If you imagine yourself living to age 90 or beyond, your goal probably isn’t to be bedridden, broke, and totally dependent on others. Ideally, you’ll have a thick head of silver hair, a mostly intact memory, financial freedom, and the energy and strength to be physically active and continue making meaningful memories with loved ones.
The fact is, everybody wants to live a long, healthy, vibrant life that’s full of wonderful experiences until the very end. Unfortunately, in this fast-paced, stress-filled world, humans are notoriously bad at delaying gratification and taking the necessary steps now to reap the healthy rewards later.
So if you’re one of the many people for whom increased longevity and quality of life aren’t quite motivating enough to prioritize healthy habits like a nutrient-dense diet, exercise, and regularly going to the doctor, maybe we can motivate you with something else — money.
While about 60% of people think that financial wellness and personal wellness are at odds, per a recent survey, this belief could not be more wrong. The truth is, failing to get healthy now will simply drain your bank account later.
Below, we will break down:
- The rising cost of getting older in the U.S., particularly for those with
- How prioritizing your physical and mental wellbeing can save you thousands
- Dr. Rawls’ top five tips for taking control of your health now — so you can
save big later
The Staggering Cost Of Getting Older In The U.S.
Many Americans with average to sub-optimal health will end up significantly dipping into their retirement savings to cover healthcare costs and long-term care — and this is made worse by the unsustainable nature of social security and medicare, which were originally meant to protect people from the financial burdens of getting older.
An average 65-year-old couple retiring in 2021 will spend a staggering $662,156 on healthcare costs throughout retirement, and healthcare expenses will consume about 68% of their social security benefits. Unfortunately, social security won’t be able to pay full benefits by 2034, and estimates suggest that medicare — the federal health insurance program for people 65 or older — will be depleted around 2026.
Couple this with the fact that healthcare costs continue to rise at a rate of 2-2.5 times that of inflation — and that 85% of people over age 60 have at least one chronic condition, while 60% have at least two — and you’ve got a recipe for financial disaster.
But even given all of the data demonstrating that it’s crucial to prioritize health starting in early to middle age, many young people skimp on necessary healthcare services to save money in the short term. According to a recent survey, about 75% of younger adults have engaged in risky behavior to save money on healthcare-related expenses, such as delaying seeking medical help in hopes their condition would subside. This, of course, is short-sighted and will only increase your risk for serious health issues that become an even greater financial burden.
How Much Money Could You Save If You Prioritize Your Health?
The good news is that investing time, effort, and money into maintaining good health now will be the best return on investment you’ll ever receive. But we know that vague promises only lead to low motivation and inaction — so we want to show you exactly how much you could save when you avoid certain chronic diseases, maintain a healthy weight, and regularly exercise:
- Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can virtually eliminate your risk of type 2 diabetes, a condition that can cost you $125,000-$131,000 over the course of your lifetime, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
- Similarly, eating well and getting plenty of exercise can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease, which, according to conservative estimates, can cost you around $121,200 over 20 years, according to CDC data.
- Keeping a healthy weight at any age can lead to serious cost savings. For example, a 40-year-old going from obese to overweight would save an average of $18,262 over the course of their lifetime. Also, going from obese to a healthy weight would save them $31,447, according to research published in Obesity. Exercise can save you big and alleviate a range of chronic conditions. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people meeting the recommendations for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times per week (150 minutes total) paid $2,500 less on healthcare expenses related to heart disease, which included significant savings on prescriptions, ER visits, and hospitalizations.
This is money that you can then reinvest into more healthy food, herbs and other supplements, health club memberships, preventative healthcare services (not just “sickcare”), and meaningful experiences with your family. It’s the money that will allow you to live with freedom and dignity and feel really good while you’re doing it.
5 Ways To Boost Your Health Today That Will Save You Big Later
From everything we’ve outlined above, you can’t afford to not take care of your health. But where do you start? What are the things that really move the needle on long-term wellness so you can save serious money? There’s no magic bullet, like a single superfood or type of workout, but boosting health does come down to optimizing certain key areas of your life.
“Years ago, I started looking at the question of how to promote wellness from the point of view of what causes people to get sick — and I came up with five categories that people could optimize: food and nourishment, exposure to toxins in the environment, physical factors such as being sedentary, mental stress, and microbes,” says Dr. Bill Rawls, Medical Director of Vital Plan.
Think of these categories as large wellness umbrellas — and underneath each one, there are a variety of individual healthy habits you can adopt, including these:
1. Eat Whole Foods and Go Heavy on Vegetables.
The biggest thing you can do to optimize nourishment is to eat whole foods as often as possible. This includes things like cooked or raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, eggs, fish, and high quality meats. According to Dr. Rawls, whole foods come packaged with a range of beneficial macro- and micronutrients that your body needs to thrive on a cellular level—not just survive. Compare this to packaged and refined foods like breads, pastas, and cereals that have been stripped of many of their beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants during the refining process.
The second biggest way to move the needle on your nutrition and maximize nutrient density is by eating more veggies than anything else. “Vegetables have a higher potential to nourish your body than any other single food entity,” says Dr. Rawls. “Not only do vegetables contain phytochemicals, but they contain the form of fiber that our bodies were designed for — cellulose, which helps keep food moving through our intestinal tract and serves as food for our friendly gut bacteria.” Things like zucchini, squash, and mushrooms, which aren’t technically veggies, fall into this category, too.
