in FS, Health

Your health is your most important asset

When Kris and I traveled to England and Ireland with her parents in 2007, I came home with a financial epiphany. Actually, the trip highlighted a concept that I’d only vaguely understood before: I was a slave to the tyranny of Stuff. I had accumulated way too many things in my life, and this was causing me a lot of mental and physical stress. In many ways, the things I owned actually owned me. Over the past three years, I’ve worked hard to say “so long” to the Stuff I don’t really need.

On this year’s trip to Europe, I had another epiphany. Our time in France and Italy drove home a concept to which I’ve only paid lip-service before: Your health is your most important asset. Despite what others might say, your most valuable asset is not your car or your home, and not even your career. (Though your career is, indeed, very important.) Our vacation taught me that without your health, you have nothing. And if you’re less fit than you could be, you’re sacrificing not just dollars, but days — or years — from your life.

Days of Future Past

Over the past month, Kris and I spent 24 days in Europe. One week was on our own in Paris, but we also spent ten days with an organized tour of Italy, and seven days on a river cruise through northern France. Both of these tours were filled with people who were older than us — often much older. For more than two weeks, we ate, walked, and talked with folks who were 60, 70, and even 80 years old.

These people reminded us over and over again that health is important. They told us how they wished they had traveled when they were younger and more mobile. They complained about lingering health problems brought on by aging. But they didn’t actually have to say anything — we could see how failing health affected their abilities every day.

Our older companions had trouble getting around. They struggled when climbing hills and steps. They found it difficult to walk more than a mile at a time, or to walk more than five miles in a day. Some of our companions were overweight, but most were not. They were just old and out of shape.

Now, I’ll admit that the average age of the tourists on our cruise was probably between 70 and 72. It can be tough for even a fit 70-year-old to keep up with a 40-year-old. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some of our companions had prioritized fitness as they aged, and their focus on health was paying dividends.

  • On the river cruise, we met a man named Roger. Roger runs every day. He’s 65, but he looks like he’s in his forties. (I was shocked when I learned how old he was.) More than that, he’s active and agile, a sharp contrast to most of his peers. He bounds up stairs while others his age take unsteady steps.
  • On our Italy tour, we met Deno and Cindy, both of whom are around 65 and seem very fit. But that wasn’t always the case. Over the past couple of years, Deno lost sixty pounds and Cindy shed thirty. They told us how important exercise has become to them because it helps them stay healthy. Just a few years ago, this trip would have been tough for them, but because they’ve prioritized their fitness, they’re better able to fulfill their dreams.

I don’t mean to imply that Kris and I are models of fitness. Not even close.

Despite six months of intense training via Crossfit, I’m still not as fit as I should be. I’ve lost 35 pounds, yes, but I have ten or fifteen more to lose, and that slowed me on this trip. Plus, my bad knees hurt like hell whenever we had to climb stairs. (Climbing to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican was excruciating — my left knee gave me fits. Notre Dame wasn’t much better.)

Joy and Phil
Our new friends Joy and Phil, climbing the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica

My extra weight and my bad knees are both reminders of the poor choices of my past.

Kris, too, showed signs of age. Her task-master husband — that would be me — had her walking all over the streets of Paris until finally, one night, she said, “Enough!” A younger Kris might have kept going, but this Kris is forty and not used to walking everywhere.

Important note: It’s never too late to turn things around. Even if you’ve neglected your health for decades, you can start making positive changes today, changes that will improve your quality (and quantity) of life, as well as saving you money.

Lessons Learned

What’s my point?

First, if you’re interested in travel, travel now. Don’t put it off. If travel is a priority, find ways to budget and save to make it happen. Over and over, Kris and I talked with older couples who wished they had started traveling earlier, when they were still more physically active. And when we met travelers our age, they all said the same thing: They consciously choose to sacrifice other luxuries and comforts so that they can travel while they’re young.

But most of all, I want to stress this point: Your health is your most important asset.

In January, I declared 2010 my personal “year of fitness”. I set a goal: lose 50 pounds by the end of December. So far, I’ve lost 35. I may not hit my target, but I’ll come close. But I’ve decided my health is even more important. I don’t want this to be a one-year thing. I want to increase the chances that when I reach the age of 65, I’ll look and act like Roger and Deno and Cindy, and less like everybody else.

To that end, I’ve come up with a short list of simple tasks that I believe can help me stay healthy for years to come. They’re all common sense. I want to:

  • Move my body. I want to get daily exercise, and in a variety of ways. I want to lift weights, run laps, jump rope, hike hills, and more. I want to develop both strength and stamina. I want to walk or bike whenever possible.
  • Eat wisely. I don’t care about fad diets. I like Michael Pollan’s philosophy from In Defense of Food. I’ll try to favor whole foods, and to limit sugar and saturated fat. Ditching the processed food may cost a bit more in the short term, but the long-term benefits should be huge.
  • Use drugs in moderation. No, I don’t mean illegal drugs (which I do not use at all); I mean mind-altering substances of all sorts. I currently use tobacco for fun just a few times per year, and that’s fine. But I want to reduce my consumption of hard alcohol, and I want to stop using over-the-counter drugs (particularly ibuprofen) as some sort of panacea.
  • Watch for warning signs. I have a history of avoiding doctors. I don’t want to do that anymore. In my family, it was a sign of strength to ignore pain — my mother once hobbled around on a broken ankle for months — but I want to start dealing with problems early instead of allowing them to explode into crises.

For a long time, I thought it was crazy to spend more on whole foods and organic produce. And if two years ago you would have told me that I’d now be spending $200 a month for a gym, I would have laughed. My perspective is different now. Yes, high-quality food can be expensive, and yes, Double-unders by the Eiffel TowerCrossfit is costing me a lot of money. But the end result is that I’m fitter and happier than I have been in years. To me, that’s worth the cost.

I’m not going to say that “cost is no object”. That’s silly. I think it’s just as important to be frugal with fitness as in other aspects of my life. But I also recognize that it’s foolish to sacrifice my health for the sake of a few bucks.

Earlier this year, I joined a gym that costs me $200 a month. Sometimes I worry about that cost. But you know what? That $200 is peanuts if it produces results, if it helps me become fit and strong. Which it has. (The two things I missed most on our trip? Our cats and the gym. I’ve been craving intense exercise. Thankfully, I’m back to pull-ups and double-unders at 6:30 this morning!)

