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Healthy Habits, Healthy Wallets: How Being Fit Can Save You Money

Aging is a natural part of life, but it doesn't have to come with a hefty price tag. In fact, taking proactive steps to maintain good health can lead to significant financial savings as you age. Making health a priority can not only improve your well-being but also your financial bottom line. Let's dive into some of the ways that you can save money by focusing on your health.

older couple practicing yoga as part of healthy lifestyle

Healthcare Costs

Want lower healthcare costs? Get healthy. Preventing or managing health conditions through a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and healthy food choices can significantly reduce medical expenses. Healthy adults are less likely to require frequent doctor visits, hospitalizations, or costly medications for chronic illnesses.

Preventative care is a big factor in this equation. Regular check-ups, screenings, and vaccinations can catch health issues early, saving you from costly treatments down the road. Additionally, by managing chronic conditions through a healthy lifestyle, you may reduce the need for expensive prescription medications.

It's worth noting that some factors affecting health, such as genetics and unforeseen accidents or illnesses, are entirely within an individual's control. Still, making efforts to maintain good health can help mitigate potential healthcare costs and improve overall well-being.

Delaying or Avoiding Long-Term Care

Staying active and healthy can extend your ability to live independently, potentially delaying or avoiding the high costs of long-term care facilities. According to a 2021 Home and Community Preferences survey conducted by AARP, 75% of US adults surveyed wanted to stay in their homes or communities as long as possible. Aging in place allows you to maintain independence and continue living in your own home, but poor health will likely require moving into an assisted living facility or 24/7 nursing care at home. Either option can quickly drain your savings.

Older couple and daughter discussing aging in place

The average cost of care for assisted living in the US is $4,500 per month and $5,148 for a home health aide. These costs are even higher in parts of Hawaii. Taking the average cost, you would pay roughly $60,000 per year. If your spouse also goes into assisted living, that's $120,000 per year, yet the average Baby Boomer has only $202,000 saved for retirement.

Aging in place does require planning ahead. Your family should be involved in the discussions so that everyone is aware of your intentions, and there is agreement in terms of which factors would necessitate a transfer to in-home care or assisted living. Determine if family members are willing and able to provide assistance with things like household chores, transportation and personal care, and how often. Life happens and best intentions change, so it is always good (though often difficult) to keep communication open and have contingency plans in place.

Sustaining Income

Poor health can lead to early retirement or reduced work capacity, resulting in lost income. Healthy older adults are more likely to remain in the workforce or engage in part-time employment. Staying healthy can enable you to continue working, increasing your income and delaying retirement, if desired. Even if you can't wait to retire (or are already retired) you may be able to use your hard-earned knowledge to become a well-paid consultant or turn an interest or hobby like photography into a part-time business and keep earning an income for as long as you desire.

How can you start working towards a more healthy lifestyle?

We can all make small changes that will reap big rewards for our health. Small, incremental changes instead of drastic, wholesale changes are actually very effective and more likely to stick. Start by focusing on exercise, diet, and sleep, which each have tremendous impacts on our health and wellbeing.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that exercise should consist of three components for older adults:

  1. At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. That's a little over 20 minutes of brisk walking per day - though more is even better. You can break up your walks into 10 minute bouts after meals, which is a great way to help with digestion and reduce blood sugar spikes. The goal is to increase your heart rate above your resting heart rate to improve aerobic capacity and overall health. Here is a handy new activity planner from the US Department of Health and Human Services that will help you get started on your fitness journey.

  2. Moderate to vigorous resistance or strength training at least 2 days per week targeting all major muscles. Aim for 12 sets per body part per week and start with compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts that mimic everyday, functional activities (you squat every time you sit in a chair and deadlift when you pick something up off of the floor). These compound lifts also work multiple muscle groups at the same time so you're getting more bang for your buck.

  3. Flexibility and mobility training such as Pilates, yoga, and Tai Chi help to increase overall joint health and range of motion to keep you moving better, longer. Mobility combined with strength is important to reduce injuries and prevent falls. Be sure to warm up before and cool down after exercising to help avoid or decrease muscle soreness.

Additionally, a healthy diet will help decrease your chances of coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporotic hip fractures. A healthy diet consists of eating whole, natural foods rather than ultra-processed foods, and includes at least 20-30 grams of protein during each snack and meal to allow your body to perform all of its necessary functions, including repairing and maintaining muscle. If this is not how you

preparing fresh, nutritious vegetables for dinner

normally eat, make changes gradually so you will be more likely to stick to it. Start by eliminating processed foods for one day and work up from there. Then focus on incorporating a fist-size portion of protein at each meal. Try making large quantities of foods on a day when you have a block of time available, and freeze or refrigerate portions to eat later in the week. The goal is to make the habits sustainable - so start small and add more habits when you feel you're ready.

Finally, sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing, but it is usually given short shrift by most people. Sleep plays a fundamental role in physiological and psychological processes and is crucial to our body's restoration and recovery. It is also essential for cognitive health and function. Most adults require 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night, so if you're not getting enough, start working on that now. Here is a Sleep Toolkit from Huberman Lab to get you started on your next great night of sleep.

Getting healthier as an older adult isn't just about feeling better; it's also about saving money and securing your financial future. By creating and following better lifestyle habits, prioritizing preventive care, and staying active, you can enjoy your later years with greater financial peace of mind. It's never too late to invest in your health and wealth simultaneously.

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