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Fit to Retire

James Kerr

I WAS RECENTLY talking with a younger acquaintance about my decision to leave the workforce early. I’d left a demanding career to pursue my personal passions, while I was still young and healthy enough to do so.

My acquaintance is in his early 30s. He’s single and makes a boatload of money working in IT for a pharma company. He’s also a big proponent of the FIRE (financial independence-retire early) movement. He takes part in Reddit boards and reads every investment article he can get his hands on. His goal, he told me, is to sock away every dollar he can so that he, too, can retire early one day. Hopefully even earlier than I did, he said with a grin.

Before I knew it, my young friend was telling me about his portfolio. Between his 401(k)s and taxable accounts, he’s already accumulated a portfolio that’s well into six figures. It’s spread across low-cost mutual funds and ETFs, with a sprinkling of individual stocks. Still, he said, he was always looking for investment advice. Were there any tips I could share with him for a successful early retirement?

While I have an MBA and worked in investor relations for a number of years, I make no claim to be an investment expert. I was fortunate early in my life to have read the advice of people like Warren Buffett and John Bogle. I learned from them about the power of dollar-cost averaging and investing in low-cost mutual funds that track the market. By riding those two dull horses through the ups and downs of turbulent markets, I’ve been able to achieve a modest measure of financial security for myself and my family.

But it was clear that my young friend already had these investment fundamentals well in hand. To be honest, my concern was not about his finances, but his health. Despite being young, he was at least 30 pounds overweight. He carried an unhealthy spare tire around his middle. If he didn’t get his weight under control, he may not reach that early retirement he’s working so hard for.

With all the discretion I could muster, I gave him my tip. If he wasn’t already doing it, I suggested he get started early on a disciplined exercise program that included at least two to three hours of moderate exercise every week. I told him about all the research showing that seniors in their 70s and 80s who’d been working out regularly for 30 or 40 years had the hearts and skeletal muscle health of people 30 years younger.

“The younger you start, the better off you will be,” I said.

My friend’s face screwed up. He clearly wasn’t expecting this. I think he was hoping to get my thoughts on investing in bitcoin or buying option contracts as a way to manage downside risk. But I wouldn’t have been the person to ask about those things, anyway, since I haven’t dabbled in either.

But the value of exercise—that I could talk about. I told him that I’d started my regular workout program in my early 30s, when I was having pain in my knees and lower back. I was 20 pounds overweight at the time, and it didn’t help that I had beaten up my joints playing basketball in high school and college.

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I went to see an orthopedic specialist. He took an MRI and told me he saw evidence of early arthritis and cartilage damage. Based on the shape of my knees, the doctor said, I would likely need a knee replacement in 20 years. Maybe even sooner. And oh, by the way, the doctor said—my blood pressure was a bit higher than he would like it to be.

That was all I needed to hear. I went to a physical therapist, who recommended a program of five workouts per week of 45 minutes each, mixing cardio and light weights. It included exercises to strengthen the muscles around my knees.

More than 30 years later, at age 62, I’m still at this routine. I haven’t had to replace either knee, and hope never to. My body mass index and blood pressure are where they need to be. My doctor says that I have the resting pulse and heart health of someone in his 40s. Just as important, my fitness routine helped immensely in reducing stress and managing a genetic tendency toward anxiety and depression.

I told this to my young friend not to brag, but to point out the logic of approaching investment planning and health planning with the same discipline. There’s no guarantee that starting an exercise program early will lead to a long, happy life, just as there’s no guarantee that our well-diversified investment portfolio will be able to support us all the way through our golden years.

But it’s about odds, isn’t it? Working out regularly increases our odds of living longer, and—more important—having quality golden years. What good is retiring early with a couple of million dollars if we don’t have the health to enjoy it?

My young friend thanked me for my advice and walked away. He recently called me to give me the happy news that he’d joined a gym. I hope he sticks with it. It might be the best investment decision he ever makes.

James Kerr led global communications, public relations and social media for a number of Fortune 500 technology firms before leaving the corporate world to pursue his passion for writing and storytelling. His book, “The Long Walk Home: How I Lost My Job as a Corporate Remora Fish and Rediscovered My Life’s Purpose,” is forthcoming in early 2022 from Blydyn Square Books. Check out his blog at PeaceableMan.com. His previous articles were Challenging Myself and Reclaiming My Life.

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jamesbkerr
jamesbkerr
11 months ago

Hello, all. In the spirit of HumbleDollar, I’ve been humbled to see all the positive feedback on my fitness article. It’s great to know the article hit the mark and was helpful.

Several readers asked me for more specifics on my fitness program, so I published a short new post on my blog with a few details. You’ll find it at https://www.peaceableman.com/post/my-weekly-workout-routine-keep-it-simple.

It’s pretty simple, as you’ll see – but I’m a simple guy. Open to suggestions from professional trainers on things I can do to make my program more impactful. Happy investing (and working out)!

Donny Hrubes
Donny Hrubes
11 months ago

Absolutely! Around the age of 45 or 50, we will notice our bodies are changing. If people are smart, they will take action to minimize these changes. My life motto is from Proverbs 3: 13, 14. Go read it.

There’s a man named Fred Bartlit who adamantly crusades against SARCOPENIA and authored “Choosing the Strong Path” stressing the need to strength train throughout our lives. This is one source of ‘investment’ advice I am strongly akin to. Aging doesn’t have to mean we get sick and loose life slowly. But each person has to make the commitment to keep our life viable. Folks here are all interested in the money aspect and rightly so. “Money is the fuel of life” it’s been termed.
But, if we invested in a gas station and had a certain amount of fuel that was guaranteed to be provided,when the car is running on 2 cylinders, the fuel is not much use.

