WHEN I TOLD MY employer I was retiring, I received phone calls from coworkers I hadn’t heard from in years. One of them was Peter. We were hired about the same time.
Peter congratulated me, and said he’d be retiring too—if he’d joined the company’s pension plan. For some reason, like a few of my other coworkers, he never took advantage of the benefit, which required employees to make regular payroll contributions.
Peter did retire about five years later. Shortly afterwards, he bought a house in a retirement community. He was fixing it up and hired painters to give it a fresh coat of paint. When the painters arrived, no one answered the door. They went around to the back of the house to see if someone was at home.
They looked in the window and saw Peter slumped over the kitchen table. He died from a heart attack. He never even had a chance to unpack the moving boxes.
Bernie was another one of my coworkers. He was hired shortly after graduating from high school. We were both big college football fans. We talked about attending football games together when we retired.
After 50 years of service, he retired at age 70. Bernie made a wise financial decision when he was hired. He enrolled in the company’s pension plan. Two weeks after he retired, he died of a heart attack.
Warren was a close friend from college. We both retired about the same time. He was financially secure. Between his income annuities and Social Security, he had a comfortable, predictable income. He also had a seven-figure retirement savings account. His house was paid off. He owned another home in the same area free and clear. He also owned a condo in San Diego County, which he visited frequently.
One evening, while sitting at home, he suddenly experienced excruciating pain. His wife called 911. They told her to give him CPR. But she couldn’t get him out of his chair and onto the floor, where she could administer it. By the time the paramedics arrived, it was too late. He died of a heart attack.
Bob was my neighbor in Long Beach, California, where I used to live. He retired about five years ago. He also has a company pension. He and his wife were enjoying their retirement—until one night, when Bob woke up, sweating profusely. He felt terrible. He got out of bed and found his way to the living room, where he plopped himself in his chair.
The next morning, he had no energy and his voice was weak. His wife took him to the emergency room. He was told he had a heart attack.
The No. 1 threat to your retirement might not have anything to do with what the stock and bond markets do today or tomorrow. It also might not be your poor choice of investments or spending habits. Instead, it could be the No. 1 killer in the U.S.: heart disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one American dies every 34 seconds from cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association’s 2021 report notes that 77.5% of men and 75.4% of women ages 60 to 79 have some type of cardiovascular disease, while 90% of those aged 80 and older have it.
Fortunately, we can reduce the risk of heart disease by having a healthy lifestyle. Here are six steps you can take to live a long and active life:
Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on Twitter @DMFrie.
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AEDs (automated external defibrillators) have become more commonplace in public spaces in recent years and I do wonder if that trend will eventually extend into the home as prices continue to fall. one of the great features is that they have become so user-friendly. basically, a layperson just needs to be able to follow the audio cues from the device in the “heat of the moment” to potentially save someone from a deadly heart rhythm disturbance.
Yes thanks Dennis,
I have an appointment with these folks in a week….
They can give you advanced warnings with ultrasound scans. Just saying….
Good for you! But you need echocardiogram as well.
Well, that was heartwarming. Seriously, I just had 3 college classmates die of heart attacks last year, all about 60 years of age. One was a jogger and very fit, the other two overweight. It really shook me up. My Dr. put me on statins a little over a year ago and the results have been astounding. Great advice, Dennis.
A simple, quick and relatively affordable test to see your real risk of a heart attack is getting a CT cardiac calcium score scan. Gold standard for predicting heart attack risk over the next 10 years.
I’m using these folk:
Another rule: pay attention to subtle hints your body is giving you. I suffered a heart attack at age 60 while cycling. I never had any symptoms; other than some fatigue in the weeks prior to the heart attack. I pride myself on my fitness level; both before and after my heart attack. But I was cursed with bad genetics as it pertains to my coronary arteries. If you have a family history of atherosclerosis, follow all the rules listed.
Thanks for sharing sound advice, Dennis. One more preventative tactic to consider is a Coronary Calcium Scan. Due to both my parents passing from coronary heart disease, my internist recommended I take the test. After three years of procrastinating, I had the scan done. It was inexpensive at less than $100. I wasn’t really concerned as I have been a lifelong exerciser including both aerobic and resistance training. Additionally, I tried to eat a heart healthy diet the majority of the time.
Low and behold, I had a score over 5000 (normal low risk score is 0 and high risk is 400) and my internist immediately set up a visit to a cardiologist. After learning I had experienced shortness of breath on a recent bike ride climb, he ordered an angiogram. After researching, I thought the worst-case scenario would be a stent or two. Instead, extensive blockage in multiple vessels including the widowmaker was discovered and my cardiologist immediately set up bypass surgery. I was the victim of family DNA history that is a major risk factor that cannot be controlled of changed.
Seven months later, I feel terrific and just welcomed grandchild 7 yesterday. My cardiologist has become a good friend and has shared my story in various mediums advocating the scan. Here’s a link to more information about the scan: Calcium Score Screening: What It Is, Who Should Get It, Results (clevelandclinic.org). I highly encourage HD readers to consider.
Wow, thanks for the sobering story.
Have the size of your cholesterol particles checked – that is far more important than the silly lipid panels most docs run … Insulin resistance, inflammation and diabetes are major threats Thought for the day – “Its not dying you should be afraid of – its chronic disease”
#7. Beware of government mandated Covid vaccines.