Footnote

Our vacation had a mopey conclusion. We ended the trip with three days in Paris, where we spent most of our time in bed — sick. I had a sinus infection, and Kris had bronchitis. We stumbled out of our hotel room on occasion to look at art (the Mona Lisa!) or to get food (olives and cheese from the grocery store) or to go to the pharmacy, but mostly we slept and watched every movie and television show we’d brought on the iPad. It was a miserable way to end our trip, and it was a final reminder of how important good health is.

By not being out and about on those last few days, we essentially wasted hundreds of dollars. (We could have been sick and tired in our own bed at home for free instead of paying for a hotel room.) But this expense is nothing compared to the costs of chronic poor health.

Your health is your most important asset. Do everything in your power to protect it — and to make it last.

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81 Comments

  1. Finally, JD. All these PF blogs seem to focus on some sort of misplaced “frugality” when it comes to food with reader comments filled with people bragging over how cheap they get some bottom shelf processed garbage for pennies and then feed it to their kids. Food should be the budget line item on which we spend a good percentage. You don’t have to shop at some high-end super market (but really, they usually do have better food/products), you just need to eat consciously; stick to fruits and vegetables, limit your meat and dairy, and stop eating anything processed. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen in my household, but we very rarely eat anything out of a box or a can. Otherwise, if something has more than five or six ingredients on the label I don’t eat it.

    I applaud your fitness efforts, too. This is something I now wish I’d started in high school, but I am by no means out of shape. I’m a runner and do yoga about once a week; as winter rolls in, I’m trying to amp up the yoga which I find helps me incredibly. Despite these efforts, I still don’t feel as strong as I should be which is why I wish I’d started it all a long time ago.

    Hopefully this post will inspire many of your readers, as it’s one of your most important posts by far.

  2. My wife and I came to the same conclusion about gym memberships a few years ago…..for many years we couldn’t justify the high cost of a super-nice gym right near us. Finally we joined and couldn’t be happier.

    Now, when I track my spending, I put the gym membership under “health.” I still consider it one of our biggest splurges, but we use it regularly, and its also a great investment.

  3. My parents are really good examples of this. My mom is 70 and my dad is 72. They both have a few health problems (my mom just had knee surgery and my dad had bypass surgery about 10 years ago and takes medicine for high blood pressure). However, they both work out every day – walk or lift weights for my dad, water aerobics or lift weights for my mom. Because they take care of themselves, they are still extremely active and travel all the time. They have a boat and travel and live on the boat for 6 months out of every year. They also usually take one big trip during the other 6 months (currently planning a river cruise in Europe and then maybe a Safari after that). Contrast that with their closest friends whom they take a short trip with every year or two – both of them are significantly overweight and spend the majority of the trip sedentary…not because they necessarily want to but because they have no choice.

    I teach water aerobics and I hear it all the time with the people in my class (the regulars – the people who come every day – tend to be older and mostly retired). They come to class so that they can continue to do all the things they want to. This is a group that travels a great deal. I hear about trips to China, Australia, Norway and all over the United States. Some of them have health problems – a lot of knee problems in this group for example – but they take care of themselves and keep moving. They know if they stop moving that they are likely not to get going again.

  4. I agree totally, but would argue that there are some ways to be frugal AND healthy. Limit meat and cheese consumption, which is expensive. Grow your own vegetables and eat plenty of them. It’s cheaper and better to make your own bread (I have no problem eating carbs but I don’t want to eat chemical preservatives). Making things like tomato pasta sauce from scratch is cheap too.

    Best tip is only drinking tap water, which will help your health and save on money spent on fizzy drinks, coffee and alcohol. You shouldn’t be drinking calories anyway, except as an occasional treat.

    Quitting smoking is another area which both saves money and helps your health. It isn’t necessary to spend a fortune on being healthy. For instance, if you can’t afford a $200 monthly gym bill, take up running or swimming at a cheap local pool, or do exercises at home with a DVD. Walk as much as you can.

    Great post.

  5. @2: I loved this quote of yours: “They come to class so that they can continue to do all the things they want to.”

    I am the same way. I’m only 26, but I have rheumatoid arthritis. While I am far from calling my diagnosis a “blessing”, I do realize that it has forced me to ramp up the level of activity I do on a consistent basis. Where I occasionally did yoga and went to a semi-regular spinning class (only half the time!), now, I wake up every morning and do yoga. Not because I’m a morning person (I can assure you I’m not), not because I’m a fitness nut, but because if I don’t, I won’t be able to do all the things I want to do. My joints just won’t let me. My spinning and running have been much more consistent as well.

    I have friends who tell me “oh, but I could never do that! Every morning??” and my response is “You could, if you had no other choice.”

    It’s really hard to accept (at my young age) that I am not going to be able to do everything I want to do. I found it the hardest part of RA to adjust to. But I can do my very best to make sure that that list of things I can’t do stays as short as possible, and I can live the life I want to live.

  6. I couldn’t agree more with you on this point, J.D. There is an absolute difference in my quality of life when I am exercising regularly and eating well, and the same is true for my wife.

    We have experienced a major improvement in our marriage and family life when we are both focused on our health and living in a vibrant way. Fitness is now something that we consider an essential part of our lifestyle.

    It was a similar conclusion as yours (our health is our most important asset) that led me to create Fit Marriage to help other busy couples find their way in this area.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences…maybe we can get you on FM for an interview sometime soon!

  7. Ahh yes, traveling young. My wife and I are both excited to start traveling together very soon. We are first digging ourselves completely out of debt and saving up an emergency fund, and then it’s time for the debt free celebration travel! Most likely we will start our travels with a cruise (neither of us have been on a cruise before).

    Getting out of debt is very important to us and I always give plenty of tips and advice for doing so as we go through our journey together. Check them out at:

    http://www.lifeandmyfinances.com

  8. My father is currently one of those 70+ year olds out traveling. But he’s been traveling all his life… picked a job that allowed him to travel. He’s in very good shape, despite malnutrition as a child, precisely because he exercises and only eats whole foods (and moderate alcohol). My mom is still working so she doesn’t join him, but after a bout of breast cancer she’s a fitness and healthy food fanatic… after beating cancer she took care of her health as she’d never done before.

