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Trading Wealth for Health

How much of your life savings would you give up in exchange for an extra decade of healthy life? 10 percent?  20 percent? I was a bit surprised by the answers from a survey of wealthy investors, who stated they would trade a third (some up to half) of their wealth to add healthy years of life. In the chart below, you can see the percentage of assets each group was willing to exchange for ten additional healthy years.


Not surprisingly, there’s always been correlation between wealth and life expectancy, but there’s a concerning trend in the United States, where, in contrast to the rest of the world, life expectancy has declined for two straight years. This is extremely rare in developed countries (and awfully concerning for a nation that spends far more on healthcare than any country in the world). So why are we spending more, yet becoming less healthy? This is debatable and nuanced, but the facts are heart disease and cancer are still the leading causes of death and illness of Americans. So what to do?

Fighting Father Time, Genetics, and Fast Food

Previously, I wrote about how your health can impact your finances and I was asked for some practical steps to make sure one’s health plan and financial plan compliment, not impede, one another. 

Diet is always the starting place (and often the hardest to change). Which diet is best? Vegan, Keto, Paleo? Their devotees have flooded the internet with research and pseudo-research, which can quickly have you drinking their Kool-Aid (minus the sugar, of course). Since I don’t know the best diet, and to not upset the dietary zealots, I’ll stay uncontroversial and give you advice from Michael Pollan and his book on nutrition and the modern food industry, The Omnivore’s Delima:

“Don’t eat anything your great grand-mother wouldn’t recognize as food.” 

Limit the processed foods, look for short ingredient list on the labels, and when all else fails, keep it simple. Extreme diets, although effective in the short-term, are quite unsustainable for the long term—especially in our culture, so find a food lifestyle, not a diet.  

Just Move

So let’s talk Exercise. As I’m writing this, I’m flipping through the early morning infomercials to find a half-dozen hucksters convincing me that I can have their Adonis-body by doing their 10-minute-a-day workout video in my living room. (Spoiler: It takes more than 10 minutes)

For health and longevity, eschew the quick-fix workout videos and get out and move. Dan Buettner expands on this in his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. A fascinating read, Buettner and his National Geographic team studied the pockets of the world where people live the longest (often into their 100s) and healthiest, identifying common themes of lifestyle, diet, and mental outlook that has led to a healthier and happier life. Centenarian Wisdom, they call it.  

Number One on their list of lessons? Move Naturally  

Rather than trying to be a “weekend warrior,” incorporate regular activity throughout your daily life, although doing this in our convenience-driven society requires some effort.  

Robert Kane, MD, Director of Center on Aging at the University of Minnesota, explains how in The Blue Zones:

“Rather than exercising for the sake of exercising, try to make changes to your lifestyle. Ride a bicycle instead of driving. Walk to the store. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Build that into your lifestyle. The chances are that you will sustain that behavior for a much longer time.” 

As my grandma told me last weekend when I suggested we drive the quarter-mile to her barn: “No, I’m walking. If I don’t make these legs work, they’ll stop working.”  Grandma is 91, still lives on the farm, walks everywhere, picks blackberries, and herds cows (not recommended for your health). 

Here's a couple of my lifestyle changes this year: 

1. Riding my bike to get the family donuts on the weekend (ok, that's still a net-negative, but donuts are my weakness)

2. Using a standing desk in the office. (Though I haven't gone so bold to buy the $2,000 "Treadmill Desk" yet.)

Trading Wealth for Health

Remember the people willing to give up half of their savings for healthy years? Don’t be afraid to devote resources along the way. I see great examples of this with our clients. Budget line-items like gym memberships, personal trainers, and golf memberships all provide activity and community, which play a huge role in both physical and mental well-being. For such a wealthy country, Americans spend the most on healthcare but the least on preventative care. The cost of a nice dinner out will cover a month of gym membership. You don’t have to give up half of your net worth, just a little along the way--and what a Return on Investment that will be!

So that’s your challenge: Eat Naturally and Find Ways to be Active. Take a step toward a healthier lifestyle and you (and your financial planner) will thank yourself someday. And next time you see us, let us know how it’s going...And if anyone has a used treadmill desk to sell, let me know.  


Greg Dillard

Greg Dillard

Greg is a co-founder of BridgeQuest Wealth Strategies and a Wealth Advisor. He strives to ensure that clients gain clarity and focus in the financial planning process. Clients appreciate his ability to distill down his in-depth analysis into an understandable game plan.