September 14, 2023
I was encouraged to see in a big new national Age Wave survey of people at least 65 that the majority are feeling so hopeful. More than 70% of participants at least 65 years old said that their current life, or the life they are heading into represents the best time of their life. But the same report also points out that while we are living longer, we aren’t necessarily going to live well for longer. Official data from the World Health Organization shows that on average, the last 12 years of Americans’ longer lives are spent dealing with a severe illness or disability.
That is, our health span is 12 years shorter than our life span. Every country has a gap between health span and life span—but the U.S. ranks just 66th in terms of average health span, which tends to only last until our mid-60s.
Now I know you rely on me for financial advice, but I want you to make managing your health a part of your retirement plan. Sure, I could tell you that a healthier you might have lower healthcare related expenses in retirement. That’s likely true. But I want to be very clear – so many of our physical illnesses are completely out of our control. I am not going to tell you that exercising more and eating better means you will avoid illness or will spend less on healthcare. We all know very healthy people who suddenly are very ill or die unexpectedly.
But you and I can do our best to control what is within our control, right? And a healthier, more fit us tilts the odds that we may be able to extend our health span. Every month or year we get without being slowed down by physical challenges or disease puts the “ultimate” in retirement.
It doesn’t matter how old you are right now. We can all make a plan to be kinder to our bodies. Maybe it’s working up to a 30-minute walk each day. Or moderating our intake of whatever comfort food is our weak spot.
And it’s not just our bodies, but our hearts and minds that need our self-care. I want you to create a schedule where each day you can find two hours to do whatever makes your heart sing. It doesn’t need to be one solid two-hour stretch. You can break it into small increments of happy tasks that add up to two hours a day.
Academic research has shown that if we can commit to at least two hours a day of “what makes me happy” time, we will indeed feel happier. That’s a huge payoff in itself. But there may be the added benefit that when we give ourselves time to be happy it can help manage life stresses. And that, over the long term, can set us up for a healthier, longer life.