    Me, I think we’d live longer and healthier if we moved to the SF bay area, where my favorite kinds of exercise and healthy food are easy to get to and available year-round. Until then, we have to be careful.

    Nothing like a little being sick to make one value their health. And yes, see your doctor when you need to, and regularly as recommended for check-ups.

  9. Excellent points, J.D.! Totally agree.

    There is one thing I’d like to add: take steps to reduce or mitigate stress. I read yesterday that stress contributes to more than 70 % of illness, especially the big ones like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Stress also impedes the immune system, meaning we get sick more often and are sicker for longer periods of time.

    However, I constantly see PF blogs and the financial media talking about working more hours, working overtime, starting a side business, etc. I wonder how many make themselves sick with the extra stress and don’t even realize it?

  10. I can relate to Kate. I’ve had arthritis since the age of 14, and fatigue has been an ongoing battle with me. Eating well, getting exercise, managing stress and getting enough rest is an ongoing balancing act — and these steps seem to fly in the face of a lot of advice I see on personal finance blogs that say work harder, work more, cut your grocery budget, etc.

    I’m glad to see I’m not alone in thinking that good health is an investment too. Unfortunately, most people who have good health just don’t get it.

    For me, staying out of debt and living below my means has made a huge difference. I don’t have the stress of debt, and I don’t have to do anything that will risk my health in order to get out of it. (Like work an 80 hour weeks.) I think managing wealth and managing health go hand in hand.

  11. Great post JD, glad you and Kris had a good time in Europe. (I am jealous!)

    I am impressed with your weight loss progress so far for this year and you’re right. I hit 31 this year and realized I needed to make some changes. I’ve been neglecting my health for the last 7-8 years and put on too much weight and started feeling bad as a result. Our vacation to Yellowstone really opened my eyes to it when we were getting winded/tired hiking up hills. I realize there is a big shift in elevation but there has also been a big shift in my gut. 😛

  12. You can do it at any age, indeed. After having two kids and balooning to 182 lbs, I started to exercise and dropped 50 lbs, began running, joined ultramarathoning, and at the beginning of this year, after over 25 years, stopped smoking. Feels good to gain my breathing back:) Ditto on traveling as well. I love new places, and prefer visiting them to accumulating stuff.
    No processed food in my house, everything is cooked from scratch, but then again, where I grew up it was the only option. It helps to never had tasted soda before the age of 24, so I never got to like it:)
    p.s. oh, and the 60+ year olds I know!!! I can’t come close at 40! Nothing is impossible.

  13. I’m glad to see someone tackling this topic, J.D.! Most conversations about health and money seem to revolve around insurance. (At least for you Americans!)

    It’s hard to find time to eat well and exercise, but worth it in the long run I believe. You know what they say: “make time for wellness, or you’ll be forced to take time for illness.”

  14. You don’t need an expensive gym membership to be really fit. Our family has started doing P90X which is an incredible DVD workout program. I have tried many DVD workout video’s in the past and none have come anywhere close to the caliber of this one. All you need is a pullup bar (or bands) and some hand held weights.
    After watching my parents age – my father is 89 and still going strong – I can certainly confirm that staying active and thin are key!

  15. I couldn’t agree more with this post. I am totally for spending money on healthy food and exercise. There are a million other ways to save money, that is for sure.

    My family tree is riddled with arthritis. Plus I spent a lot of time in my youth playing sports and ended up with a lot of injuries. I have a lot of arthritis now, and I am only 43, which is a little disheartening. I am currently researching ways to get reduce arthritis symptoms through diet and exercise, and from what I am reading, diet can really help those with arthritis. It all makes sense. You wouldn’t put cruddy fuel in your car, so why would you put cruddy fuel in your body?

    Welcome back, and I hope you guys feel better soon.

  16. “It can be tough for even a fit 70-year-old to keep up with a 40-year-old. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some of our companions had prioritized fitness as they aged, and their focus on health was paying dividends.”

    Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly true. While prioritizing fitness is absolutely important and can no doubt make a big difference, a meaningful portion of your physical abilities at age 70 will be determined by genetics and luck. I think what I mean by genetics is obvious. By luck, I’m largely thinking about avoiding injury. Destroy your knee in a way that requires multiple surgeries when you are 59 years old, and you are unlikely to ever be the same again. Your body just stops healing itself like it once did.

  17. Welcome back JD! It’s great to see you and this blog evolve in such a way that the “Rich” in GetRichSlowly continues to move farther and farther away from financial.

    Certainly, money plays a significant role in a “rich life;” but it does not buy what makes one the richest…

    “Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend. Non-being is the greatest joy.” ~ Lau-Tzu

  18. (disclaimer, I have not implemented this yet, but) I have been at 2 conferences in the last 6 months where they described how a small business can set up an “HRA” plan for health related expenses for employees & owners – that is, if you have your own business & file the right paperwork, your gym membership could be paid with pre-tax dollars. Can apply to any health-related expense (otc medicine, rx medicine, doctors, insurance, massage, etc.). Apparently it’s all about the paperwork!

  19. After a Mediteranean Cruise to celebrate our 40th anniversary, I found I needed to lose weight and get fit. I’m using all real foods–no fructose and no Splenda. I’m almost at my best weight and with doing Wii Fit Plus I’m more balanced and fit. The best thing is that using the Wii Fit Plus is like having a personal trainer with a one time cost. I just turned 64 and I work full time.

  20. I used to feel guilty for paying for a personal trainer until I realized the long-term benefits of physical and mental health were absolutely worth it. I notice people often neglect their mental health when trying to be frugal. I think a lot of people (myself included) feel guilty about spending money to take care of themselves, but addressing physical and mental health issues NOW — not later when they have potentially gotten much worse — might actually be the most frugal thing you can do.

  21. Whether it’s crossfit, P90X, or some other workout regiment, those can be hard to maintain over time. You’re certainly on the right path for a lifestyle change though. Check out Mark’s Daily Apple- there’s some good stuff there.

    Also, don’t beat yourself up about your last few days in Paris. No matter how healthy you are, sometimes you just catch something- especially after 3 weeks of being in a new climate and having your body be out of it’s routine.

