What Has a Bigger Impact on Your Retirement Than The Stock Market?

By Emily Guy Birken

Financial advisor Todd Tresidder is enjoying himself outside this summer. But his ideal warm weather activity doesn’t include sitting by the beach while reading the latest Stephen King. Instead, Tresidder works up a daily sweat. His regimen includes running every other day as base conditioning, while mixing it up with cycling, swimming, hiking, and backpacking as his schedule permits.

You might think that Tresidder’s passion for athletics is unrelated to his work as a financial advisor and entrepreneur, but nothing could be further from the truth. He views his daily workouts and healthy eating habits as an investment in his future that is even more important than his portfolio. According to Tresidder, "it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve amassed to fund your retirement, when you lose your health the game is over. Health is one of my top priorities because of that, right behind family and relationships".

Your Running Shoes Have a Bigger Impact on Your Nest Egg Than The Stock Market

He’s onto something that many of us tend to forget — that investing in your health can have a much greater impact on your nest egg than making a killing in the stock market ever could.

That’s because the average 65-year-old couple who retired in 2014 will spend $220,000 on health care over their retirement, according to Fidelity Investments’ most recent annual retiree health care cost estimate. Savvy baby boomers are choosing to adopt healthy habits before they retire, so they, like Tresidder, can keep more of their nest egg earmarked for fun stuff on their bucket list, rather than medical costs.

Invest In Yourself

Many baby boomers are laser-focused on building their retirement nest egg. And that’s exactly as it should be. Saving money for your retirement is a critical component to enjoying a satisfying second act.

But it’s also critical that you take the time to invest in your own well-being. Health problems could potentially eat up your nest egg or cut short the time you have to enjoy it, and neglecting your emotional well-being could lead to unnecessary spending to help you feel better.

The time you take now to feel good and nurture your mind, body, and soul is time well spent that can pay off in the future. Even if you have never made wellness a priority, it’s never too late to start prioritizing your health — and protecting your nest egg.

Enjoying Healthy Habits to Enjoy Retirement

For many people who haven’t made a habit of exercising or mindful eating, the idea of adopting healthy habits might call to mind grueling treadmill workouts and boring meals of kale-topped cardboard. But just as planning for retirement can be more enjoyable if you create a strategy that fits your personality, putting together a "health investment strategy" can be downright fun if you follow your preferences rather than what you think you “should” do.

Here are some healthy habit options to consider for your body, mind, and spirit that can have a positive long-lasting impact on your retirement years:

1. Stay Healthy With Exercise

If the last time you ran a mile was in high school gym class, then you might worry that enjoying better health in retirement is out of reach, particularly when you hear the common recommendation that adults should get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, "physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits". If you are racking your brain trying to come up with exercise that would fit with your life, consider these options:

2. Take Up Walking or Jogging

Walking is an exercise that almost anyone can do and can be a fun way to take in nature or your favorite neighborhoods. Download your favorite podcasts and learn while you walk for a double benefit of mind and body exercise. If you have a dog, consider taking it out for longer walks so you can get the health benefits with your puppy.

3. Try Yoga

Not only can yoga help you get in shape and improve balance, which is critical for older retirees, but it can also help to alleviate the kinds of aches and pains that often come with aging by improving muscle strength. Don’t worry if you’ve never tried yoga before. Most yoga studios offer beginner classes for all fitness levels. Even though some of the yoga poses look intimidating, yoga instructors can show you how to modify them based on your fitness level.

4. Do Some Gardening

Yes, tending your prizewinning flowers and vegetables is considered good moderate exercise (provided you are doing the digging yourself rather than supervising a gardener). Not only does gardening improve your cardiovascular health, strength, and balance, but it can also be immensely satisfying to see the literal fruit of your labors.

5. Learn Some Dance Moves

Whether you have been considering signing up for ballroom dancing lessons at the local Arthur Murray studio ever since you became a fan of Dancing with the Stars or have always had a yen to try Irish line dancing, ballet, or belly dancing, know that indulging your love of dance is a great way to exercise and meet new people.

Despite the hype about certain classes (Zumba, anyone?) and how much exercise you should get, the most important thing is to just do it. Find an exercise you enjoy and it will be easier to stick to it.

6. Don’t Forget About Healthy Eating

Of course, exercise alone is not enough to maintain your physical health. Your eating habits should also be part of your "health investment strategy". That’s not to say that you have to give up your favorite fried food cold turkey. In fact, experts agree that making gradual changes to your eating habits and focusing on adding healthy foods rather than removing unhealthy ones are the keys to creating a healthy diet that will last a lifetime. For instance, you might start by buying fruit to eat with your daily lunch of a sandwich and chips, or adding spinach or broccoli to your favorite pasta dishes. Over time, you’ll find that making healthy food choices becomes second nature.

7. Stay Sharp With Continuous Learning and Brain Games

Protecting your health and wealth is about more than just making sure your body is a temple. It’s also important to keep your mind engaged by continuing to learn throughout your life. The journal Psychological Science recently published a study showing that seniors learning a new skill, such as quilting, painting or digital photography, experienced enhanced cognitive function when compared to a group of seniors who simply spent the same time socializing.

This gets into the most fun part of planning your retirement: preparing for all the cool activities you will be able to do once you have the free time. Not only will you finally be able to pursue the various hobbies and interests that often get put on the back burner during your career, but you can also view the time you spend learning and applying new skills as an investment in both your mental health and financial health.

In addition to learning new skills, putting your brain through its own workout on a regular basis can help you to stave off cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. According to the mental health resource, mental stimulation that involves "multiple tasks, or [requires] communication, interaction, and organization offer the greatest protection". For instance, learning a new language, solving puzzles, playing strategy games, and even using your non-dominant hand to eat can all be excellent ways to exercise your brain.

8. Nourish Your Soul

Prioritizing your health and mental well-being is most effective if you also take the time to foster your spiritual well-being. That might mean anything from making sure you have an active role at your place of worship to volunteering your time with a cause close to your heart. But the single best way to feel the kind of contentment that improves your health is to foster your social relationships.

The landmark Terman study, which followed participants for eight decades to pinpoint behaviors and traits that can affect longevity, found that "connecting with and helping others is more important than...a rigorous exercise program...Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age."

This is backed up by recent research by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) which found that the elderly children of centenarians (who are therefore also genetically disposed to longevity) have high levels of extraversion. According to the NIA, "high extraversion levels have been associated with greater subjective well-being, vitality, and longevity."

While anything you do that "fills you up" will be beneficial for your overall health and longevity, prioritizing your social and family relationships is the only soul-nourishing activity that studies show will improve health and prolong life.

A Happy Retirement is More Than The Size of Your Nest Egg

We all have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives. We talk about retirement as if it is a destination, rather than a continuation of the life we are currently living. While the destination-mindset can work to motivate some people to save money, it does tend to create a disconnect between our behaviors and habits pre- and post-retirement.

Creating a sustainable, healthy life that includes exercise, healthy eating habits, mental stimulation, and caring relationships is more important for your retirement well-being than having Warren Buffett’s stock portfolio.

If you want to learn more about how to create a retirement that you will love, visit aboutLife.