Aug 11, 2008

Invest in Good Health

We all know people in their seventies and older who are in excellent physical condition. Many still jog, swim, ski, dance, hike, or golf with much the same verve and stamina they displayed twenty years ago. We know other retired people -- unfortunately, far too many -- who are so sedentary they become tired going to the grocery store. We find it odd that although most people currently in midlife say that after retirement they hope to count themselves among the active, energized group, a great many follow a lifestyle that almost guarantees they will be in such poor physical condition they will spend most of their retirement on a couch. Even odder is the fact that may sedentary middle-aged people whose health and stamina are already in obvious decline nevertheless quickly and cheerfully agree that staying physically active is a key factor to enjoying retirement.

One thing is sure: Owning all the right mutual funds, or even a mansion on the California coast won't do you much good if at age seventy you have trouble walking across the room, lifting your tiny grandchild, or having sex.

But if being old and affluent won't make up for neglecting your health in mid-life, maintaining good health will be even more important if you have saved little. Because of a poor education, low pay, bad luck, or expensive family responsibilities, many people -- especially single women -- need every penny they earn during their middle years just to live from day to day. When they retire, people in this group typically have little more than Social Security to live on.

Not surprisingly, good health is particularly important for these low-income retirees. Not only does it reduce out-of-pocket costs for health care and drugs not covered by Medicare, but more importantly, it makes it far easier to work at least part-time for five or ten years, thus producing a much-needed financial cushion.