  22. As a crossfitter who started with weak knees, talk with someone regarding adding some moderately heave squats and deadlifts (3 sets of 5, 3 times/week). Its not a 5 RM, it should be 20% UNDER your 5 Rep Max. This helps your knees build support the rest of your body. An example for me: my current (deadlift) 1RM is 345#, and my 5RM is 265, there fore I would do 1 Set of 10 at 135, a set of 5 at 185 and then 3 sets of 5 at 225#. Hope this helps!

  23. I just dropped my friends off at the airport after a golf vacation. They kindly mentioned how healthy I am. (I’m pretty much a vegan, and exercise faithfully. Also I’m 6′ and weigh 165.)

    But even though statistically I’m in “excellent health”, I know I’m not. I could do much much more to achieve true excellent health.

    That’s why I try to follow doctors Fuhrman an McDougall. These men know the way to superior health.

  24. This really rings true with us. We travelled a fair amount before kids (and yes, spent a lot of money – that we did have) and hope to do so with our kids in the future when they’re a little older. As far as food, We do spend the extra money for fresh fruit/veggies and often do organic. When people complain about the price, I remind them “heart disease and diabetes are expensive too”. It’s kind of a pay now or pay later situation and I’d rather have the fringe benefit of a healthy/happy life over some extra money in retirement that I can’t enjoy due to health issues.

    People often don’t look back and contemplate decisions they’ve made on their health and diet UNTIL they are already infirmed. Take the time now to contemplate it, and perhaps you’ll never have to live with regret later.

    Personally, on a whim, I started using a free App called “Loseit” and started tracking my calories and sticking to a diet/exercise regimen that resulted in a 12 pound weight loss in about 8 weeks. It wasn’t extreme, it just forced me to have some discipline that I hadn’t exercised before.

    Great article, thanks for reminding us what’s important.

  25. I totally agree, JD! I’ve hiked through jungles in Vietnam and Peru, climbed Machu Picchu and visited many other places before the age of 40 (on my own dime and initiative). That said, being fit lets you see places in ways different than most people. For example, hiking to Machu Picchu is a lot more interesting than taking the train and then the bus. You’ll see things by being able to walk long distances or hike or kayak that no one else will. It’s like Dave Ramsey’s motto, but for fitness. Live (healthy) like no else now, so you can live like no one else later.

  26. Good post. One book that’s helped turn things around for me in the fitness area is called Younger Next Year. It’s basic tennets:
    * Exercise hard 6 days a week for at least 45 minutes, including strength training and varying levels of cardio.
    * Stop eating crap
    * Find something you are passionate about that fosters connection with others

    It’s a great book, targeted at the 50+ crowd, but at 40 I got alot out of it.

  27. For myself, I’m in that unfortunate hole where I live in a state where there is inexpensive and easy to access health insurance, but even being unemployed and getting SSI, I’m above the income threshold. Too young for Medicare, I just have to tough it out until I can get that. So, to your point, I decided to spend the money I would have spent on health insurance on better food and exercise. Yes, to those with arthritis which I have a ton of and was practically addicted to ibuprofen, losing weight, even just 10 pounds, takes an enormous amount of pressure off sore joints. I just recently read that 1 pound of weight loss equals 4 pounds of pressure eliminated. So much of health is common sense and listening to your body. Eat less, move more, and stay interested in life. And remember your life is NOW. Not when you get a better job, lose weight or get married or when the kids are gone. It’s now. You’ll be fine.

  28. I couldn’t agree more – you have to spend now to improve your health later. My Dad and stepmom are a great example – she’s 78 and keeps up with 30-somethings in her aerobics class. My Dad’s health is declining. At 81 he has Parkinson’s and arthritis, but I am convinced that he’d be in much worse shape if he hadn’t been active his whole life.

    But I particularly liked what you said about making travel a priority when you’re younger and it’s easier to do. That is one thing that you just shouldn’t put off.

  29. I put off travel in my 20s thinking I needed to “pay my dues” before spending time and money on something so frivolous (though I really wanted to). We didn’t travel much growing up and never outside CA so I didn’t have that example. I always saw it as something you do if you’re very financially comfortable and that generally doesn’t happen for years – if at all.

    Now that I’m in my early 30s with a chronic illness and on disability (that shaved off my income), I wish I had. Though I’m working on myself physically with fitness, weight training and diet, I no longer have the financial means available.

    I agree with your message: if you can do it, don’t put it off.

  30. I had to smile — my dear husband also walked me into the ground on several vacations before I realized I had to set some limits. It’s a vacation, I reminded him, and so now we do stop for lunch and stroll more often than we power walk!
    If possible, I think short focussed (one city) vacations are better than longer ones. Even vacations can be a cause of stress, and so it’s worth seeking balance there, too.

  31. I always said that if you have your health, you are considered rich. You can work more and do more. As a diabetic (type 1) for the last 32 years, my health is more important than anything. Without it, I can’t take care of the family, work and wear as many hats as I do. I work out 5-8x/week and am told I look like a 25 year old (I’m in my 40’s). There are no coincidences in life. Only calculated risks. 🙂

  32. Having had 2 separate episodes over the past 3 years where I was very sick for weeks on end (one was food poisoning they couldn’t diagnose right or get rid of, the other an infection they couldn’t get rid of – hmm, I see a pattern) I definitely realized a little what it is like to deal with an ongoing health problem that really limits your life. It was terrible! Staying healthy and doing everything you can take care of yourself is so important. Being sick is no fun and many times a person can make choices to change their circumstances (like you losing weight), but yet they don’t. I don’t want to be miserable like that ever again so staying healthy is worth it to me.

  33. I read you blog and love the ideas that you share within it! I am a doctor that specializes in Health and Wellness, not sick-care. I can not stress how important preventative maintenance is for overall health. Not only food choices and exercise but having healthy habits like ergonomics, chiropractic, and simple stuff like brushing your teeth and washing your hands.

  34. Thank you so much for this post – it was something I needed to read. I am in the first steps of what will be a lengthy weight loss process, and am trying to get my financial life in order at the same time. You’ve reminded me that health is a top priority.

    Great blog!

  35. Welcome Back!

    I’ve missed hearing a personal voice in posts here. There were some that were able to pull it off, but too many wanted to lay out a 12 step plan to better finances. I can go to MSN money and get that generic information. I’m glad you had a great time and look forward to hearing more about what you learned about yourself and the world around us.

