NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 17, 2008

Most people save for retirement by focusing on their wealth.  But you may accomplish more by focusing on your health, because the out-of-pocket costs for diseases that may be avoidable through diet and exercise can be staggering.  Getting and staying fit now may be worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars later -- a sum that just might exceed the carefully crafted stockpile in your 401(k), says Time Magazine.

Cursory estimates show how quickly a few health measures pay off, adds Time:

Lose weight:

  • Obesity is linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and obese people spend a third more than fit people on health services and three-quarters more on medications.
  • The average annual out-of-pocket cost for diabetics is $454, but these costs skyrocket to $12,000 or more for the one in two diabetics who do not carefully tend to their illness.
  • Bottom line: shed some pounds, avoid these diseases and invest the related windfall from, say, age 40 to 65 - and you could pad your nest egg by up to $700,000.

Stop smoking:

  • Not buying cigarettes along can add up to more than $100,000 if you stop at age 40 and invest the difference conservatively until age 65.
  • If you avoid emphysema and cancer, your savings multiply.
  • The potential savings from medical treatments could add tens of thousands of dollars more to your nest egg.

Get moving:

  • Exercise and diet are keys to avoiding high blood pressure and heart disease, which together have annual costs to the individual of $606.
  • Investing that sum for 25 years may provide more than $35,000.

However, such savings are not guaranteed, since living healthily usually means living longer, which layers on costs.  Still, the most important steps to retirement security may have more to do with what you give up than what you put away, says Time.

Source: Dan Kadlec, "Another Benefit of Health: Wealth," Time Magazine, September 22, 2008.

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