Health is Wealth: The Best Investment I Ever Made

As a middle-aged fitness junkie, I'm always interested in what motivates people to get in shape. Typically, folks say they want to lose weight, tone their bodies, and slow the aging process. But there's another major reason to get fit that I rarely hear discussed — saving money. Fitness alone doesn't guarantee reduced health care costs, of course, but it sure increases the odds. In my case, although I grew up overweight and out-of-shape, around the age of twenty I started becoming active, and now, at sixty, I'm finding that years of accumulated fitness are — literally — money in the bank.

Over the last few years I've started to see more and more of my peers spending money — lots of money — fixing their health. They are not necessarily in terrible shape, but few of them are as active as I am. They suffer from knee problems. Back problems. Shoulder problems. Digestive problems. Prostrate problems. Osteoporosis. Insomnia. Arthritis. Diabetes. Memory loss. Cancer.

Looking for help, they invest in prescription drugs, medications, hormones, supplements, complicated tests, scans, chiropractor visits, podiatrist visits, procedures, body replacements, surgeries, chemo and radiation. Not to mention expensive health care insurance.

My own story is different. I've had one cold in the last ten years and never get the flu. I don't take medication. I sailed through menopause — no hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, or estrogen. I started practicing preventive health care forty years ago, and now it seems I'm reaping the rewards. I do have catastrophic health insurance, and the reason I'm willing to take the risk of paying only for skimpy health care coverage is that I have such a strong health record.

Am I just lucky or is my good health the result of years of taking care of myself? I really don't know. But surely my fitness record didn't hurt and may have helped.

Genetically, I'm a mixed bag: my dad is my model — a healthy, active 90-year old who climbs up and down the stairs of his home several times a day. But my mother died young, at 53, and my older sister died at 60. I have two other sisters: one very healthy, the other besieged by multiple health conditions.

I'm convinced that, on balance, taking care of myself has led to good health, with lower health costs. Here's what has worked for me:

    • I move everyday. How I move, in my opinion, is less important than that I move. Just like I brush my teeth everyday, I'm physically active everyday. Period. I know common wisdom says that rest is recommended once a week or so. But even on a “rest” day, I still stroll around the neighborhood or ride my bicycle to the library.

 

    • Left foot, right foot. I used to think walking was wussy. Running was my “real” exercise. Because it's so simple, I underestimated walking. It's now my default activity; if I do nothing else, I'll always walk. And it requires no gym, Spandex, Lycra, or technical skill.

 

  • I'm on a car diet. Like sugar, I limit my driving. By cutting my driving intake by about 90%, I automatically move more, using my natural locomotion to get around. I first experienced the freedom of being car-free in 1997, when I went on a car “fast.” After I dropped my husband off at the airport, I decided I wouldn't drive again until I picked him up a week later. Every evening, I'd pore through regional maps figuring out how I'd get to my next day's client meeting. All week long, as I used my feet, my bicycle, my inline skates, the commuter train, and the bus, I felt light-footed and lighthearted.
Note: I'd love to boast that I don't drive at all, but that's not true. Still, I avoid it whenever possible, not only because of the physical benefits but because I feel cranky and irritable if I drive too much.

 

    • Bicycles rule. I've owned a bicycle since I was in college. For years I rode three-speeds that I'd buy secondhand for less than $100. On my first bicycle tour, I rode 350 miles down the Oregon Coast on a Sears Huffy, a behemoth of a bike. My current bicycles are a $400 mountain bike I bought in 1996 that I keep at our home in Mexico, and a $500 Dahon folding bike that I use for getting around in California, as well as when my husband and I bike-tour in Europe.

 

    • There is life after running. I love running, and I kept it up even after a traumatic parachuting accident in my 20s, when what was left of my right ankle was cobbled back together with stainless steel pins and plates. Around age 55, my ankle began to feel increasingly wobbly, and I remembered my orthopedic surgeon warning me that one day I could be a candidate for early arthritis. So, I gave it up and took up swimming. It annoyed me, though, to drive six miles to the nearest pool. Or, if I rode my bike to the pool, by the time I reached the pool, I wasn't motivated to swim, knowing I still had six miles to ride back. One day, I thought, “Why don't I try open-water swimming in the bay?” (a block from my home). Now I swim happily in the bay, accompanied by seals and herons, three or four times a week, several months out of the year. I would never have discovered this joyous activity if I kept running. My lesson? I have to be willing to adapt. I can't let my fitness become captive to one form of exercise.

 

    • I'm opportunistic. When I have an appointment or a meeting, I'll take a pair of comfortable shoes to explore the area afterwards. I stalk hills and stairs like a predator. At airports, I avoid escalators and moving sidewalks. If I pass a playground, I'll throw my stuff down, join the toddlers and swing for several minutes. Once, while walking near our home in Mexico, I passed several kids kicking a ball around. I turned around and kicked it back towards them, as hard as I could. They shrieked. I'll bet they weren't expecting that from a gringa, especially not a señora.

 

    • No time? No problem. You've probably read, like I have, that you need to break a sweat for at least 20, 30 or 60 minutes for it to “count.” This may be physiologically true, but to me it sounds discouraging. My philosophy is, every bit of movement counts! None of it is wasted. I don't avoid exercise just because I only have a few minutes. Five minutes here, ten minutes there — it all adds up.

 

    • Variety makes my day. I feast on a potluck of activities. On my favorite days, I'll walk, ride my bike, play with kettlebells, swim or kayak, do bodyweight exercises or yoga. I'm fortunate in that I work for myself and can set my own hours. But my sister, who has a full-time job, rows in the morning, walks her dog after work, and does yoga at home a few times a week. It can be done.