  36. Look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, J.D. The body comes first!

    I started taking care of my finances only after I developed a plan to get back into shape. I save money wherever I can, but I never skimp on quality groceries (they don’t have to be expensive).

    I agree 98% with Dink on not skimping on groceries. The only place where I differ is that the food regime that’s had the best results for me is the Paleo Diet, which includes lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meat (grass fed beef, fish, game, etc)– but no grains, legumes dairy, sugar, salt, extra fats (but for workouts some extra carbos can be supplied by yams and other roots, bananas, etc.

    However, Paleo can get pricey (wild salmon fillets for breakfast are delicious though), and I can’t disconnect the utilities to pay for food, so I’ve had to adjust and add whole grains and beans– I don’t feel as good as on the Paleo, but it’s a compromise until business picks up.

    Like Dink, I cook *everything* we eat, we never eat out of cans, boxes, pouches, envelopes, or jars (ok, kombu comes in a plastic pouch, but it goes into the bulk beans that boil for 4 hours). We shop at the local CoOp and use the bulk section a lot– from grains to spices to nuts to dried fruit– it’s about 1/2 the price (or less) of boxed items or less. Also, my local Costco has been carrying 14lb bags of Lundberg Organic Short Brown Rice and Bob’s Red Mill Organic Quinoa– both great great if you work out and need to keep you carb intake; Quinoa has amazing proteins too. Costco also carries their own brand of first-pressed organic olive oil. Instead of ice cream, we buy wild frozen blueberries at Trader Joe’s. Delicious!

    Still, I’d like to get back on Paleo as business picks up. I’m considering getting a large freezer and buying a whole grass-fed steer and/or gong hunting this fall. I have to look at the numbers, but wild meat is amazingly good for you– low in saturated fat, high in omega-3, nutrient-dense, and full of branched-chain aminoacids that promote muscle growth. (It’s also rich in lysine, which tends to be defficient on vegetarian diets).

    Those interested in losing weight should look into doing cardio and weights, but cardio is how you really lose weight, particularly if you do it first thing in the morning before you eat. Walking, yoga, etc., are great to keep your blood circulating and you body flexible but they don’t burn enough calories. Eating right when you exercise is extremely important to avoid fatigue, overtraining, disease, and loss of muscle. If you plan to work out hard, a great ebook for this is “Feed the Muscle, Burn the Fat” by Tom Venuto. Excellent source. I adopted a number of his strategies and have been losing 1-2 lbs per week for some months now.

    I’m 6′ and at my peak weight I was over 270lbs! These days I’m 215 and plan to *attempt* reaching 180 or so, but I have a large frame (big muscles), so the really important number is body fat percentage. I haven’t taken a scientific body fat test yet (there’s one available at my local university), but I measure my progress with calipers and a measuring tape, and I care more about losing inches in chest, hips and belly than about the scale– still, I’ve dropped something like 8 inches in my chest, belly and hips, respectively, my skinfold in my left lower belly quadrant has gone from 30 to 12mm, and I keep losing weight steadily. All of this is trackable for free on livestrong. com. I think getting to some 10% body fat regardless of weight should be great. Most importantly, my cholesterol and all numbers (liver & kidney function, glucose, etc) are perfect!

    Whatever you do, say no to processed “food products”! Those aren’t money savers, they are the diggers of an early grave!

  37. To comment on Dink’s comment. The word frugality literally means “not wasteful”. That doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with being cheap, as he (she?) pointed out.

    This post is a great reminder to my 52 year old self. I’ve lost all but the last 15 pounds and have stopped at “good enough”. I too act like I have all the time in the world to travel, so I put it off “until I have the money”.

    I have, however, stopped buying all processed foods and non-organic produce. Time to get the rest of it nipped in the bud. Thanks for the inspiration.

  38. I certainly agree with your points. However, I wish that everyone would stop inferring (or outright concluding) that eating healthy is more expensive. It’s not. Or, at least, it doesn’t need to be. The basics of eating healthy – grains and vegetarian proteins – are among the cheapest things on the planet, especially when bought in bulk: lentils, beans, brown rice, quinoa, and other grains and legumes. Fruits and vegetables are also very affordable if you buy what’s in season and on sale. For example, a pound of broccoli (and lots of other veggies) costs less than some 99 cent thing on a fast food menu and can be cooked in the same time that it takes to order fast food. A 10 pound bag of potatoes can cost less than a single order of fries or a processed box of potato-like-product from the supermarket. Generic plain yogurt, peanut butter, and all sorts of other healthy basics are also among the cheapest things at the grocery store. There are several blogs showing two people eating healthy and organic for around $50 per week total.

  39. Great post, and nice to hear J.D.s voice again. I am glad to hear that you are happy with your decision not to put off this vacation. Don’t worry about getting sick – that has happened to me while travelling more times than I can count. Being sick in a foreign town increases the chances of you holing up in your apartment and takign care of yourself.

    I recently began eating “Paleo” style as well – no grains or sugar of any kind. I ahve effortlessly lost 11 pounds, even though I was not oficially overweight. My husband (who had lots to lose) has lost 26 pounds in about two months. I think that just getting rid of processed foods would pretty much do the same thing.

    I emphasize less exercise – I walk to work every day and then play in the park with my toddler for two hours. I think this is more natural, and causes less injuries, but still keeps you in great shape.

    I have a feeling that many marathoners are going be in rough shape joint-wise when they are much older.

  40. #40 What works for one person may not work for another. For me, even having an optimum diet and daily exercise wasn’t enough to keep the fat down. I NEED to do heavy, hard core workouts just to maintain. I envy those who only need to just walk. I was a fat walker at one time (10 k/day).

