The Overlooked Component of Retirement Planning

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or any other personal finance blog really, you are very aware of all the financial factors to consider when planning for retirement. No doubt you know all about 401(k) plans, mutual funds, emergency funds, the 4% rule, the rule of 72, living frugally, minimalism, expense ratios, passive income, annuities, portfolio income, earned income, etc. If some of these terms aren’t familiar to you, by all means, feel free to make use of the ‘Site Search’ feature there to your right.

Rightfully so perhaps, a lot of time and energy is spent on making sure ‘your money is right’ as you contemplate, and eventually head into, retirement. However, what about making sure your body is right.

Fiscal fitness and retirement planning aside, I have always focused on my physical well-being; and during the course of writing my book and running this blog, I have stressed the importance of physical fitness on multiple occasions. However, the desire to be physically capable of enjoying life as much as possible heading into retirement has been recently brought into focus for me due to a co-worker’s recent struggles.

This particular friend and co-worker is in her mid-50s and currently planning to retire about this time next year. About two years ago she started experiencing issues with a knee; specifically the meniscus.

Unfortunately, following surgery and physical therapy she continues to struggle with knee pain, strength and stability. In fact, she often utilizes a cane to provide needed stability, particularly when navigating stairs. The pain and weakness have impacted her ability to travel as the cramped conditions in airplane cabins often exacerbate the inflammation and pain.

As I think about her physical ailment, I think about what will be the impact as she crosses that threshold into retirement. Will she be limited in some of the activities (e.g. swimming and bike riding) she normally enjoys? Will she travel less because of the unique stresses airline travel places on the knees?

While some things will be out of your hands, it only makes sense to help yourself as much as possible. And just as you can’t wait until the last year or two prior to retirement to get fiscally fit, you can’t wait until retirement is staring you in the face to decide you need to be in better physical shape. The time to start? Yesterday, my friends.

What are some easy ways to improve your physical health? I have identified five easy actions you can perform, or habits you can modify, on a regular basis to improve both. While none is necessarily a game changer in itself, taken together, they can begin the process of changing your life. As the old saying goes, “The longest journey starts with the first step.” Over time you will identify other little actions you can take, additional little steps, you can combine with these to propel you on your road to improved overall well-being:

Push-ups. No need for an expensive, or even inexpensive, gym membership. These babies are free. Years ago, in junior high school, my wrestling coach taught me an easy way to knock out a couple hundred a day without giving it a lot of thought. During the last hour of watching television each night, knock out a chosen number (e.g. 10, 15, 20 or 25) of push-ups on each commercial break. It is typical for an hour-long program to contain five commercial breaks. Therefore, if you drop and knock out 20 push-ups during the last hour you watch TV each night, you can ring up 100 push-ups daily vice sitting back doing nothing while commercials you are probably ignoring drone on.

Sit-ups. Similar story to push-ups. No need for a gym membership. These babies are also free. After you have turned off the TV and are preparing to call it a night, before you pull back the covers, drop down next to your bed and knock out 25 or 50 sit-ups. Your first act in the morning? You got it. Roll out of bed and knock out 25 or 50. Sit-ups, among the best ways to end and begin your day.

Water please. Have you ever bemoaned the fact that when you eat out, soft drinks – and particularly alcohol – have a significant mark up? You pay a lot more for the privilege of drinking soda or alcohol in restaurants. Order water instead. In the vast majority of restaurants – in the States anyway – water is free. Moreover, you probably don’t drink enough throughout the day. Water has numerous health benefits and soda has zero. Do like I do and order water in the restaurant and have a nice glass of red wine when you get home.

Split the entrée. The wife and I do this about 25% of the time we eat out. Anyone older than 25 or anyone that has seen the documentary Super Size Me knows that portion sizes have grown tremendously over the years. Simply put, we eat way more than we did in the past … and for many of us, more than we need. Unfortunately, people often confuse quantity with value. Just because you can buy a 128 oz. soda at Circle-K or 7 Eleven; or order a massive entrée that only costs $12, does not mean you should. Splitting an entrée usually means you will be eating an appropriate portion with respect to caloric intake.

Walk. Of course the environment you live in – proximity to desired services and establishments, and weather – will have a bearing on your ability to walk as much as possible. The wife and I are fortunate in that we live close to a mall and other shops; and living here in Southeastern Arizona means we can walk comfortably outdoors most of the year. If you’re walking that means you’re not burning gasoline. As an added bonus, our local government has done a nice job of recently expanding the walking/bike path which covers a significant area.

Even if you can’t walk a great deal outdoors, take advantage of the opportunities to walk during your normal day. Consider your work day. Most people do everything they can to park as close as possible to their work entrance; and I don’t know about you, but I work in a two-story building and I’m amazed at the number of co-workers that will take the elevator when moving between floors. Alternatives? Park as far away from the entrance as possible and avoid elevators when possible and practical. A good walk does the body good.

The wife and I are fortunate in that we currently receive one pension [I am retired from the U.S. Army], are on track to receive two additional pensions from our current jobs and there is always Social Security of course. It is likely that we will never have to use – or use very little of – the money we are currently contributing to our retirement accounts.

Having the means, financially, to do whatever we want after decades in the workforce will be tremendously rewarding. However, the enthusiasm for retirement will be severely dampened if we are limited because of physical ailments or limitations.

Don’t overlook maintaining – or improving if that is case – your physical fitness as you make plans for retirement. Ultimately, your physical capabilities will be as much a factor in your satisfaction with retirement as your fiscal capabilities.

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