 

  • I invest in the right equipment. The current trend in fitness is towards light, portable and often low-cost tools, so you can work out easily without expensive, bulky machines or the cost of joining a gym. I own a stability ball ($15), hiking boots ($60), inline skates ($100), a yoga mat ($15), 2 hoops (one weighted) ($60, combined), a Pedometer ($20, but it was a gift), a bicycle ($500), bicycle pannier bags ($50), a kayak ($300), a backpack ($100), a “shorty” Neoprene wetsuit ($55), a kettlebell ($55) and several dumbbells ($50 combined, also gifts).

These are the practices that have helped me stay out of the hospital…so far. No guarantees. Fitness does not promise a life free of illness or pain. I'm just hedging my bets, hoping that, like my dad, I'll still be financially and physically fit, climbing up and down steps in my 90s.

Speaking of which…it's 1:15. I have an appointment at 2:00 on the fifth floor of an office building. If I head out now, I still have time to do a few circuits up and down the stairs before the meeting. See ya!

More about...Health & Fitness

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Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

All excellent tips, and good for Louisa for making health a priority. I agree that taking better care of ourselves is a worthwhile investment. A good lifestyle lowers our risk for any number of serious diseases. However, speaking as someone who isn’t as genetically lucky as Louisa, I also think we have to be very careful how we judge others’ health. Both from my personal experience and that of people I know, it’s all to easy to say “if only they’d done this…” or “they shouldn’t have done that.” One thing I’ve learned is that it’s really easy to “blame… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I’m so glad this was the first comment. I totally agree that good health is largely a matter of genetics. My husband’s aunt lived to 98 years old and smoked a pack a day until she was 93 and had to give it up because she could no longer afford it.

It’s great to live a healthy lifestyle and good habits certainly reduce your risks of many illnesses. But knee problems, memory loss, and cancer happen to vegan aerobics instructors too.

Pattie, RN
Pattie, RN
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

I can add that, as a nurse, I was also put-off by the tone of this article. It is VERY true that caring for our health makes everything in life better. Far more life enhancing to not NEED medications for blood pressure or Type II diabetes due to weight management and regular exercise. Many people in the First World are digging themselves an early grave with their fork, while not moving off of the couch. However, not all illnesses are what we think of as “lifestyle” illnesses, and injuries can occur to anyone at anytime. I had a patient who… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  Pattie, RN

Magical thinking remains magical thinking. I wonder if it ever occurred to Louisa that if she felt in the morning as if she had just started sleeping she would want to be swimming in the bay, running, etc.

And bike riding, with or without a helmet, can be a seriously life-limiting activity.

type1gal
type1gal
8 years ago
Reply to  Pattie, RN

Hi,
I just wanted to say thank you so much for referring to Type II diabetes by name instead of just ‘diabetes’…As a type 1 diabetic, my auto-immune disorder (which comes from a strong genetic component and an unknown environmental trigger) is expensive (would cost $12k per yr w/o insurance) and not-preventable or curable regardless of diet, weight, or exercise.
Cheers,
type1gal

SF_UK
SF_UK
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I had this reaction initially too, but on re-reading I think most of it was unintentional. However, the end of the second paragraph still irks me. A lot of those things might be alleviated/prevented by healthy living, but some are just plain bad luck, and others can be caused by exercise (bad joints particularly!).

I’m not advocating not living healthily – I cycle everywhere despite my asthma unless I’m particularly unwell, and eat healthily, both of which reduce my bills and keep my exacerbations down. But living healthily is not a “magic pill”…

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  SF_UK

I’m not trying to pick on poor Louisa 😉 I think it’s an attitude our society has in general. We’ve become increasingly focussed on prevention — which is a good thing — but I think we also have to understand that we can do everything right and still get sick. We like cause and effect. “So-and-so had skin cancer because they never wore sunscreen. I wear sunscreen, therefore it can’t happen to me.” It doesn’t always work like that. The other side of this story is that people who make an effort to exercise, eat well, get lots of sleep,… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

As someone who places a very high priority on healthy eating and exercise yet still suffers from an immune disorder that causes illness, I am very thankful for these comments. The majority of Americans do need to start eating better and moving. There is no question that doing so lowers our health costs. But even a lifelong vegetarian who cooks from scratch daily with fresh ingredients, walks 20 minutes a day, drinks copious amounts of water, flosses and takes her vitamins can be hit with unfortunate health costs.

Des
Des
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

This was my reaction as well. Don’t get me wrong, I think staying active is important for everyone regardless of their age. However, we tend to grossly under-estimate the part genetics plays in our health. My great-grandmother is still alive at 99, her daughter (my grandma) is in her eighties and has been obese (occasionally morbidly) her whole life. She deep fries her bacon (no joke). My husband, OTOH, has no living grandparents, and his father is in failing health in his 50s. You can see the difference even now in our 20s. DH has decent (but borderline) cholesterol and… Read more »

Pattie,RN
Pattie,RN
8 years ago
Reply to  Des

Well said…all we can do is change what we can change (as the old serenity prayer states)and learn to live with the things that cannot be changed. Be as healthy as you can and understand that blaming others (or yourself) for health problems BEYOND YOUR CONTROL is silly and non-prodective.

So..eat well, move every day, keep stress down, and remember that no one gets out of here alive.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I have these arguments with my father – he says he can’t be healthy becasue of his genetics so why try. I say – for any set of genetics – maintaining a healthy lifestyle will greatly improve your chances of a longer more enjoyable life. Yea, vegan aerobic instructors get cancer, but when they do, they probably are able to manage much better than someone who is morbidly obese and in poor cardiac fitness.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

@ Bella — I have the same arguments with the men in my family too 😉

I see health sort of the way I do wealth. We’re all born with a certain amount of it, but it’s up to us to make the most of it. I didn’t hit the jackpot, but I’m grateful for what I have — and for the access to information, strategies and tools to be better.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

thank you for making that point so I didn’t have to. 🙂 It’s a lot easier for a physician or surgeon to do procedures on someone with a well-exercised heart who isn’t 50+ pounds overweight – and safer for the patient, as well.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

Here in Ontario, I’ve heard cases where doctors won’t accept new patients who refuse to look after themselves. When resources are tight — need I say doctor shortage? — some physicians want to focus their efforts on people who will actually take their advice.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

For the record, Louisa had caught the problem with tone and forwarded a revised version of the post to me last night, but I didn’t catch it in time to make changes.

mike
mike
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I’ve read recently that the first 50 years are free, the next 50 are earned.