Tell that to the 300,000 people who died unnecessarily because they didn’t get vaccinated.
Question…How many vaccinated people also died from Covid and/or how many vaccinated people were later diagnosed with health issues related to the vaccine? Also, where are you getting your death total data?
The evidence is overwhelming that the vaccine and boosters have saved millions of lives.” When you hear hoofbeats think horses not zebras”.
If I offer you contrary data from sources other than NPR would it change your opinion…https://www.justfactsdaily.com/most-objective-evidence-covid-vaccines-lives.
Still trying to figure why some people quit taking their heart medications, especially when they have health insurance or Medicare. Do you resent having to take medications or thank God you live in a time and place where such medications are available and affordable to you? Perhaps being depressed creates that situation where one refuses medication.
For many who are not on regular medications, when they take a med, there is typically an immediate benefit. Relief from pain for example. But meds that provide long-term benefits, but no immediate relief, don’t appear to be doing anything, so it is easy to become complacent and stop taking them. “Why bother, I don’t feel any different.” This is how I feel about these meds, however I use my improved blood profiles as incentive to keep taking them.
If you are referring to statins, some people get unpleasant (or worse) side effects. Also, there are other ways to deal with cholesterol, the numbers we are supposed to be aiming for keep shrinking and most of the research excluded women. The number of people needed to treat to prevent one cardiac event is also high.Of course, the situation is different if you have actually had a cardiac event, but their use in those who have not is not so clear cut.
A rare side effect of statins is liver failure, but I assume cardiologists are aware of that possibility and would not prescribe a statin if the patient’s tests indicated a potential for a liver problem or hepatitis. As you say, there are other means to deal with high cholesterol that are more difficult than swallowing a pill, such as diet and exercise.
I think it unlikely that most of the people currently taking statins are doing so after seeing a cardiologist and taking a battery of tests. That was certainly not my experience. My (former) PCP prescribed statins on the basis of one, simple, lipid test without ever suggesting diet and exercise. After doing some research I changed my diet and increased my exercise and saw a significant drop in my LDL. Since I have very high HDL my total cholesterol is always “high”, but the ratio puts me in the low risk category.
Get echocardiogram and abdominal ultrasound periodically. These ultrasound tests are harmless. They may save your life.
As we get older we realize all we have is our health.
Interesting article. Thanks Dennis. Do you want to die at your desk or do you want to work on that bucket list and smell the roses? Most of us will never have enough saved to feel totally comfortable in retirement but you never know how long you have. I retired at 66 and my biggest regreat is that I did not do it sooner.
Hearing about too many cases like that was a big part of my decision to take early retirement at 53. I was able to travel extensively for sixteen years, before developing rheumatoid arthritis. My pension wasn’t going to increase if I stayed, I had retiree medical, and a 401k I have still barely touched 23 years later (I’ll finally start spending from it when I move to a CCRC this fall).
So far so good on health issues, aside from the RA, but I used diet and exercise to get my LDL down, not statins. I have hard time believing that most of the population needs to be on drugs.
My wife’s grandfather had a heart attack at 45. He lived to be 99. An outlier yes, but there is hope for heart disease sufferers.
Dennis, thanks for the encouragement to make good choices. The list doesn’t include genetics, which we can’t control. I’m thankful my father lived thirty-eight years following his heart bypass surgery.
Have had several people close to me succumb. Tragic. Men have a difficult time discussing health issues, and taking action. While stark this is a good reminder that a few simple steps can change a life. Thanks and be well.
Gee, now you ruined my bacon and eggs I was just about to enjoy. Where’s the oatmeal?
There’s some debate as to which of those breakfasts is better for your heart.
Here’s a better approach than debating: https://nutritionfacts.org/2021/12/21/dining-by-traffic-light-green-is-for-go-red-is-for-stop/
Dennis, thanks for the great advice. I worked in a similar environment early in my career – GE Aerospace. My wife worked in the cardiac ICU in a local hospital with a strong cardiac bypass surgery program. I was amazed, and a little scared, of the large number of my older coworkers she took care of. For several years I worked in a room that looked out on a back entrance to the building – it happened to be the entrance where the ambulance would park when taking someone to the hospital. It happened way too often.
Smoking, poor health habits, and stress seemed to be the common denominator. Thanks for the reminder that heart disease is still far too common.
My dad suffered many heart attacks, the first at 50. Thankfully he was able to get medical care fairly quick and surgery when needed. If it wasn’t for that any of them could have been fatal. The fact he was not afraid to go to the doctor or take his meds, unlike many of his peers, helped give him some longevity.
Another step for avoiding a heart attack – Don’t have Dennis Friedman as a friend. For some reason yet unknown to science, it appears that having Dennis as a close friend greatly increases your chance of heart disease. (Just kidding. Great article and great advice.)
Yeah, kinda like those ’60’s Westerns I used to watch as a kid on TV. Whenever one of the show’s stars developed a love interest, you just *knew* something very bad was about to happen to said love interest, no matter how careful they were. Or, maybe like one of those red-shirted guys on an episode of Star Trek that beamed down to the planet surface with the landing party. So long!
Great comment Larry. There does seem to be a connection.
I’ll brighten your day. We once put a sick worker out on disability pension. The doctors said he had a year or so left – he was retired thirty years and outlived the doctor who approved the pension.