The Crisis that Could Ruin Your Retirement

Worried about money in retirement? Worry about this instead.

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Every day you see somebody on the Internet or in the news lecturing those approaching retirement on how we need to worry about outliving our savings. We live so long these days, and we'll need a lot more money than we think. Nobody is saving enough. Social Security is running out of money. Medicare is running out of money even faster.

There's all kinds of advice about how to make your nest egg last for as long as you live: Buy an annuity. Invest in stocks. Cut your expenses. Watch out for inflation.

I had a little health scare last week, and after that, when I read about money, it suddenly seemed so trivial. And I realized your number one priority should not be to save and scrimp and make sure you have money for your old age, but to take care of yourself and do the things you need to do to get to old age.

Nobody knows if they will live to be 90 or 100. Some people say they don't want to. They believe old age will be a miserable experience, full of pain and loneliness, and they think they'll be ready to die at age 80 or 85. (I'll make sure to ask them if they still feel that way once they get to be 80.) But, surely, nobody wants to die at 65 or 68—if for no other reason than you want to get back all that money you paid into Social Security.

So I've spent the last week not thinking about how much money I'll need in case I live to 100, but how to give myself the best chances to get to 100—or at least live a reasonably disease and pain-free life until I get into my 90s.

Many of my relatives, including my parents, lived into their 90s. One of my grandfathers met his maker in his 60s, before I was born, but he developed a disease from laboring in a factory for most of his life. I don't have to worry about diseases from a factory. I just suffer the typical maladies that come from sitting behind a desk for 30-odd years— carpal tunnel syndrome, a pinched nerve, a bad back. So I'm hoping I carry the genes to keep me alive long enough to let me collect my share of Social Security checks.

But like a lot of people, I used to smoke. And I don't get enough exercise. I eat too much sugar and not enough fruits and vegetables. And I have to work on my attitude. Happy people live longer than people who are depressed. I'm not depressed, but sometimes I get a little moody, or disgruntled, or too critical of the world.

A couple of years ago, I lost 15 pounds. I did it to improve my health and take some weight off my sometimes-painful knees and ankles. I've now put back about six or eight of those pounds. I've got to shed those recidivist pounds.

I lost the weight in part by giving up sodas and sugary drinks. But the truth is I've been backsliding. I know that soda and other drinks with high-fructose corn syrup are not just fattening, but they're bad for you in other ways as well. So is sugar and too many carbohydrates.

I've recently gone back to drinking water. But I also need to eat more veggies, and not just at dinner, but during the day as well. I should snack on raw carrots or a tomato or a green salad. Summer is a good time to start eating more vegetables. The tomatoes, zucchini, and corn are coming in, and fresh vegetables are much better than the frozen or canned variety.

I do belong to a fitness club, which I joined when I lost that weight. But my attendance lately has been sporadic. I resolve to go more often, at least twice a week, and to do more walking as well. I have a dog who likes to walk. The solution seems simple.

My wife and I like to go dancing. That's not only good exercise, but it helps your social life as well. All the research says the more friends you have and the more connected you are to a community, the better your health will be. Dancing also helps keep your relationship strong, and we all know a good intimate relationship will help you live longer. And even if it doesn’t, it sure makes your time here on Earth a lot happier.

Right now, I'm not worried about having enough money to support me until I reach 100. Instead, I invite you share with me a much more important goal: to make the adjustments in our lives that will ensure we get to 100 at all, hopefully pain free and in good health.

Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.