And this wisdom can be seen by someone such as yourself. As one gets older one can see the impact that by making small decisions to invest in health, can change not only on our future lives, but on our lives right now.

Quest
Quest
8 years ago
Reply to  mike

“I’ve read recently that the first 50 years are free, the next 50 are earned.”

I love that and, boy, is it ever true! I’m putting that on my PC as a screensaver to remind me LOL

Quest
Quest
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Personally, I didn’t pick up on a judgmental tone. The benefits of exercise and practicing a healthful lifestyle are well documented. I do agree with the genetics spin, however. I can really see the effect of ‘good’ genes in my father’s side of the family. My father is in his mid 70s but he frequently gets mistaken for someone 20 years younger. He still works, is highly active both mentally and physically and I have no doubt that he will become a centenarian like most of his mother’s family.

SF_UK
SF_UK
8 years ago
Reply to  Quest

I suspect some of us who are used to being “judged” (rightly or wrongly) are extra-sensitive about this. Nice to know from JD that any judgement was unintentional. Intention does make a difference IMO.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  SF_UK

I agree. For the record, I certainly don’t think Louisa intended to offend anyone. Sometimes beliefs that we have as individuals and as a society come through in what we write. I’m challenging the idea, not Louisa herself. I think she did a great job offering tips, and there’s always a risk when you “put yourself out there” in writing.

Peggy
Peggy
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

TRUE TRUE TRUE TRUE!

We aren’t as in control as we like to think we are. And we really don’t discover this until an illness hits us, that we can’t “fix.”

javier
javier
8 years ago

I’m more a swimmer (plus walk to work). It has the advantage that the basic equipment is very cheap (swimsuit, sandals, towel, googles and hat) and long lasting if you buy it Chlorine resistant and keep it well. The disadvantage is that you pay everytime you practice it (in my case €37 for ten sessions). I’d like to get a bike, but I don’t have any space at the moment.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  javier

I miss swimming 🙂 These days I find it easier to get in a brisk walk because it’s more convenient than driving across town to the pool. (Not to mention dealing with my hair after swimming!)

javier
javier
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

That’s one of the reasons I like my very short hair 🙂

Claire
Claire
8 years ago
Reply to  javier

There are ways to store bikes that don’t take up floor space. Hang them from the ceiling! See: http://www.performancebike.com/bikes/Product_10052_10551_1023851_-1___

javier
javier
8 years ago
Reply to  Claire

Thanks a lot Claire, but even for that my current room is too small (I live in a big city) and I don’t want to use common space of my shared flat. We’re moving soon to another place, so hopefully I’ll have more space in a few months.

SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
8 years ago

Can’t agree more, even 5 mins of exercise every hour or two adds up. Improving finance and health are two thing everyone knows about, but the difficulty is in implementing the ideas.

I read an article last week which mentioned that, showing how you’d look in yours 60’s or 70’s motivates people to save money and improve health.

Ru
Ru
8 years ago

I love the empowering effect of walking, especially when you live in a city- you’re not a slave to the bus, to traffic or to the tube. I used to live in Southwark and walk all the way to Marble Arch and back for shopping trips (about 6 miles). Every day I went into uni was a 5 mile walk. The city is never boring to walk in. Now I live with my parents outside of London and walk to the train station every day (2 miles) and I hate it. It’s so boring and my town is so ugly.… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Try taking a course in botany and entomology. If you learn more about the smaller things you see in the country, you’ll make the walking more enjoyable in both locations. Things move at a slower pace, but they can be just as enjoyable.

Ru
Ru
8 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

Thank you for your suggestion, but I don’t live in the countryside, I live in an industrial town! I could develop an interest in cars I guess and be able to name all the vehicles on the dual carriageway I walk along every morning 😉

2 miles a day in the country would be invigorating. 2 miles a day in Slough is life sucking. Aah, the things I do to avoid paying £2.50 for a bus that’s never on time…

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Industrial areas surely have their own interesting things! And just as soon as I can think of some, I’ll be sure to let you know….

SA
SA
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

When I was in school in a very very small town, an mp3 player was a lifesaver. A podcast can keep you entertained for a while. Also, it can help you study.

Michael Janssen
Michael Janssen
8 years ago

This is some great advice for everyone who is looking at their current health care needs and fearing in the future that the insurance will go up, or the bills will go up, or both. I really encourage the movement every day, but some of us aren’t as lucky as Louisa and able to move around before important meetings – we sweat a lot. If I took “a few circuits up and down the stairs”, I would be shunned out of my office because of the overriding stench and sweat stains on my clothing. I wish it wasn’t the case,… Read more »

Paris
Paris
8 years ago

I think another relevant issue that the author didn’t mention is that when you are physically active, you are often not spending money. After the initial equipment investments (which don’t have to be expensive), most activities don’t cost much at all. It’s hard to spend money when you are riding a bike or jogging, especially if you are not riding a stationary exercise bike or running a track in a gym. I play capoeira, which I recommend to anyone looking for a cheap way to get really fit. Most schools are very focused on being economically accessible and you will… Read more »

Kate
Kate
8 years ago

Very good points in this article, and in the comments. Health does require some investment, and unfortunately, it’s probably the easiest thing to take for granted if you’ve never had a major issue. Several years ago I developed a chronic illness, and I had two choices. The care my insurance would pay for would be the cheap way to go, but it wasn’t going to address the underlying issue, and I’d be dependent on drugs indefinitely. My doctor suspected acupuncture would be more helpful, but insurance didn’t cover it. I chose the acupuncture anyway and paid out of pocket. It… Read more »

CT Smith
CT Smith
8 years ago

What a great post!! I don’t think she means to criticize those that have worse health, I think she’s just thankful that she fit in exercise where she could. This post is a good reminder to the under 40 crowd to get moving!

