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Johnson: Is a Healthy Lifestyle Part of Your Retirement Plan?

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A cynic would suggest that many of those quixotic New Year’s resolutions will ultimately go the way of bipartisan compromise in Washington – a great idea that never comes to pass. Smart investors should think otherwise. By all accounts, a renewed commitment to one’s health is a sound financial decision.

Healthcare costs are a key ingredient of everyone’s financial plan, as a healthy couple at age 65 in 2018 will need $511,000for health care. Should either spouse develop a long-term illness, years of savings will evaporate into decades of struggle. The Consumer Price Index may be 3.4%, but the cost for healthcare is rising at a much faster pace.

To illustrate the tremendous strain health care has on families, 20 percentof bankruptcies last year were the result of medical bills. And while it’s reasonable to assume that insurance would prevent such demise, 75 percentof people pushed into bankruptcy because of medical costs already had insurance when they became ill.

Moreover, the government is projected to run enormous budget deficits, as retired baby boomers and the most vulnerable amongst us will incur burdensome medical expenses in the not too distant future. Unfortunately, two-thirds of peopleover 65 will need long-term care during their lifetime and Medicare contributes virtually nothing for services provided.

Weight is a function of calories consumed versus calories burned by the body and the excess is stored as fat. A regular exercise routine not only controls weight that may lead to costly medical procedures during retirement, but can also make workers more productive. Rumor has it that increased blood flow goes a long way to improve alertness and energy levels at work.

As one takes stock of the current circumstance, it’s easy to conclude that a healthy lifestyle is akin to saving money for retirement. According to the CDC, the consequences of being overweight include coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stroke, liver disease and osteoarthritis. When you consider that consumer out-of-pocket health care expenses will reach an average of $3,301 a yearfor each household by 2014, staying fit might offer handsome returns.

Of course, exercise is only part of the answer. Smoking accounts for 20 percentof all deaths each year in the United States, dramatically increasing the odds of heart disease, lung cancer and reparatory illnesses that dig deep holes in shallow nest eggs. Also, your bank account reflects what you eat. Few of us have the discipline to completely eliminate juicy cheeseburgers, rich pasta and fried food, but good eating habits should pay robust dividends during retirement.

It’s important to note that 80,000 new chemicals have been introduced since the turn of the 20th century, creating a heavy burden on the body. Author J.J. Smith explains in “Lose Weight Without Dieting or Working Out” that five of the most toxic chemicals were found in 100 percent of tissue samples in an EPA study. Fortunately, a body that is properly nourished and detoxified will operate at peak performance.

In light of the endless debate about the distribution of wealth, lifestyle choices raise the question of moral responsibility.

Said another way, why should those with healthy habits pay for the future medical costs of other citizens who lack restraint? Some of us will fall victim to bad luck or genetic dispositions, but there are demographics that are simply indifferent to proper diet and exercise, and as a result, represent a hidden tax on their community.

New Year’s resolutions come and go, but calories are amazingly resilient. Benjamin Franklin said it best when he opined that “a penny saved is a penny earned”. In that same vein, every lap around the track, each sit up and all of those salads are just one more way to save for retirement.

Ivory Johnson, CFP, ChFC, is the director of financial planning at Scarborough Capital Management, Inc. and has over 20 years of investment experience. Mr. Johnson attended Penn State University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in finance. He can be followed on www.IvoryJohnson.com.