  41. “Days of Future Past,” JD? It’s good to see that despite getting rid of Stuff, your comic fandom will never leave you 🙂

  42. Also, one of the best ways to ensure that you can travel more and travel sooner is to learn to do it as cheaply as possible. I’ve been to over 40 countries and have never done a tour or cruise – in part because I would hate them (compared to traveling on my own or with a friend) and in part because they automatically make the trip much more expensive. You’ll be FINE traveling the world without a tour. I’ve gone solo for weeks or months at a time to “dangerous” places like India, Morocco, Vietnam, Thailand, and many others. And I’ve always been fine. And if I wanted travel companions, they are easy to meet along the way. I strongly suggestion that people get a Lonely Planet book for their desired destination and use it to plot out very affordable trips using hostels or 1-2 star hotels, local transportation, cheap and local food, etc. It’s how I continue to travel even though I can afford to spend more — the most fun, the closest to the local people and culture, and the best way to be able to afford to travel for a month or two in what others spend on a week. Also, frugal travel does not mean that you’re condemning yourself to living like a 20-year old backpacker. For example, during college I was a backpacker in Paris and Florence and I stayed in youth hostels. I went back in my 20s and again in my 30s and I stayed in 1 or 2 star local hotels or pensions. They were generally great and cost little more than a youth hostel – sometimes the same if I had a friend to share with.

  43. Being 20 something I hear this sort of advise all the time. It makes sense, but having something be logical is leaps and bounds away from me actually acting on it, especially when Monday Night Football is on…(oh and Jersey Shore…oh and I just got that new movie in from Netflix…and oh…my day wouldn’t feel complete unless I visited this blog, that blog…blog…that’s a strange word…arrr…i almost forgot about rent….)

    How does one take advise like this and use it…how do I make these entries more than just words….if I could answer that I guess I wouldn’t visit this site every day hu?

  44. Great post.

    Love the wisdom from the oldsters saying they wished they travelled more when they were younger and more mobile. Vacation expense was 8% of my take home spending last year and food was 14%. Other than my housing and non-retirement savings, they were my two biggest expenses!

  45. @Carla #41– exactly!

    That’s why I recommend Venuto’s book– he tailors solutions for endomorphs/mesomorphs/ectomorphs (people who put on weight, people who are naturally athletic even while eating cheeseburgers, people who tend to waste away unless they eat constantly).

    As an endo-mesomorph, I have a good muscle structure and I make quick progress working out but I tend towards inertia and carbs lard me up if I’m not exercising. Other people have different needs.

    As for exercise, I prefer the gym because I can choose the machines that suit me best: I hate ellipticals. but I love the rower (I used to row competitively as a teenager) and the bike (I spent my childhood on a bycicle), my heartbeat/effort gets monitored, etc, and both exercises are low-impact. (The rower can be hurt your back if you don’t know what you’re doing though).

    I’m still a bit too heavy for the treadmill, but my goal is to be light enough to take up running again– this time *shoeless*, which is easier on the knees and back than running with a traditional running shoe. (The step is different and the studies are out there, google at will).

    Oh, for those who feel they are too old to exercise, I recommend this wonderful website:

    http://ettaclarkphotography.com/

    “Growing Old Is Not For Sissies” has some great photos! My wife and I own a couple of her fridge magnets– since we want to grow old together, it’s a nice motivator.

  46. I have made five trips so far this year and have three more planned. Next spring I am taking three weeks in the United Kingdom, thanks to cheap airfare and hostels. I’m 52 and want to travel while I can still walk *myself* into the ground. 🙂
    And I agree that “frugal” doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap and/or crappy,” as regards food or anything else. We’re not all subsisting on double-coupon Frosted Flakes out here. The reason I’m able to travel is because I’m frugal in other aspects of my life — I’m traveling, but I’m also contributing to a Roth IRA, saving regularly and helping out some relatives in need. Couldn’t do all those things if I weren’t watching the pennies.

  47. I couldn’t agree more. Your health, faith, and love will carry you leaps and bounds further than any dollar will. 🙂

  48. You are completely right on the “it doesn’t have to be this way” about fitness. My husband and I are in our mid-to-late 20s and like to think we are in pretty good shape, we trained for and completed a half ironman triathlon last month.

    This last Saturday we ran a half marathon. I finished 3 minutes ahead of my husband. The next finisher after him (another minute or so I think) was a 71 year old man. It’s all about making a fitness a priority.

  49. I sometimes wish I had “bonus bucks” or “GRS bucks” (or something) to hand out to readers. If I did, Brian C (#42) would certainly have earned some today for catching my geeky comics reference. (One that fits perfectly for that section, in my opinion.)

    For the record, X-Men #141 (from which I’m drawing “Days of Future Past”) was the first issue of that title I ever bought on the newstand. I bought it at the Lake Oswego 7-11 after a soccer game when I was maybe eleven years old. It rocked my world. To this day, that’s one of my favorite comics ever.

  50. Oh, and by the way: I did my workout at 6:30 this morning. I wasn’t able to do double-unders, so I did the following modified exercises:

    5 rounds for time
    90 single rope jumps
    10 hand-stand push-ups (mine were foot-anchored)

    Finished in 9:24 and felt awesome.

    I need to be careful about pushing too hard this week, though. I’ve been off Crossfit for an entire month, and my body is soft!

  51. Having seen elderly Japanese climbing Mt. Fuji in their old-style European-looking hiking gear while I was traveling in Japan highlighted to me just how important good health is. They were doing arduous climb because of a lifetime of looking after themselves. While we have no guarantees as to how long we will be healthy, we can certainly make investments in our health that have the potential for payback in the form of additional years of life with a good quality of life. Sounds like it is worth the investment to me…

  52. following on J.D.’s point … my DH is a licensed physical therapist assistant and certified personal trainer. He started out in the rehab department of a major university hospital.

    Since going freelance he has specialized in geriatrics, and his advice to anyone younger is JUST GET MOVING. The people who are active tend to keep their abilities. The people who sit down and rest lose their abilities, and lose them fast.

    If you love Monday Night Football or Jersey Shore, go ahead and watch – but run in place, drop and give ’em twenty, jump rope, walk on a treadmill. Or better yet, set your DVR for your favorite show, go to the gym, and watch the show when you come back – minus the commercials.

  53. excellent advice, I think if given the chance everyone would like to travel more, so, like you said, why not make it a priority. Even make money off a vacation by funding it through a private banking system and paying yourself back plus interest!

  54. I’m a nurse. When I was a new nurse at the age of 20 (that is 20 yrs ago now!) I’ll never forget a patient I cared for and what she said to me. Her and her husband had spent their entire life dreaming of travel. They would travel when they retired. Well, only a month after they retired both of them developed serious health problems. The wife was likely going to soon die. She told me something like this: “young lady, if you have dreams don’t put them off. Do what it takes to live your dreams now.”