Jean
Jean
8 years ago
Reply to  CT Smith

I agree. I didn’t pick up any judgmental vibes, I think she’s an optomist and truly loves to exercise. I do want to echo however, those who have mentioned genes. Sometimes you can be the picture of health and suffer from a catastrophic underlying condition that is just part of your body’s makeup; just look at James Fixx, for example. My Dad was relatively healthy, with just some hypertension making up his negative health history, up until 3 years ago when his aorta dissected and he was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer (not sun induced) within 3… Read more »

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog
8 years ago

Here’s what I’ve read and learned from my doctors – exercise and diet will take you to 80, but genes take you beyond that. But we can’t choose our genes (or luck – if a semi hits you, a semi hits you), we have much more control over our diet and exercise. I’m not a “natural” exercise lover, so what works for me is that I found an activity that I truly enjoy on its own, (Argentine tango) that is also helping me with a little bit of cardio, movement, and a lot of coordination – which studies have shown… Read more »

LaTisha @YoungAdultFinances
LaTisha @YoungAdultFinances
8 years ago

I started taking the stairs at work when I realized that I wasn’t getting enough exercise. We had a fire drill and we had to walk down 18 flights of stairs. I was in heels but I was huffing and puffing. That made me want to get in better shape.

gabrielle
gabrielle
8 years ago

“On my first bicycle tour, I rode 350 miles down the Oregon Coast on a Sears Huffy, a behemoth of a bike.”

All I can say is “Holy Cow.” That is, indeed, a behemoth of a bike.

Emily
Emily
8 years ago

This is the exact message I am trying to get across: taking care of your health is the greatest investment you’ll ever make.

I tend to focus on nutrition, but fitness is definitely huge as well.

Ben David
Ben David
8 years ago

Since the focus here is on benefits as you get older – it’s very important to engage in “load bearing” exercise from age 40 on. Starting in our mid-30s we start to lose bone and muscle tissue – and aerobic exercise does not really address that.

Weightlifting and other heavy-load exercise stimulates muscle growth and bone density. You should incorporate HEAVY weights – not just small dumbells – in your fitness plan. Eventually you should work up to hefting your own bodyweight – which sounds like a lot, but basically insures you can pull *yourself* out of a hole.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben David

I like this visual. I don’t think that I can currently lift myself out of a hole – might dislocate a shoulder – this is a great goal to work towards – bonus – the lighter you are the easier it is to accomplish

Brian
Brian
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Anyone should be able to eventually get to where they can lift their own weight. Someone may be 300 pounds when they start lifting, but the combination of getting stronger and losing weight from the exercise will bring you closer to lifting your own weight.

Claire
Claire
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben David

I agree, but if you do load-bearing exercises for this reason, be SURE to get enough calcium & vitamin D. My mom has been weightlifting ever since I can remember, but has found out that she has the beginning stages of osteoperosis. I highly suspect the reason is that she avoids excess sunlight (a major source of vitamin D) like the plague. Without enough vitamin D, your body can’t absorb calcium.

Brent
Brent
8 years ago

I like the “being opportunistic” tip. I do similar things at work. When I’m waiting out in the hall for a meeting room to clear out, I’ll some wall squats. I’ll take the stairs instead of the elevator. I’ll take the long way around the building when I need to get somewhere. If I’m waiting TV I’ll do a few pushups and situps while I’m at it. There are some many little ways to keep moving.

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago
Reply to  Brent

I agree. I ‘m not an uber exerciser, I have to work it into my regular routine or it’s just not going to happen.

Claire
Claire
8 years ago

GREAT post. I loved the enthusiasm the author shares. My husband & I have FINALLY made exercising a habit, but my only exercise is 30 mins at the gym 4x/week. I love the section about “be opportunistic”. The author has inspired me to get a pair of walking shoes for my work desk so that I can take a walk when I can every day (my work shoes are not comfortable enough to take walks like that). I’ve tried walking around the inside of my building, but it’s only so big.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  Claire

I used to run 5 miles a day using a building with 24 laps to the mile. I learned to use my fingers to track laps without thinking about it.

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago

I also agree on the “tone” it can sound a little braggy. I’m in my mid forties and besides exercise videos a couple times a week and putting on music and dancing with my kids, the main thing is I do is walk. I think the word on walking is getting out. When people asked me how I keep in shape, I’d say “I walk” and I’d get, no really, how do you get in shape? Now when I say that people nod their heads.

Quest
Quest
8 years ago

Wow Louisa, that is such an inspirational post! Health is on my mind a lot lately. I believe that you are making some well researched points regarding the correlation between health and fitness. I haven’t been as diligent as you, though I find myself wishing I had been. All I can do moving forward, however, is to do the best I can now. I stay out of restaurants, cook and eat at home and exercise daily. When I don’t eat well or exercise, I definitely feel worse for it. You’re so fortunate to have made the connection between wellness and… Read more »

Cat
Cat
8 years ago

I found this to be an interesting post, but fairly condescending (looks like a revised post may be coming?) I agree that taking good care of yourself can pay off, but Louisa almost seems to imply you can avoid cancer, etc if you just eat and live right, which is frankly BS!

