We're advised early on in our adult lives to put money aside for retirement. Roth IRAs, Traditional IRAs, 401K and 403b savings accounts, pension plans, supplemental pension plans...they come in all varieties do retirement accounts, and our deposits into these plans are often matched in varying degrees by our employers. It's a win-win proposition. Missing in this wise counsel, however, is any reference to our physical well-being and the importance of "saving" for that as well. What good is fiscal health once we reach our chosen retirement age if our physical health is compromised...or worse, bankrupt?
Take note - the average life span in the United States is 77 years while the average health span is 66 laps around the sun. Do the math. So, if you retire at the chronological number designated by the federal government as "full retirement age" (66, as a reminder), then the probability that your health and well-being will retire along with you is quite likely. But it doesn't have to be this way.
There's a vast difference between one's chronological age and one's biological/fitness age, and the latter is heavily influenced by the lifestyles we choose to "invest" in - including in our early adult years. As much as we attribute our growing aches and pains as we age to the "inevitable" price we pay for each passing year, we're fooling ourselves when we use this excuse. Moreover, many of us point to our inherited genetic makeup for what may ail us. In neither case are we correct.
More accurately, our sedentary lifestyles - sitting at our desks all day in front of computers, ordering our meals online to be delivered, subcontracting out lawn mowing and snow shoveling - and eating more processed foods are the major contributors to premature aging. With forty-percent of adults hovering in the obesity range and more teetering on the edge of it, we've come to normalize unhealthy behaviors. And this is the primary reason for our average health span maxing out at 66. As for DNA, we can control gene activation and deactivation through our epigenomes. How? By the lifestyles we choose to adhere to in our lives.
The single most important investment you can make to your "retired physical self" is physical activity. Any kind is helpful, but much like the varied investment options you can (and should) choose from in which to place your money, the same holds true with how you choose to invest time and energy in your own health and well-being. A varied approach to exercise, one that includes aerobic AND anaerobic conditioning (the latter described as exercise that "takes your breath away"), strength conditioning, mobility training, and flexibility, is the most effective way to "save" for your best self in your retirement years. Walking by itself is not enough, nor is any one kind of exercise. A balanced portfolio of exercises will deliver the best results.
The earlier you begin doing this, the more compound interest you accrue in the form of muscle strength and cardiovascular conditioning. Likewise, you collect compound interest in developed musculature in that muscle burns calories in a resting state. Fat doesn't. One more note - free weights are so much better for you than are the machines. The latter guide the weight through the planes of motion while free weights require you to do this on your own. The latter is much more functional and adaptable to real life situations. If necessary, hire a personal fitness coach for a few sessions to teach you how to lift properly. It's a wise investment.
Think of the gym as an investment bank and choose to invest your time and energy in the various options available rather than going to the same cardio machine each time...or just walking...or just cycling...or just jogging. Aim to get better returns on your time and energy investments than the lowly bank rates that one and only one exercise approach delivers. In doing so, you'll be simultaneously making solid deposits to your future self. And, unlike fiscal investments that you can't draw on until you reach retirement, the investments you make in your physical well-being will deliver benefits today and in your future years.
Invest in yourself for the long term.
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