trips to the pool each week. Due to Covid there are very few pools open in the area which has forced area triathletes and swimmers to congregate in the few remaining pools we have available. This works out well for me because I am exposed to many different swimmers who can help me with training in this new sport. A recent trip to the pool was the inspiration for this article.

Last week I was in the pool alongside two women in their 60’s and 70’s. The woman in the lane closest to me was in her 70’s and has been competing in swimming and triathlons her entire life. We will call her Jane (not her real name). The woman in the first lane is in her 60’s, but as she related to me, was a “couch potato” her entire adult life and only recently got into exercise as a means to follow up with her cardiac rehab she has been undergoing since a heart attack several years ago. We will call her Mary (again, not her real name). I have gotten the chance to talk with these women numerous times, and both are incredibly nice people and we’ve had some great conversations after workouts. The conversation last week stuck out to me the most. Paraphrased, Mary told Jane that she wished she had remained as active as Jane did during her thirties and forties and she may have avoided many of the health issues she currently has.

You see, Jane gets into the pool each week and swims over 3000 meters doing various strokes. She often laments about how disappointed she is that Covid has caused so many cancellations of competitions, because she feels she would be competitive on a national level in master’s swimming (I don’t doubt it). Mary on the other hand is in the pool doing very low intensity water aerobics because that is the only exercise that is safe for her to do. Please don’t get me wrong; I am very encouraged to see her taking exercise and her health seriously and getting after it consistently, but the point is that when the impetus for exercise is a health emergency, the participant has largely dug themselves a big hole that they have to then dig out of.

It reminds me of finances. Growing up, I was told that if I went to college and got a degree like a good little boy that I would graduate and immediately join the likes of Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly. We quickly learned that wasn’t true. The better advice that should have been given to us older millennials (this advice still holds true for younger folks now) is that your 20’s is all about building experience and a resume, while your thirties and forties are your prime earning years. Each decade that passes should bring more and more financial freedom. If you begin saving and investing in your late 20’s and early 30’s you are far ahead of the retirement game. However, if you are neglecting saving in your thirties and forties, and financing your future away during those years, your fifties will soon show up and you will realize how far behind you are when it comes to retirement. Now, if you waited until your fifties to begin saving for retirement you can still “catch up,” but you have missed out on 20 years of interest and dividends.

Health and physical activity works largely the same way. Our average patient age is approximately 40 years old. That means if you are reading this in the office right now, you are likely in your prime health earning years. These are the years where nutrition, exercise, and sleep are of the utmost importance, but also this is when they are most neglected. In our experience, we have seen that the folks who capitalize the most during these years are set up for the best possible chance of a healthy retirement. After all, who cares how much money you save for retirement if it all goes to healthcare expenses at 67 years old?

Of course there are instances where people seemingly do everything *right* and still succumb to some form of chronic illness. People will often use that as an excuse or a justification to avoid a healthy lifestyle and say things like, “I had and uncle who exercised and he still had a heart attack.” Yes that does happen sometimes. This lifestyle is all about risk mitigation, not risk elimination. Seatbelts don’t prevent 100% of traffic fatalities, but I still wear mine every time I get in the car or the airplane.

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