Louisa
Louisa
8 years ago
Reply to  Cat

This is a question I really struggle with– to what extent do we exert any influence at all over cancer? I’ve lost two members of my family to cancer (at young ages–in their 50s and 60), and a third member now has cancer, so I think about this a lot. None of the three family members who got cancer did much exercise, ate healthily, or managed stress well. The three other family members (including me), who, so far, have not contracted cancer, do make better lifestyle choices. I am not a physician or a medical researcher; I’m only going on… Read more »

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Louisa

I’m not a doctor or other medical professional, so please take this comment with a large grain of salt (or sodium substitute). The answer to whether cancer can be prevented is, “It depends.” It depends on genetics as well as on environment. Case in point: everyone on my father’s side of the family who smoked died of cancer in their 50’s. My m-i-l (no blood relation) smoked like a chimney until age 70 with no ill effect, then quit and lived on for 13 more years. So on my father’s side of the family, they very likely could have prevented… Read more »

Jasanna
Jasanna
8 years ago

This is motivating! I’m a 23 year old who has been relatively active my whole life. In the past couple of years I’ve become less so, and thus in an effort to keep fit, I’m picking up healthier eating and exercise once again. I’m striving to make a habit of it! I like how integrated “moving” is into your life! I need to start thinking of it that way. Instead of sitting at my desk and sending an email to a co-worker, I’ll walk over and talk. Instead of just eating lunch at my desk, I’ll take a walk, then… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

Recent recommendations in the fitness profession are that unless you are doing heavy weightlifting or distance running/biking four or more days a week, no “rest” day is needed. Most people simply don’t work out hard enough to need a day off. Exercise is like good sleep habits, anyway. Staying up late and sleeping in seem like indulgences but they can start a cycle. So can skipping a day of exercise. People who are serious about fitness do some exercise every day. They just don’t necessarily do the SAME exercise every day. I think Louisa’ primary point was that staying fit… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

I don’t think people here are fighting the conclusion. I’m sure we can all agree an active lifestyle is healthier than a sedentary one. I think many of us resented the tone and implication that the author’s friends earned their Alzheimer’s, cancer, back troubles, autoimmune diseases and knee replacements because they haven’t led as healthy a lifestyle as she.

JR
JR
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Perhaps if those folks have been sedentary, lacking any kind of regular exercise, then they have in effect earned their problems.
I personally have crap genes and other bits that have helped me to failing joints. I still keep moving. Keep doing whatever exercise I can.
Poor choices lead to poor outcomes. It is not pointing fingers or assigning blame. Simply a statement in fact.

jennypenny
jennypenny
8 years ago

What if you have type 1 diabetes? pulmonary hypertension? cystic fibrosis? GENES determine your potential, whether it’s living to 30, 60 or 90. What you do during that time–diet, exercise, avoiding the aforementioned truck–determines whether you reach your potential.

Laurie Gough
Laurie Gough
8 years ago

What an inspiring post! Thanks Louisa for giving us all the nudge we need in such a positive way. Great tips! I also want to add that even if we’d predisposed to ‘bad’ genetics we can turn 90% of that around with a healthy plant-based diet. (I’ve been very inspired by the book, “The China Study” which goes into this exact issue of overcoming genetics by a vegan diet.)
Laurie

MJ
MJ
8 years ago
Reply to  Laurie Gough

I agree Laura.If people would just “lean into” the idea of a plant-based diet, they’d be surprised at the relative ease of the change. Not only is it healthier, plant-based diets are more compassionate and is environmentally green.
I would highly recommend reading Kathy Freston’s book “Veganist”. It is NOT preachy and is loaded with information about animal products we eat and how it impacts us as humans.

Brian
Brian
8 years ago
Reply to  MJ

There is nothing healthy about completely cutting meat from your diet. No one needs a 36-ounce ribeye, but you do need certain proteins that come from lean meats.

Maggie
Maggie
8 years ago
Reply to  Brian

No, you’d don’t. I’m a qualified nutritionist and to say that animal protein is necessary is completely wrong.

Pattie,RN
Pattie,RN
8 years ago
Reply to  Brian

Humans are omnivores, and require the amino acids only found in complete proteins. Some dedicated adults can manage to combine incomplete proteins (beans and rice, peanut butter and whole grain bread) to make up a healthy diet, but this is DANGEROUS FOR CHILDREN.

Laurie
Laurie
8 years ago
Reply to  Brian

@Patti, a well-balanced vegetarian diet is healthy for children. Please read the research. But as any diet, it must be well-balanced.

The idea of complete protein was tossed years ago in studies of societies, religions and other areas where vegetarianism is practiced either exclusively due to religious dietary restrictions (Hindus, 7th Day Adventists, others) or culturally.

While the research may change or tweak certain aspects, I hope that more people will become familiar with peer-reviewed, first source data rather than what is printed by the media.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
8 years ago

This could be a great post and an inspiration but the writer loses credibility because of the numerous leaps in logic. Statements regarding that the author is the most active person she knows and she never has colds or illness or cancer is linked to her friends who are not as in shape and are now spending money to fix health issues. How is it that these practices have helped to keep her out of a hospital? The theory is I haven’t been in the hospital; here are things I do that are unique; thus, the two must be linked.… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  phoenix1920

I have a friend like that; she went to National Jewish in Denver and got herself tested, and her three kids, and they have immune system deficiencies. That would certainly be worth knowing if it is the case with you.

lost-in-translation
lost-in-translation
8 years ago

Since hitting age 50, I’ve come to the realization that once you hit middle age the only thing you have going for you is diet and exercise. One of the few things in life you can still control is what goes into your body and what level of activity you choose to do. I’m an advocate of strength training and yoga, and regularly alternate BodyPump workouts with Ashtanga Yoga. While I feel the joints creak at this time of year, I still manage to do what I can when I can. Of course I can’t life what I could when… Read more »

Crystal Stemberger
Crystal Stemberger
8 years ago

I finally made my weight a priority this year and I can say that Weight Watchers Online was my best ever investment. I am down about 20 pounds overall for this year (156 from 176) and will hit it hard again in 2012 to get down the total 36 pounds I am aiming for (maintain around 140), but the biggest difference to me is that I don’t feel tired all of the time. My face isn’t lost in puffiness anymore. I am happier on a daily basis. Yay for being healthier!