Finally, Dr. Rawls suggests eating less grain, meat, and dairy than anything else. “This doesn’t mean you can’t have these things, but just minimize them compared to vegetables and aim to get them in whole food forms,” he says.
2. Curb Your Exposure to Toxins from Every Angle.
According to Dr. Rawls, there are three big ways that toxic substances can get into your body: You can consume them orally with food and drink, you can put them on your skin, and you can breathe them in — and knowing this can help you minimize exposure.
- Filtered water and clean, organic food are the best way to minimize your consumption of toxins such as herbicides and even heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Prioritizing clean, petroleum-free personal care products such as lotions, shampoos, facial cleanser, sunscreens, and makeup can minimize toxin absorption via your skin. Consider using the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to identify safe and potentially problematic personal care products.
- Minding what you breathe in, on the other hand, takes a little extra effort. While you can’t always control your outdoor environment or where you live, making a point to spend time in nature regularly is key. Here’s why:
When you’re in a polluted area with a lot of cars, or if you’re inside surrounded by a lot of technology, there’s an abundance of positive ions circulating. Positive ions include carbon dioxide molecules and other compounds that have been stripped of their electrons, so they act as free radicals. When you breathe them in, they steal your body’s electrons, which drives inflammation. But, according to Dr. Rawls, things like nature hikes and kayaking expose you to electron-rich negative ions that help counteract this effect. Negative ions are particularly abundant in pine forest air and near open water.
- There are also several steps you can take to clean up indoor air. “There was a study from a few years ago that defined indoor air quality as being one of the biggest driving factors of chronic illness in the developed world,” says Dr. Rawls. But good ventilation systems, making sure your home is dry and free of mold, using low-VOC paints, investing in an air purifier, and adding plenty of house plants — which have been found to reduce indoor air pollutants, including formaldehyde — can all help.
3. Alleviate Mental Stress with Movement or an Immersive Hobby.
Chronic stress can increase your risk for just about every chronic disease. But unfortunately, the popular advice to meditate quietly or breathe deeply doesn’t always work when a string of to-dos is running through your mind on loop. These are great practices, but instead, Dr. Rawls suggests doing something active like walking or qigong (often described as moving meditation), which combines slow, gentle movements with breathing and mindfulness, or doing a manual activity that occupies your mind and allows you to escape from your stressful thoughts. This could include building something, doing a jigsaw puzzle, cooking or baking, or engaging in any sort of craft such as jewelry making, pottery, or painting.
4. Try to Walk at Least Three Miles Every Day.
Regular exercise is not only important for boosting cardiovascular health, balancing blood sugar, and normalizing stress hormones, it’s incredibly important for aiding in detoxification. “You hear about all these detox protocols and binders that people take, but this only acts in the GI tract and does nothing for the buildup and congestion of toxins in and around cells,” says Dr. Rawls. “To free that stuff up, you need to move blood, and that’s what exercise is doing. More than any other single thing, exercise is clearing out the pathways and allowing our cells to breathe and get the oxygen, nutrients, and water they need.”
To accomplish this, Dr. Rawls personally walks three miles a day broken up over the morning, afternoon, and evening. However, anything you can do to get your body moving is better than being sedentary and will benefit your health. Consider aiming for around 20-30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity such as walking, cycling, or biking. Or, if you’re less mobile, consider a gentle yoga flow or simple body weight exercises such as sit ups, push ups, planks, and leg lifts that you can do right from the floor.
5. Consume Phytochemical-Rich Herbs to Banish Bad Microbes.
“Microbes are those low-grade threats [bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa] that we pick up here and there. They can end up in our tissues for the rest of our life, which can disrupt cells’ ability to effectively communicate, throw hormones and other systems off balance, and increase cellular wear and tear,” says Dr. Rawls. When we’re not implementing the strategies above (eating well, exercising, managing stress, minimizing toxin exposure), our cells become chronically stressed, which makes them particularly vulnerable to invasion by microbes.
The good news: Taking medicinal herbs can help. “Herbs not only suppress microbes, they also protect our cells, thanks to the hundreds of beneficial phytochemicals they contain,” says Dr. Rawls. “When we consume phytochemical-rich herbs, we’re basically absorbing the plant’s defense systems, which in turn supports our own defense systems.”
Consuming a variety of medicinal herbal extracts — such as turmeric, reishi, and rhodiola — in the form of a daily herbal supplement can help mimic the robust phytochemical intake of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, boost our body’s ability to banish toxins, and curb inflammation.
The Bottom Line: Health Equals Wealth
The numbers don’t lie: It’s more expensive than ever to be unhealthy. Issues you may have once thought were no big deal at a young age — being a bit overweight, imbalanced blood sugar, or high cholesterol — can quickly spiral into serious chronic diseases (and money pits) as you get older, draining your hard-earned savings and any hopes you’d had of a relaxing retirement.
The good news, though, is that the flip side is also true: Health equals wealth. Fortunately, experts like Dr. Rawls have created a clear, actionable roadmap for achieving optimal health by targeting the five key areas that matter most. By adopting his recommendations, you’re well on your way to a more physically, mentally, and financially fit future.