    I had always dreamed of travel. I am now 40 and have been in over 20 countries. And still trying to get to more! On a recent trip to Egypt, we too saw many elderly travelers who could barely keep up. One couple in particular complained very vocally that they were not told how much walking (and general fast-pace) the tour required….

  55. Wow! Great post, and what so many people need to hear. Eating clean, whole foods, being more physically active, and improving your health should be top priority. After moving a few months ago, I stopped going to the gym 5 nights a week, ate way too much take-out, and the just stress of life add to my current weight and health conditions. Thanks for the kick in the butt (aka gentle reminder) about WHY health is so important. My goal for 2011 is to get back the health I had a year ago, and start traveling while I can still enjoy the physical aspects of it.

  56. You need some good prescription anti-inflammatories for your knee. I play tennis 5-6 times a week. I know the power of anti-inflammatories. Don’t abuse them – take them with some type of food to help your stomach, but take them as your doctor recommends and they will do wonders. I’m always amazed at the number of people on the tennis courts who suffer from pain – if it’s just tendinitis/arthritis you can take care of that (if its an actual injury that a different matter, but the a-i’s will still help some). They say, “Well I’m taking Tylenol.” Tylenol doesn’t help with pain from inflamation. Advil does, but it really isn’t strong enough and is pretty tough on your stomach if taken all the time. I prefer the prescription stuff (indomethicin – which is cheap). I take it for a few days (with food) and forget it!

    As for the walking and fatigue some of that is just normal. Unless you walk all day at work you are gonna have fatigue. But I always wear good shoes – generally my Mizuno working shoes. I don’t care if I look like a lazy American…I’m a comfortable lazy American and I can see more sites if I’m comfortable and get the support I need. 🙂

  57. @JD: Nice that you keep up, if you’re serious about your health you’re going to need more than 10 minutes of working out. 10 minutes makes you feel ok but doesn’t help w/ weight loss.

    This morning I put in 30 minutes @ the rowing machine + 25 minutes on the stationary bicycle for a total of… (let me look, I wrote this) 621 calories. I’m wearing pants right now I haven’t worn in 5 years (see, I never lost hope).

    I got serious about cardio for weight loss thanks to Tom Venuto. I swear by that guy’s ebook. He tells it like it is & reminds you there’s no magic “6 minute workout” that’s going to get you in shape. You need at least 30 minutes of cardio 3 times a week for maintenance… you need more for weight loss.

    Anyway, sound like I’m shilling for the guy but no, seriously, check out that book if you get a chance. It changed my life.

    Oh, and you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to make his system work– just apply some of his principles. I don’t do things exactly like he says but it’s close enough that still works.

  58. Great post JD!

    My parents are a fantastic example of how health is so important.

    Mum has had breast cancer twice and has high blood pressure, but religiously walks for at least 5 miles a day, plays tennis twice a week and does bushwalking one day a week. Her health is excellent, she loves to travel and can go all day, walking everywhere.

    My father has not taken care of himself, has type 2 diabetes, hardening of the prostate, has had shingles, has had 6 back operations, actually I don’t think we have enough time to go through all the issues he has, oh and he never walks anywhere and doesn’t like to leave the house unless he is going somewhere on holiday…He loves to travel as well, but because of his health issues he can’t just go day after day and has to rest alot.

    Mum and Dad love to cruise, I think because Mum likes to be active and Dad can be lazy, although they left on a cruise this morning and Dad said that he would be exercising more this time…

    As for myself, I am 38, hiked to (almost) Mount Everest last year (Altitude sickness is a killer). I trained the whole year doing cardio, boxing, 5-7 hour hikes, boot camp and gym training. I lost 4 kilos the whole year!!

    This year I am doing personal training, gym work, aquarobics class and swimming. I love to move my body.

    I love to travel as well and have been to North America, South Pacific, most of the way around Australia, New Zealand, India, Nepal, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and most of Western Europe!

  59. JD! I’ve been reading your articles for a few years now. Never had a reason to really reply until now that you wrote about X-Men 141, days of future past, wow. You are right brother, this issue/arc IS one of the all time greats in terms of story, plot, excitement, etc. Mutants and superheroes are almost all killed, everyone is in hiding, people travel back in time, etc. etc. etc.

    Now regarding your article, I’ve been trying to convince my wife all along that you health is one of the most important asset you have and it’s been hard to convince her to get out and exercise! but i will continue to try, encourage, and find things she will like to do.

  60. JD – I am interested to know why you think Ibuprofen must be avoided in order to be healthy. Certainly you shouldn’t use it to mask pain and avoid an injury, but as long as you don’t take Ibu in doses large enough to cause renal failure, there are almost no detrimental effects. In fact some studies have shown health benefits (lower rates of colon cancer and alzheimer’s dz).

  61. I made that great decision about my health this last year, in a different way than you. I was already very active, but began to have back problems. I learned the best solution was a surgery that insurance would NOT pay for. I had the surgery and can’t wait to be fully recovered and have my life back.
    I also very much agree with the gym membership. Mine is $100 a month and worth every penny. Although not currently a member (since surgery) I will be back.
    We lived in Europe in our early 20’s, but hope to see more of the world someday. I would love to travel now, but with kids and college coming it might be awhile. Better stay in shape for when that day comes.

  62. My dad is 90 and is in really great shape. He finally stopped working (on a farm) a couple of years ago – and has eaten pretty much paleo and organic his whole life. Sadly for him, he was always too cheap to appreciate travel. 😉

    In contrast, I made myself sick last year (at 44) with overwork at a desk job and virtually lost 6 months out of my life due to ill health afterwards. One of the things we tend to forget is that people like farmers (or sports stars) take time off every winter, they don’t just push themselves all year long like desk-jockeys.

    Nowadays, although I could work 10 or 15 hours a day if I wanted and make lots more money, I’m pacing it out at less than 7 hours a day. It seems to be the sweet spot to still have a life outside of work. I’d also like to recommend the book “The Power of Full Engagement” to anyone who still feels the urge to overwork just to make more money.

  63. Thanks for this article. I completely agree, I would emphasize your point that chronic poor health is expensive. If one is healthy that = less money for doctor bill and drugs, so any extra expense for healthy food more than pays for itself.