JR
JR
8 years ago

Reading many of these replies, I am curious if we read the same post. The criticisms of not blaming genetics,”vegan aerobics instructors get cancer too” seem misguided. The article I read seemed to say, “I decided to take charge of my health and I have felt much better and am happier for it.” I read no blame. I often see overweight people. They are often the first to blame everything and everyone else; take zero responsibility for their health and related costs. They frequently have the more difficulty physically as well as financially. It seems when we attempt to educate… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  JR

I agree with you — some people don’t want to be told how to live their lives, whether it’s health, relationships or spending habits! I think there’s a happy medium between taking responsibility for our lives and thinking we can control everything. Some illnesses like type 2 diabetes have been proven to have a strong lifestyle component. However, experts still don’t understand what causes a whole host of diseases from autoimmune disorders to cancer. We can’t control risks like our age, gender, environment, family history, ethnicity, etc, but we can control our lifestyle habits. I don’t think anyone is arguing… Read more »

JR
JR
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Science, researchers and medicine do not fully understand many diseases and disorders. We do know that folks can weight the odds in their favor by making healthy choices. Between genetics and previous damage, I have failing joints. I still move, work out, try to make healthier choices. Many things in our lives are nature vs. nurture. I will try my best to nurture better choices. It just seemed that so many read criticism in this article that did not seem to be there. I wonder if those folks are more accustomed to criticism in daily life. Or perhaps they are… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

I love, love your post and this definitely motivate me to exercise. I am forty and not in good shape but after I read your post… I have to do something to live a long, long healthy life. Thanks for sharing. You inspire me.

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

I am a very healthy 65 year old! I exercise, stretch, lift weights and bicycle. I think one’s health drifts into everything they do. I feel more confident and assured because I feel and look good.

Vince Thorne
Vince Thorne
8 years ago

nice tips. walking and being mobile can truly burn more calories than you can imagine. A sedantary job or any office job does not provide the opportunities one would want to have a significant calorie burning experience. you would need to supplement it with exercise. ofcourse the walking is a bonus.

Vivian
Vivian
8 years ago

I get post-exertional crashes when I exercise, so exercise actually makes me sick now that I have autoimmune problems and smoldering myeloma. I used to exercise several days a week in the gym but the effect of exercise on me was always ‘different’ than I noticed on others. For one, I stopped being able to exercise in any way in the mornings without it destroying my day, and this in my twenties. Yet I have an aunt who is in her 80s and she jumps to exercise 6 am at a health gym 5 days a week, and in the… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  Vivian

It is, in fact, counter productive. I’m sorry you got such a lousy genetic inheritance, but you are doing well.

Look up online “spoon theory fatigue” and you’ll get a great way to explain your fatigue to others!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

Yes! The spoon theory! My daughter nearly died from a rare neurological disease at age 19. One of the residual effects is unpredictable, serious fatigue. Trying to explain to others why some days she manages OK and other days she needs two naps just to function is very challenging. The spoon theory is a good way of doing it. The author says “the reason I’m willing to take the risk of paying only for skimpy health care coverage is that I have such a strong health record.” I hope her winning streak continues. But s–t happens. My daughter never expected… Read more »

sheherazahde
sheherazahde
8 years ago

I thought people in this community would be interested in today’s XKCD. It’s a diagram of all the money in the us economy showing how much things cost, who makes what, and where it all goes.

http://xkcd.com/980/huge/#x=-6432&y=-5552&z=2

JCC
JCC
8 years ago

I totally agree with the advice to stay as active as possible; it’s good for the whole body, including the brain. But I also agree with those who said not to be judgmental about others’ physical condition. People might have disabilities or pain that make exercise very difficult, or they have bad luck and develop medical conditions at a young-ish age. I can’t run, for instance. Even walking can be painful, but I do it, as well as hiking (slowly) and other physical stuff like yoga and weight training. You wouldn’t be able to tell how bad my feet are… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  JCC

JCC, you rock! 🙂 Great comment. (I miss the “like” button!)

daddywamp
daddywamp
8 years ago

This is all good stuff. I did not take her tone as condescending, but rather a point of just taking care of yourself. In general the folks who come into the pharmacy for type-2 diabetes medicines are not in shape. They have allowed themselves to drift into a state of being more susceptible to diseases that are more prevalent in the overweight. I can guarentee you that they spend much more on copays and healthcare than an individual who stays active. You can’t concentrate on medical costs due to accidents. That is why they are called accidents. Type-2 diabetes is… Read more »

Sofia
Sofia
8 years ago
Reply to  daddywamp

I agree about the people who come into the pharmacy for Type 2 Diabetes meds, they’re not in the best shape. But, they’re doing well compared to the ones who DRIVE through for the same meds! Every little bit helps, people! Literally, walking in instead of driving through for all your errands could help you get off one of those blood pressure medications. Walking: it’s cheaper & safer than popping a pill.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  daddywamp

Judgmental much? There are a variety of underlying conditions that are invisible to the casual observer. There are also a variety of infectious agents and genetic conditions that affect all sorts of body systems. Try just having some compassion and stop sneering at people who don’t meet your personal critera for looking healthy enough.

Remember: our bodies are DESIGNED to die. All the magical thinking and contempt for people in the world won’t stop it.

Marsha
Marsha
8 years ago
Reply to  daddywamp

Type II diabetes is not entirely a “lifestyle” disease. The slogan is the 3 f’s: fat, family, and forty. In other words, obesity, genetics, and aging. An individual only has control over one of those.

sarahk
sarahk
8 years ago

I agree that taking care of your health is an important investment, both in terms of money and quality of life.

