The Most Important Investment

Investing is one of my favorite activities and I look forward to writing plenty about it on this blog. But I’d be doing you a terrible disservice if I didn’t start with the most important investment: your health. The quote “health is wealth” and permutations of it are so common that there is no single known source and many of the quotes date back well over a thousand years. And it is universally true in every way possible.

There is certainly an economic argument. Health care is expensive. I don’t need to tell you it’s already expensive today at whatever age you are and the cost is only going to go up. The current estimate is that the average person will spend roughly $250k from traditional retirement age to death on health care and of course inflation will increase that number if you aren’t there yet. But in this case, the best defense is a good offense. If you are in good health, you can reduce your exposure to the health care system or even eliminate it for anything beyond your annual preventative care visits and the occasional issue that pops up. $250k is a huge figure to chip away at and you can start saving money in this area every year before you get to retirement age as well.

But this is even bigger than economics. After all, even a billionaire can’t buy back his good health once it’s gone. His vast fortune will get him the best care available and make him as comfortable as possible while he dies but it can’t get back what has been lost. Most of us will never be billionaires but this is one rare example of something we can have that some of them can’t.

And this is so much more than simply putting off death. By investing in your health, you will improve the quality of your life every single day. See those people all over the place who are so fat they can barely move much less live the kind of active lifestyle a fit person does? Now take a look at the attractive people the obese masses try so hard to convince you represent an unrealistic standard. Which group do you want to be a part of? How much money do you think the people in the first group would pay to be part of the second instead? That’s right; this investment yields a return you can’t even quantify. And it is much easier to stay part of the second group from day one on than it is to renounce your membership in group one and join group two. As in most areas of life, preventative maintenance is much, much easier and cheaper than repairing damage.

And please, ignore the naysayers. You do not want the bitter, resentful life they are living. You can’t change your genetics but you can certainly change lifestyle factors. Anyone could potentially get lung cancer but it is far less likely to happen to someone who doesn’t smoke. Everyone has heard of the occasional fitness fanatic who had a heart attack and died at fifty. But the only reason those stories are even noteworthy enough to get your attention is that the scenario is extremely unlikely and therefore shocking. Lifetime smokers, obese people, etc, die young every day so no one is even going to bat an eyelash when they do. You can’t outwork the possibility of all negative outcomes but you can most definitely put the odds in your favor and win most of the time.

So how do you start investing? You don’t need a dollar to do it although gym memberships are very cheap these days (I’ve seen as low as $10 a month) and that’s the most effective route for most people. Your main investments are time and effort but you also need knowledge and discipline – both of which can be acquired and increased with time and effort.

How much time? Your government overlords tell you 150 minutes per week is the minimum. I don’t like mediocrity so my minimum is 300 minutes. That’s 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio every day with 30 minutes of serious resistance training three days a week. And again, that’s a minimum. That’s what you do if you’re sick or maybe rehabbing an injury. That also doesn’t include walking. It is very important to walk around at regular intervals throughout the day. You should avoid sitting for more than a half hour of uninterrupted time at all costs. Get a Fitbit or another fitness watch that incorporates a pedometer if it helps you. The science is very clear on the devastating impact of long periods of sitting – even if you get enough exercise overall.

Again, that’s the minimum. What do I do under normal circumstances? 570-750 minutes per week is a rough estimate. That is comprised of: 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio every day, 60 minutes of serious resistance training 4-5 days a week, and 2-4 hours of participating in sports in a typical week (in my case, lately that has been mostly tennis, basketball, or hitting a heavy bag – no, I don’t count golf as a sport although I enjoy that too). Some weeks I’m a little below that and many weeks I’m above. The latest and greatest studies show there really is no reasonable upper limit to the amount of exercise people can benefit from. I actually consciously moderate mine as my body is very prone to overtraining and injuries in general so your numbers could go higher if you are more genetically blessed in that area.

Another facet is exercise intensity level. As a general rule, start slow/light and gradually work your way up. Don’t try to go from zero to hero overnight. The lost time spent dealing with injuries will easily destroy any additional benefits whereas the long term progress of ramping up gradually, but consistently, will be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Another huge aspect is diet/nutrition. This is easily an entire series of posts all by itself but here are some of the basics. In general, American portion sizes are much too big. You need a lot less food than you think. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re eating at a restaurant, you should be taking home at least half of what is served in a to-go box; this is a financially friendly practice as well. Eat lots of vegetables – at least five servings a day. You almost can’t overdo this. And no, potatoes and corn don’t count. Eat some fruit but in moderation as there can be a lot of sugar in it. Go high protein; .5-1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day is a good range for most people. Eat a moderate amount of high quality carbohydrates. So whole grain bread instead of white, brown rice instead of white, complex versus simple. These are items you should eat.

But you also need to minimize eating garbage or eliminate it altogether if you struggle with the minimal concept like I do. And yes, soda falls into the garbage category along with anything else that is highly processed or made of primarily sugar, fat (chips, fries, etc), or both (ice cream). And no, diet soda isn’t better. Soda in all of its forms is pretty close to cigarette status as far as your health is concerned; you simply shouldn’t ever consume it unless you really hate being alive and want to get it over with ASAP. Avoid soy as much as possible, especially if you’re a man. It’s horrifying how much of this poison has worked its way into our food supply. It requires tons of processing just to make it consumable by humans but even worse, it messes with your hormones. Anything in that category should be setting off a bright, flashing, go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200 alarm in your head. While we’re on the subject of avoidance, minimize dairy consumption. Studies are still somewhat conflicting but are starting to trend towards anti-dairy conclusions, particularly when you factor in how many of them are funded by the powerful dairy industry. I treat dairy as a garnish item and an occasional treat and even that policy is probably pushing it.

The most important thing with investing in your health is to get started. If you’re currently leading a sedentary lifestyle, I have good news for you. Just by getting started, you are likely to see benefits much more rapidly than the average person. That’s not to say that it isn’t worthwhile to work on improvements if you’re in that average camp or even if you are a fitness veteran. The further up the fitness ladder you can get without it becoming psychologically unhealthy, the better. Too much of anything can be problematic – even something good. But in modern society, we have precious few people who are in any danger of reaching that level in the area of fitness and nearly all of us could benefit from some ramping up. You will notice the differences all over your life – feeling better both physically and psychologically, people responding more positively to you, clothes fitting better, sleeping better, looking better, and on and on. Simply put, I can’t overstate the value of investing in your health and if you start doing it more, I almost guarantee you will agree.