SFA author Jim Evans is a 42-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and an internationally recognized senior fitness consultant. Today he explores the relationship between healthy lifestyle choices and retirement security.
DEAR JIM: My wife and I just returned from a meeting with our financial advisor, and we were surprised when he suggested that we both should lose weight, exercise more and take better care of ourselves. At first we were offended and thought perhaps he was overstepping his bounds, but after he explained himself it began to make sense. We hadn’t thought of it before, but our health affects the cost of our life insurance, health insurance and even our long-term care insurance — all of which are major factors in our retirement planning. Are other financial advisors offering the same kind of advice or is ours just ahead of the curve? ENLIGHTENED IN ESCONDIDO
DEAR ENLIGHTENED: Your advisor is definitely ahead of the curve — not necessarily because he is smarter than the rest but because he had the courage to bring up the subject of your lifestyle in the first place. I’m sure you can understand why some advisors might be reluctant to talk about such a personal issue for fear of losing a client. After all, it can be a sensitive subject to many clients who are expecting only to discuss the usual "black and white" facts and figures of retirement planning and are suddenly thrust into reconciling their lifestyle with their long-term retirement goals.
But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Fortunately, it is happening with more frequency. "In my experience, it happens more often than not anymore," says San Diego’s Michael Howland, a certified public accountant in private practice since 1991.
"I usually start out discussing, in general, how long my clients plan on living and how they plan on getting there," says Howland. "I don’t start out discussing lifestyle changes, but we talk about such things as:
How long do they expect to live?
How do they foresee their lifestyle after retirement?
How long do they expect to work?
How have they planned for their later years?
How do they expect to support their future lifestyle?
How much do they project their future lifestyle might cost?
"But then I start getting more specific," he continues:
Do they intend to live fast, die young, or plan life as a marathon?
Do we calculate in assisted living, long-term care, and/or children support?
Do their lifestyle, work, savings, and retirement objectives meet realistic expectations?
"I’ve never thought of it as personal," explains Howland. "It has always been simply a question of how long they expect their machine — in this case, their body — to keep working. If they find that uncomfortable, sometimes I back off, sometimes I don’t. With couples, I usually find one partner grateful for the discussion and one apprehensive. I have never had anyone become angry or indignant, but I probably wouldn’t push that hard unless I know them well."
"Basically it’s a risk/reward decision," says Howland. "If they have an unhealthy lifestyle and expect to live a long life and haven’t planned on long-term care, we need to talk."
In short, your health should be an integral part of your financial planning for retirement, and to ignore it is foolish and unrealistic. While unexpected illnesses and tragedies can happen to anyone — even those with a healthy lifestyle — many of the causes of disability and mortality in this country are preventable (e.g., heart disease, smoking, etc.). Your weight, your cholesterol, your blood pressure, your body mass index (BMI), your resting heart rate — all of these things and more should be factors in your planning. Your financial advisor is "right on the money" on this one — literally.