I did get annoyed by the tone in the post, though I imagine it was unintentional. Someone who hasn’t had a cold in 10 years is just plain lucky! (says the vegetarian marathon-runner, who drinks green tea, washes hands religiously, and sleeps 8 hours every night… and gets two colds per year and every strain of the flu)

BB
BB
8 years ago

Sorry Louisa, but fitness is not going to do a thing about autoimmune diseases, prostate issues, and a whole host of other ills that come with age and/or genetics.
That’s not to downplay the importance of fitness, but to point out that fitness is no panacea. It’s an adjunct.

Louisa
Louisa
8 years ago

Thank you all for your comments. I’m glad my post has encouraged some, and for those who were put off by my tone, thank you for helping me reflect on how to write about an area I love without annoying people– not my goal! I think one oversight I made was lumping together a list of syndromes / illnesses, implying they’re all the same, and caused and resolved by the same factors. It’s far more nuanced and complex than that, as for example Vivian’s comment that due to her autoimmune disease, exercise makes her crash.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  Louisa

A little humility and gratitude for the lucky genes you got will go a long ways. The trouble is, so much of what we think we know just isn’t so! This goes in spades for what constitutes a “healthy diet” or “healthy lifestyle.” Almost all of the studies are based on correlation; oddly enough, someone who is underlyingly healthy has enough energy to cook from scratch, exercise vigorously, and do all the other things that we have chosen to define as “healthy lifestyle.” Louisa, I’m sure some of the comments were painful for you to read. I am a writer… Read more »

juno
juno
8 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

wow. look who’s talking about humility.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  juno

If you don’t know the science, don’t spread the BS. I have the credentials. Do you?

L
L
8 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

Instead of spending “a few years” she could just do a little research. Especially on a topic where there are very strong but very contradicting opinions – and there usually are with health-related topics – it may be helpful to get some basic info and talk to experts on both sides of opinion, but to suggest that someone spend “a few years” to write an article about the benefits of healthy living is ridiculous. Surely nobody reads an article on a basic topic – such as the investment of health – and expects every aspect of health to be covered.… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  L

My point is, if you don’t understand the basic science, medicine and what constitutes a well-designed study, then you have no idea whatsoever if any “expert” has any idea what they are talking about. And generally, few if any “experts” on “healthy living” could tell a good, legitimate study that is not being given an unjustified conclusion if the lives of themselves AND their families depended on it. And no, physicians have no scientific training, so don’t expect them to be reliable sources unless they also have a Ph.D. from a highly reputable school. Lacking that, you are still going… Read more »

Laurie
Laurie
8 years ago
Reply to  L

I am not sure if you are referring to anyone in particular, but actually I do have the background, the research experience, understanding of statistics, knowledge of controlled studies, and other scientific “chops”. Please provide studies to demonstrate what you feel is a good study, rather than telling people that what they are doing is spreading BS. And define “good study.” Also, since you state you have the experience and background, then you will understand that while correlation is not necessarily causation, correlation CAN be causation. A correlation can be a first step in determining the cause. Further, “good genes”… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  L

Yeah! Someone who does understand some science! A good study is designed with the null hypothesis, not with a pre-determined conclusion. This prevents the “first draw the curve, then pick the points” approach to fraud — er, research. It does not overreach, concluding things that cannot be supported by the data. It has a properly chosen control group. It is not based on what people think they remember eating for the past 20 years, or even the past week. It has sufficient subjects that there is some potential meaning. It can be replicated. It actually looks to see what underlying… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
8 years ago
Reply to  L

I just want to say that actually, a lot of medical schools DO provide scientific training. I am a M.D., and learning to evaluate research studies was a significant part of our program. I graduated last spring.
However, there is no doubt that certain doctors manipulate data or choose to present it in a way that supports their own views.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago
Reply to  L

That is great news, Sara. When we were in grad school with med school friends, the training was extremely sketchy. I hope your training is in depth; sadly, the training of many of your seniors was nonexistent.

Genny
Genny
8 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

Pardon me, but the writer clearly stated this was her own perspective. This is not an medical/health related publication, it is a blog on personal finance. She also noted she was not sure if her health was due to genetics or healthy living. Your comment that she needed to study for years before writing about HER OWN EXPERIENCES was uncalled for.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Louisa

Thanks for challenging us too 🙂 You motivated me to go out for a walk after work — despite the dark and the cold!

Kolton
Kolton
8 years ago

Wow, I really enjoyed this post, Louisa. I never thought of investing your time to improve your health. I was always like your friends that invest their money into all these pills that only helped me to spend more money! Thanks you for your encouragement!

John
John
8 years ago

I was laid off at almost 56 and was unable to find work in my industry, which contracted severely between 2001 and 2010. I was unable to afford health insurance and faced the possibility of losing my house as well. One of the mainstays in keeping me healthy and sane was my YMCA card, which I was able to afford only because I qualified for a scholarship. But I used it a lot, and I worked out hard. And although things are better now, I still work out hard because I enjoy it and because I have no doubt that… Read more »

Kathy
Kathy
8 years ago

Very thought inspiring article and comments. I have seen both sides of this argument–is it nature or lifestyle choice? The answer is…no one knows for sure. Coming from the “crap gene pool” myself where my risk factors for breast cancer put me over 100%, I have to say that the only chance I have is to exercise and eat right. My goal is to do 5 things per day to fight cancer. Weird, but I have to have some tracking mechanism that is simple but effective. Like many of the folks that have commented, I know people who are morbidly… Read more »