    It also equals fewer sick days at work, several of my rather unhealthy obese friends are frequently sick and have used up their sick leave and have to use their annual leave to cover sick days or they won’t get paid.

    I used to be in the obese range and had high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. I changed my diet = no more junk food and started exercising (I jog 6 days a week) and lost 40 lbs in time for my 50th birthday. I’m 51 now and have kept the weight off and I feel great. That good feeling after a workout lasts most of the day and really reduces that stressed out feeling so I’m more productive at work.

    If I had not done this the doctor was ready to put me on diabetes drugs and high blood pressure medicine essentially for the rest of my life. But no need now thanks to exercise and a good diet all my numbers are in the normal to excellent range.

  64. I do sprint triathlons. I have some heart issues as a result of chemo, so I’m a tad slow – I finish in the lower middle of my age group (35-39). The top three of every age bracket up to 65 consistently beat me. Sometimes the women 65-69 beat me. And the men 70-74 beat me, too. It’s not all about age.

    Any gym membership is a waste of money if you don’t go. But if you go and use it (and love it!), then it’s not a waste at all.

    When I was in chemo, I went to the mall one day and skipped up the steps to get to the second floor, and when I got to the top I realized that despite having been in chemo for two months, I was still healthier than a lot of the people walking around the mall.

    Bodies just need to be taken care of: lots of movement, good fuel, enough sleep. So simple, and yet so difficult…

  65. I couldn’t agree more with you. My mother in law and father in law are big health role models for my husband and I. FIL cycles 30-50 miles per day at 60 years old and MIL runs marathons (close to 60). Not that you have to do things to be healthy, but it is pretty impressive. I also agree with the no crash diets–healthy, simple food isn’t always expensive either.

  66. I, too, am glad to see this renewed emphasis on health. I love personal finance and I’m just as frugal as the next GRS reader, but I just can’t exchange good, nutritious food for anything. I know it’s expensive, and I know coupons could save me oodles, but I WON’T buy processed foods. Heck, I live as if I expect to reach 100 (and I will!), and that’s where personal finance and good health intersect: I’m investing in both my physical health and my retirement accounts because I’m going to need both to be around for a looong time!

  67. Its amazing how much we take our health for granted. Most of the time people are focused on “going, going, going” and start pumping all sorts of drugs like head and cold flu tablets and energy drinks, to keep them going.

    I think we need to take care of our mind, our spirit but most importantly our body. Its about maintaining a healthy and balanced sense of lifestyle and listening to what your body needs.

    Without our health we can’t even get out of bed, let alone make the most of out of life.

    Thanks for this post =)

  68. It’s good to hear that health is paramount, it can be easy to forget. As someone who is younger (20), most of the time I don’t think about it. This is a good reminder that you can never start too early on your health. Maybe I should start exercising more? 🙂

  69. You’re never to old to couchsurf! My husband and I, at 68 and 59, have coushsurfed with 20 year olds in Turkey, Mexico and France, and hosted couchsurfers in California. Most CSers are younger than we are, but that has never got in the way of having fun. We don’t always stay with people. Sometimes we just meet for coffee.

  70. Being healthy – eating good food and taking the time to exercise – may seem costly right now, but compared to the cost of medical care (or as some people I know like to call it – “sick care”) you will be saving a fortune.

    Just consider the fact that because of a healthy lifestyle, your chances for cancer, heart disease, and many other chronic illnesses are reduced significantly. Compared to the cost for treating those diseases, spending more on food and the gym are a bargain.

  71. @Rob Ward: And there are some things worth more than money. Despite being healthy, I was diagnosed with lymphoma at 31. In 6 months of chemo, I was only sick twice. My oncologist marveled at how “well” I did through treatment and attributed it to my good health before and during treatment. Considering the state of most of the people who I met in the infusion room, any and all time and money spent up to that point on my health and fitness was worth it!

  72. Hey JD,

    I have to say, I think getting finances in order allows/makes us focus on other areas of our lives that need work too, but that we’ve put off for too long.

    I’m a fellow “third stager” and have been thinking about these issues as well. I don’t even want to lose much weight just want to firm/tone up. I used to hit the gym a few times a week early in the morning and felt so good the rest of the day. I need to get back in the habit rather than relying on a caffeine fix in the AM to get me going.

    Welcome back, this is certainly a terrific first post after a long trip.

  73. Most definitely! Health is definitely wealth not just physical but mental. It’s only when things go wrong that we remember that we can’t enjoy the finer things in life unless we are well enough to do so. Getting healthier is definitely an ingredient that we forget to our plans to get rich slowly. No point getting rich slowly if you’re getting sick quickly. 🙂

  74. My mother ALWAYS used to say, “Without your good health you have nothing” and so I grew up hearing it and believing it. Could be one of the reasons why I never took/take drugs, become belligerent to some extent when my doctor tries to patch me up with drugs instead of telling me to lose weight and exercise and why I am so dead set to never if at all possible become dependent upon prescription medication. I watched my grandparents go from being active travellers to fat, chairbound, depressed guinea pigs because their doctor prescribed medications that made them sick. I feel very strongly about avoiding meds at all costs.

  75. I made a goal at thirty to be financially independent by 55 – and achieved it.

    I made a goal in my early 40s to live to be 100 (had my first kid at 40 which motivated the goal) and am working on it.

    The discipline – financial or physical – is pretty much the same. Work on good habits (exercising daily, eating right and in moderation, etc.) and make them part of my *daily* routine.

    I spent 20 years in the military so travel has always been part of my life (take the subway in Paris, don’t walk!) but finding ways to travel now – especially with our kids – is valuable to all of us.

    BTW, I couldn’t afford to buy the comics. I would sit for hours at the store as a kid and just read everything from the rack. I really appreciate all those merchants who just looked the other way.

  76. I like the idea of putting fitness in personal finance terms. To me, it’s similar to saving for retirement:

    Just like the act of putting a few dollars away every month/week/day will appreciate in 30 years, I can bank some time on exercise now and get a similar appreciation later when I retire (only in years instead of money).

  77. Something people often forget is that travel can be not only easier, but CHEAPER when you’re younger!

    A hostel with 45 other kids = party when you’re 18, major nuisance when you’re 35.