‘Oh, I’m Fine’ – the Cost of Self-Deception About Health
Retirement can be joyous – and less expensive – if we take care of ourselves
In a recent survey of more than 5,000 workers, ranging from millennial to baby boomer, conducted by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, eight in 10 participants asserted that they are in excellent or good health.
Those self-assessments seem optimistic when viewed aside national health data:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 40% of adults are obese.
High blood pressure is an issue for more than four in 10 adult Hispanic and white Americans, and nearly six in 10 non-Hispanic black Americans.
An estimated one in four Americans at least 65 years old is diabetic, with 90%-plus of those cases being Type 2 diabetes that can be moderated, if not eliminated, through dietary changes.
Yes, there is a much longer list of illness and disease absolutely out of one’s personal control. But weight, blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes are often conditions that can be managed or moderated through the personal initiative of a healthier diet and (more) exercising. Quality sleep is another lever that can improve health and quality of life, now and down the line.
A visit with your primary care physician, during which you don’t minimize your health concerns but seek strong advice on addressing them, is a good start to feeling better. Don’t leave the doctor’s office without a plan.
Additional motivation can come from the financial implications of being in poor health. Medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., and a relatively healthy retirement is a lot cheaper to fund than one burdened by heavy drug costs, doctor visits and hospitalizations.
The nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute takes a deep data dive each year to estimate the out-of-pocket medical expenses 65-year-olds might encounter over the rest of their lives. The estimate accounts for Medicare premiums, deductibles and co-payments, and prescription drug costs not covered by Medicare supplemental plans. It explicitly does not include the cost of long-term care.
If a 65-year-old couple today wants a high probability (90%) that they will have the funds to pay for all those medical costs through the rest of their lives, they are estimated to need a combined $325,000 if they end up with high prescription drug costs (again, the 90th percentile). If their drug costs are at the median they would need $270,000.
Yes, both estimates are eye-openers, but remember, this is for two people, and it is for total expenses in retirement. Given increased longevity of retirees, there is a 50 percent probability someone in average health at 65 will still be alive in their mid-80s. So that total cost is spread out over plenty of years. But even so, the difference between typical and high drug costs adds up to a big chunk of retirement funds. To understand longevity’s impact on your retirement planning, read this: https://www.rate.com/research/news/retirement-expectancy
Taking better care of yourself is a key retirement-planning strategy. And it’s one of the rare times where doing something for your future self also provides a payoff in the here and now. A healthier approach—be it physical or mental (ideally both)—is bound to help you feel better today.
Consider a couple hacks:
Share your goal with someone, an exercise or diet buddy, and make plans to check in together regularly. Sounds simple, but so often we keep this sort of stuff to ourselves. Yet having an accountability friend has been shown to help people stick to goals.
Write a letter to your 65- or 75-year-old self, sharing what you hope to be doing then. An academic research project found that people who went through this exercise were more likely to keep going to a gym.
Write it down. A record of exercise, eating, weight and blood pressure can help connect your daily activities to your longer-term goals.
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