Jason
Jason
8 years ago

I do believe that fitness and exercise are things that we all must do. Personally, I do spinning, yoga, Pilates, running, cycling, snowshoeing, hiking and swimming on a regular basis. I also eat pretty healthy, have “regular” blood pressure and a decent heart rate. I’m a tad overweight (about 15 lbs), but I’m working that down. I’ve been exercising pretty extensively since 2001. I went into the ER with a kidney stone this year. It came out of the blue with absolutely no warning. Some of the people I see at the gym regularly have developed odd ailments for no… Read more »

Christine T.
Christine T.
8 years ago

I have so little energy and am in pain all the time due to autoimmune thyroid disease and a surgery last year I never really recovered from. I’m 35 and it is already a challenge to get through the day, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be old old! I have spent 1000’s of $ on chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, organic food and ordering my own lab tests since doctors don’t have any answers for me. I am basically hell bent on getting better but it’s an uphill battle for sure. My hope is that I fix myself so that… Read more »

margot
margot
8 years ago

Wow, a whole bunch of very defensive commentors on here! Feeling some guilty about your lack of exercise and the extra calories you eat every day? I think the post was fabulous, and there was nothing wrong with the tone. Do you people even read the things you complain about?? Louisa mentioned repeatedly that exercise doesn’t guarantee good health. She merely says it increases the odds of good health, which is scientifically proven. She also has plenty of other caveats about how individual this is. Louisa is an inspiration. I wish I were more like her. America would be an… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  margot

“Feeling some guilty about your lack of exercise and the extra calories you eat every day?” No. I can’t speak for the others, but my original comment doesn’t stem from my feelings about my lifestyle habits. I’m trained in language, research and analysis so sometimes I pick up on different things than other people do. Doesn’t make me any better or worse, just a different point of view is all. And I apologize for being blunt, but it’s that kind of attitude I think a lot of people are protesting — that because there is something wrong with us, we… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

I think exercise can help a variety of ills, but the thing is, we’ll never know if it prevented anything. My guess is that it would fend off alot of things such as obesity, heart disease,aging,etc… I work out as much as possible. Being a Type 1 diabetic for 33 years and counting, it doesn’t cure me. But mentally, it makes me feel better. It has the ability to raise my sugar substantially as well, but my doctor says that is common. Go figure. I have other medical problems that require meds and vitamins but doc feels I’m doing pretty… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago

Enjoyed the article…thank you Louisa. Those of us the same age as you know you speak the truth. Overall statistics will back you up even if the odd health nut dies early. I read something the other day that was interesting. A gene has been discovered in some that tends to make those people die early of a heart attack. It has been found in several studies in different parts of the world, that a person who has that gene but eats several fruits and vegetables a day, is healthier and now has the same chance of dying early as… Read more »

andrei
andrei
8 years ago

I too believe having a healthy lifestyle helps you somehow in your old age assuming you will not have any “major accident or disease”…I’ve been living a few years now here in Japan and everywhere you look old folks in there 60’s even 80’s are still biking…also last year I participated in Japan’s annual Mountain Climbing festival where Japanese gave their respect to their mountains by climbing and I was so surprise that many participants were 60 years old and up , they all not only made it to the top some even reached the four-hour climb summit in less… Read more »

Molly (Mike and Molly's House)
Molly (Mike and Molly's House)
8 years ago

I had to swallow hard too when I read this article. I see people with good genetics over and over place their good health on lifestyle. My two grandmothers had very different approaches to life. One ate a healthy diet, exercised (yoga and basketball were her favorites), was rarely sick and had a great outlook on life. When she was in her eighties she got sick from a virus and never recovered. My other grandmother drank like a fish, was overweight, had high blood pressure and was a mean gossip. She was given 3 months to live after diagnosed with… Read more »

Laurie
Laurie
8 years ago

I found the responses a little disheartening. Anecdotal evidence can be used to make the assumption that it’s all good genes. But the focus should be overall trends, not one or two people that were obese, smoked, drank and lived to 100. I also have a mixed bag of genes. Paternal side of the family dies before 70, usually in their late 50s. Maternal side dies in 80s, 90s and 100s. But if you look closely at each side, you see that overall, longevity is based on eating, activity and overall outlook. Those that die young in the maternal line… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Laurie

Good points 🙂 What gets me is that we can carry genes for a variety of things — like a tendency towards autoimmune disorders — and never develop the disease, or we develop it later in life. Experts are just beginning to understand what turns genes “on” and “off”.

I figure healthy lifestyle habits are good for me no matter what. If they can keep the bad genes at bay, all the better!

Bill
Bill
8 years ago

The amount of health savings cost I get by working out 4-5 days a week is probably negated by my gym dues of $53 a month, but for me I don’t care. Being in good shape is so personally satisfying to me that it is worth the investment in gym, work out clothes, and new running shoes twice a year. Any long term health benefit is secondary to the present beenfit it imparts. Finishing a 10 mile run drenched in sweat is heaven.

Diane
Diane
8 years ago

I was very surprised at the tone of the responses as well. I didn’t feel like the author was trying to negate the part genetics play in health but advocating increased physical activity. My father was recently diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a very aggressive form of cancer. Typically, it manifests as a cold, sinus infection, etc that doesn’t go away. My father had a ‘sinus infection’ for 6 weeks before finally heading to the doctor. No one in our family has ever had cancer, so this was a shock. The doctors credit my father’s active lifestyle (he walked everywhere,… Read more »

Youthful Investor
Youthful Investor
8 years ago

As an university student I have always valued the higher prices of quality food not only for their taste but for the benefit of better health. Healthy eating has been the best investment in my life, even when I cut back on other things. I am not talking about eating high class, but rather fruits and vegetables in fresh form, meat when available and affordable, and as many fish as I can get my hands on. This diet has helped me even when I have been lacking in sleep, studying too much, etc. I look forward to everything it will… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
8 years ago

And it will be yet another piece of supposition, correlation, lousy studies, etc.

Just what we all need!

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