I would like to encourage folks to get your copy of the book and read it taking action to be in action. Then tell your family and friends about your decision to be strong and encourage them to do the same.
Peace and love for you all.
 
 

DrLefty
DrLefty
1 year ago

This is fantastic, but I also want to add that if you’re not in your 30s, it’s never too late to turn things around. When COVID hit, I was 50 pounds overweight and on blood pressure medication. I knew that put me at higher risk if I got the virus, and I thought, “I can’t control everything, but I can sure as heck improve my odds about THIS.” I started working out and counting calories and have lost 50 lbs since June 2020. I’m 61 now. My blood pressure is so pristine that I”m going to talk to my doc about going off the meds.

I’m more energetic and looking forward to an active, healthy last few years of work and then retirement. Better late than never.

Jeff
Jeff
1 year ago

Great article! I wish I had met you 30 years ago.

DrLefty
DrLefty
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff

Me too!

Mike Burns
Mike Burns
1 year ago

Stretching out the time that you will have physical health in old age is a excellent goal. But you need to seize the day (during your 60’s and 70’s). Be mindful that aging (e.g. dementia, macular degeneration) will catch up with you one day, probably somewhere in the 80’s. So make the most of that front end of retirement time you’re gifted to have.

Luckless Pedestrian
Luckless Pedestrian
1 year ago

You mention that the workout routine you started in your 30s and continue to this day involves “light weights.” The one thing I’d add to the invaluable advice you gave your friend is to emphasize the importance of strength training. E.g., a man in his 30s should be able to easily bench press his own weight.

Rob Jennings
Rob Jennings
1 year ago

Spot on. My wife and I did not keep up with the workouts in last few years of our career but when we retired we prioritized both workouts and a variety of physical exercise-walks, hikes, swimming, and pickleball, among others. I feel like there is a common theme between finances and health-regular participation and investment pays off in the long run.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
1 year ago

Great article and great advice to your friend. Exercise/health discipline and investment discipline really do have a lot in common.

Tinted Life
Tinted Life
1 year ago

Thanks for penning this article. I agree wholeheartedly, whats the since the since in having a ton of monetary wealth without the time or the health to actually reap the rewards? F.I.R.E. or retirement isn’t soley about accumulating large gobs of cash, but rather finding the appropriate balance between time, health, wealth and pleasurable endeavors (whatever that may be).

Hvltg
Hvltg
1 year ago

Thank you for the great advice!

Jeff Bond
Jeff Bond
1 year ago

This was great advice! I hope your friend persists. In retirement, I still spend many hours per week on my bike or in the gym. Yes, I had a knee replacement a while back, but even that helped to increase my activity level and enjoyment in life.

medhat
medhat
1 year ago

That was great advice. Apart from an ideal situation where someone maintains a lifelong focus on fitness, the earlier someone gets back on track the better, and much better it be done proactively than having the issue forced upon them by an otherwise preventable illness or health issue.

Mike
Mike
1 year ago

Such great advice for the young man.
Happy you had the courage to tell him.
He will thank you in the years to come.

Rick Thompson
Rick Thompson
1 year ago

Thanks for this much-overlooked perspective. Following a whole-foods, plant-based diet as much as possible is also very beneficial. Doing so has provided me with sustained weight loss and lowered my high blood pressure back to normal, resulting in my doctor eliminating my high blood pressure medicine!

George Counihan
George Counihan
1 year ago

Without your health a lot of the joys of retirement are very difficult to enjoy … Golf/travel/teaching my grandkids to play baseball/hobbies all require some level of fitness … I rarely miss a day of working out … i consider it the best investment i have made

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
1 year ago

Donating blood is another less known way to improve overall health and support others in need…look it up.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mik Cajon
OUTinMinnesota
OUTinMinnesota
1 year ago

.

A healthy person has a thousand wishes, a sick person only one

Attribution: unsure

Last edited 1 year ago by OUTinMinnesota
James McGlynn CFA RICP®
James McGlynn CFA RICP®
1 year ago

Hopefully your friend can enjoy the habit of working out or exercise. Now at a similar age 62 I am able to play pickleball daily and even play tournaments because of the 40 years of staying in shape.

David Powell
David Powell
1 year ago

That’s very caring advice. A healthy diet habit is also key to playing the long game, enjoying the fruits of his personal finance wisdom for many healthy years.

Joe Kiefer
Joe Kiefer
1 year ago

Another way that health and finance are linked: For someone who aspires to retire very early, this young man needs to consider the cost of his health insurance and of his overall medical care, especially in the (many?) years between retirement and Medicare. I say this as someone who “retired by layoff” last year at 57. Taking care of your health can keep a lid on expected costs — “expected” because, of course, our health is only partly within our control.

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
1 year ago

You provided great advice and I hope it works for him. Taking care of our health and well being is a great investment that we all should do.

Michael1
Michael1
1 year ago

James, thanks for this article, and good on you for choosing to give this fellow advice he needed but might not have taken well.

Kudos also for thinking outside the box of personal finance. While I’m sure many readers will embrace what you said, if we were presented with a similar question about early retirement advice, I’m not sure health and fitness would be top of mind for most. It should be.

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