4 Tips for Investing in Your Physical Wealth

Good health is the best investment you can make.

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Getting healthy—and staying that way—is the best physical and financial insurance. Invest a dollar in better health today, and your future returns (in the form of lower health-care expenses) could far exceed earnings from stocks and bonds.

Concerns about future health-care expenses top the list of older Americans’ financial worries. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), a husband and wife turning 65 in 2010 will, on average, need $376,000 for health expenses not covered by Medicare. That figure excludes long-term care expenses. The problem with averages is that individuals are not average: “While 50 percent of men turning age 65 in 2008 will live to age 81, and 50 percent of women will live to age 84, 25 percent can be expected to live until ages 87 and 90, respectively,” EBRI says. “Furthermore, one in 10 men currently age 65 can expect to live until 91, while one in 10 women can expect to live to 95.”

EBRI concludes that uncertainty is the real issue. You don’t know how long you'll live, how much money you’ll be able to set aside (especially given this turbulent market), and you can’t predict your future health. Solid numbers are elusive, but it's generally agreed that people at the healthiest end of the spectrum face significantly lower health expenses than those at the other end. Although Medicare premiums do not reflect health conditions, healthy people pay less for virtually all other health-care expenses: lower supplemental insurance premiums, fewer prescription drugs, and less frequent and shorter hospital stays. Although it's not a sure thing, paying attention to fitness gives you a chance at a healthier and happier life. Here are four tips to get you started:

1. Staying healthy is a lifelong job. Whether or not you still have a paying job, you should always be working at getting and staying in shape. This shouldn't be a burden; it's an opportunity. Consider a work day that starts at the gym. Don’t have the time? Make the time. Can’t afford a gym? Buy a pedometer and take a 30-minute walk each day. The important thing is to set goals and track your progress.

2. Form a posse. Some rare souls have the discipline and temperament to get five days of vigorous cardiovascular workouts, weight training, and other conditioning on their own. Most don’t. One solution is to form or join an exercise group. They’re easy to find through residential, church, and other community organizations.

3. Make your home healthier. Home-based falls and accidents are major sources of aches and pains--not to mention big medical bills. You can minimize those bills by eliminating slippery walking surfaces, installing good lighting (use multiple-bulb fixtures to avoid total darkness from a bulb failure), replacing door knobs with handles, and making sure your bathrooms have grab rods and other senior-friendly features. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging offers a useful checklist[http://www.n4a.org/files/programs/eldercare-locator/preventing-falls.pdf].

4. Get an HSA. Health savings accounts are usually linked to high-deductible health plans. They permit pre-tax dollars to be set aside, allow those funds to be invested, and exempt earnings from taxes as long as HSA funds are used for allowable medical expenses. Better still, you can roll over the funds year to year and you don't face use-it-or-lose-it requirements each year. You can use HSA funds the rest of your life, but you can’t contribute new funds to an HSA once you begin using Medicare.