What is the point of saving money for retirement if you don't have your health?
Whether you are a young person just entering the work force, or up in age (like myself), retirement is probably something that comes across your mind at least once in a while. We all think about how we can effectively save money so we can retire, and ideally have money we can spend on things ranging from our mortgages to entertainment and traveling costs. For many, these savings plans usually come in the form of 401k investments, though other options are available.
Today, I wanted to discuss an important component of retirement you may not have thought of: your health.
This was brought to my attention the hard way - as in my late 50's I felt like a mess. To put it simply, I was in poor health. Significantly overweight and marred by countless health conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure and angina, I was not setting myself up for a good, leisurely retirement. I was doing quite the opposite as a result of no exercise regimen and a really poor diet.
Since making the change to a whole foods, plant-based diet over 3 years ago, I have since reclaimed my health. While I'm not sure I want to retire 100% - given that I love the work I do as a general contractor - I do want to be prepared for the time when my wife retires from her social work career, and be able to limit the number of hours I am working per week if necessary. Retirement is something that is on both of our minds, but nothing is more important to keep us prepared for this time of our lives than having good health.
Because of this current mindset I have, I wanted to share with you some plant-smart ways to save your health for retirement age.
- Adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet. In my own experience, changing my diet had a major impact on my overall health. This makes sense, given how fundamental the food we consume is to the functioning of our bodies. While there are so many diets out there to choose from, some absurd fad diets and others just pushed on us by society from a young age, a plant-based diet provides a natural solution without the attached side effect of many ethical dilemmas involving animal consumption.
- Learn how to enjoy the taste of new foods and cuisines. This is especially true for those of you who are picky eaters. It is amazing how some people can go a lifetime without at least trying some different foods, instead opting to only eat what they are comfortable with. Usually these comfort foods are not the healthiest, like frozen pizza or Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
One of the easiest ways to explore new foods is to choose something different each time you go to the grocery store. Another way is to try a different ethnic cuisine, which often provide significantly different taste experiences, but might surprise you with finding a whole range of foods you may have not thought you would enjoy.
- Make weekly meal plans and only go to the grocery store once a week. Your health can be broken down into many sub-categories. Phrases like "mental health" and "financial health" stick with me, and it is valuable to consider how we can better these components of health while thinking about the holism of health.
One way to save your mind and your money is by learning how to make weekly meal plans. This has benefited me and some family friends in a significant way. If you are trying to save money, it allows you to project your purchases in advance - before you even walk into the grocery store. This, in turn, saves your health and can reduce stress and anxiety that can stem from being uncertain about what you want to buy for the week. The impact on your nutritional health is good as well, because you are able to plan each meal - down to the individual recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks if you want - in advance. This helps to mentally remove some frustration and fear of eating the wrong things!
- If your overweight or obese, lose the extra pounds. Being overweight or obese is going to be significantly detrimental as your life goes on. As you near retirement age, it can seem like more of a struggle to shed some of the weight away. Trust me, I know from experience! Still, your best retirement experience will be at a healthy weight. I am not suggesting that you need to drop down to skinny supermodel levels of weight, but when you are plagued by a number of diseases, and struggle to just do simple things in life as a result of carrying extra weight; you will know you have a problem.
For myself, I struggled with excessive weight for many years. I found that a plant-based diet did wonders to help me lose weight. By following the vegan diet to a T, I was able to lose over 65 pounds.
- Learn how to enjoy being active. Anyone can tell you to go exercise as a means for becoming healthier, but the reality is that, for many, "exercise" like running on a treadmill or going to a gym and lifting weights is not all that attractive. While I do these things, especially during the colder months of the years, I think it is important that you learn to do something that is active. The exercises I enjoy the most are the ones that I do that don't even feel like exercises. An early morning hike through the woods, or paddling my canoe at Green Lane Park. These are two examples of simple, healthy, and active things that I do that significantly benefit my health. They enable me to feel relaxed, while also being very active!
- Drink more water to stay hydrated. Increasing your water consumption will increase your overall health in no time. In the short term, you will feel less tired and groggy, and more mentally aware of your surroundings. In the long term, a hydrated person is more likely to lose weight, have more energy, have good pregnancies, and avoid heat injuries.
It is recommended that you drink 8 glasses of water per day, but you can drink more if needed, especially if sweating during rigorous workouts. Be careful, as it is possible to overdose on water, though this is very extreme.
- Take a few minutes each day to relax your mind, and let go of stressful thoughts. The standard "American dream" has a great vision of retiring, having a nice home, and being able to travel the world, but never seems to account for the reality of getting there. There are so many things these days that can stress us out - from work challenges to keeping on top of our kids, pets, and household chores. Learning how to relax...and I mean really relax...is mandatory to live a healthier life. Even if you can only start by taking a couple minutes to turn off the computer, television, and/or phone will help you recharge yourself.
- Structure your personal life. This is similar to item #3, but the scope is much larger. Find other areas of your life where you can provide structure - not to make life mundane, but to make it easier for you. For example, with my gardening hobby I have kept a "gardening journal" for many years now. I use this every season when I go out to sow seeds so I have a point of reference based on previous years. I am sure you can think of areas of your life where you can add some structure to make it easier to achieve the things you want to achieve.
- Get an annual medical exam. While I do not think doctors are the best at treating chronic illness, I do think there is some value in seeing a doctor to get a general checkup. We can try to monitor our bodies as much as possible, but having someone objectively review our bodies to see that nothing abnormal is going on can be useful.
- Minimize or entirely cut out caffeine from your diet. Caffeine actually has many negative properties. While the occasional coffee will not kill you, drinking too much can be very detrimental to your health - even when coffee is a plant product. The worst part is the addictive component of caffeine that makes you crave more and more - and the times you go without, you feel withdrawal symptoms similar to trying to quit smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. Certainly, you can use your own judgment regarding whether or not you should cut down (or cut out entirely) caffeine from your diet. To help ease the pain, check out my recommended coffee substitutes I drink pretty frequently.
- Get more sleep. There are many long-term health concerns that stem from not getting enough sleep (generally between 6 and 10 hours depending on the person). There have been a large number of studies conducted that have shown increased level of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, immune function, etc. in individuals not getting enough sleep.
There is no point in reaching retirement without your health! It is best to be proactive to try to cure disease before they even enter your bodies mind by taking steps to better yourself in the here and now. By the time you get up in age (like me) - you will hopefully be able to enjoy your retired life without the need to constantly work a full-time job - but with the ability to still be active by engaging in volunteering opportunities, working part-time (if you want), and participating more heavily in your hobbies.