Longevity risk in retirement is both our friend and our foe. Of course, a long healthy life sounds quite appealing. But longevity is also one of our biggest risks in retirement, especially for us women as we tend to live longer than our male counterparts. The main reason for this is that if we aren’t generating income in retirement, a long life could mean that we end up running out of money. Currently many people and advisors run income projections out to age 100. But what if one day we are able to live to 150? Some crazy new drugs and biotechnological enhancements may someday make this possible.Instead of a 30 or 40 year career, our population may have a 50 or even 80 year career! Yikes. For sure longevity will change how we live and work and retire.
In current day, it’s prudent (and pretty safe) for a woman to have her income projections out to age 100. And of course, it’s prudent to make sure you know how much savings and investments you need to support your retirement lifestyle needs. Understanding any income gaps is critical so that you can make or adjust your income generating plan accordingly.
So that’s addressing the wealth gap, but what about the health gap? How do we close this gap so that we can live a longer, healthier life? Certainly getting your financial plan on track helps with both physical and mental health. Assuming you get this covered, what more can one do?
Of course, when it comes to living a long, healthy life there’s a few major factors that researchers continually see pop up like having a sense of purpose, feeling connected to family and friends, and regularly moving your body are all big ones. And I would had having a solid financial foundation now and in retirement. But what we put into our mouth, I would argue is the biggest determinant.
As we know in the United States about 40% of the population is obese, with a with a body mass index (BMI, a measure of a person’s weight relative to her or his height) above 30. In Spain, only 25% of adults have a BMI above 30; that percentage is 20% in Italy; and a remarkable 5% in Japan. The causes for obesity in America are well known: A poor diet, with too much consumption of packaged and processed food; too many fast food meals; and low levels of exercise due to excess driving caused by an urban sprawl absent in Europe and Japan. Bad diets are also a symptom of the growing economic inequality in the U.S. Fresh, natural and organic products are high-priced relative to packaged and processed food. As a result bad nutrition affects disproportionately those at the bottom of our socio-economic pyramid, with very negative health consequences.
So what can we do to address our own personal health gap? Quite simply, just like prioritizing your financial plan, you need to prioritize your health and eat right and move more. And I would put more emphasis on eating right. You cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet. Period. Much of the exercise community leads everyone to believe this.
But, it’s so confusing and sometimes overwhelming to know what’s the best way to eat and the nutrition plan to follow. Part of this comes down to personal food preferences and lifestyle, but I think both of these things can change. But just like your financial life, I believe that when you know more, you can have more. And in this context it’s knowing more about food and it’s effect on your health. Understanding what a healthy diet entails and then eating that diet can give you more…more health and perhaps longevity too.
Confused by all the different diet philosophies out there, I went to Barnes and Noble a while back and parked myself in the diet and nutrition book session. Although I’ve been learning about health, nutrition and exercise my whole life I felt like I was at a place where I wanted to be more conscientious about how and what I fed my body. Perhaps it was the aging process that spurred me on. Perhaps it was because I had a bought of breast cancer and wanted to know if I could have done something differently with my diet and change something going forward. I spent a couple hours reading that day and looking at different diet cookbooks. I did further research over the next couple weeks. I’ve continued to research over the last several years as well.
During this time I considered my food preferences, my health condition, my lifestyle, and my fitness goals. What I ended up deciding was that the Mediterranean diet was the best for me. And I believe it’s probably the best for many people. And the research seems to back this up. Of course, you can Google anything and find research to back up almost any claim. Which is what makes figuring out this whole health and nutrition puzzle even more challenging. It’s really no different than Googling and researching financial topics. Often, the more you Google and research, the more confused you get with all the conflicting information.
Back to some data that I’ve uncovered…It is unfortunately a well-known fact that adult obesity in the U.S. exceeds that of most countries in the world, including all those ahead of us in the Bloomberg health rankings, which as of 2019 Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Switzerland and Sweden topped the list. And it’s not surprise that those countries eat a high fiber, low fat diet. The U.S. ranked 36 healthiest country out of 169, even though we are the 11thwealthiest country.
According to a new peer-reviewed study published in PLOS Medicine, it turns out diet might play a more outsized role than we thought. The study suggests that a young adult living in the U.S. could add more than 10 years to their expected lifespan simply by pivoting away from a typical Western diet and closer to a traditional Mediterranean diet. That means eating much less red and processed meat; and eating many more legumes, whole grains, and nuts.
A Norwegian nutrition researcher and lead study author ,Lars Thore Fadnes told The Daily Beast, “Food is fundamental for health, and global dietary risk factors are estimated to cause 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years annually. Understanding the health potential of different food groups could enable people to make feasible and significant health gains.” Though previous studies have sought to characterize how diet is associated with lifespan, none have done so “with the same detail” as this new study, said Fadnes.
For the new study, Fadnes and his colleagues ran a broad analysis of data from the Global Burden of Diseases study—a comprehensive 2019 investigation that measured the trends and associations of hundreds of causes of deaths, diseases, and risk factors around the world. They used that data to build a model that identifies key associations between diet and lifespan.
Through the model, the team found that a typical 20-year-old American woman who switched to a more optimal diet would likely see her life expectancy increase by an average of 10.7 years; for American men, the average was 13 years. Even older individuals would experience gains in life expectancy by making the same dietary changes, though these would be a tad more modest (about 8 years for women aged 60; and 8.8 years for men aged 60).
According to the researchers, these gains are highly powered by an emphasis on legumes, which are known to have a beneficial “metabolic profile” and are high in fiber, proteins, carbohydrates, several B-vitamins, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorous. “Legumes are practically free of saturated fat and cholesterol,” said Fadnes. Whole grains share many of these characteristics, as well. And nuts are known to be dense in nutrients, and rich in antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds.
According to Fadnes, these three foods are staples of diets in the so-called “blue zones” around the world that have unusually high rates of longevity, like Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece.
Western diets, on the other hand, are energy-dense, have more saturated fats, and can produce many unhealthy compounds during preparations like frying and barbecuing—none of which is great for long life. The authors define a Western diet as one that’s heavy on red meat and processed meats, big on sugary drinks, contains about half the optimal amount of fruits and vegetables, and a relatively limited amount of whole grains and fish.
The biggest takeaway, obviously, is that people should move off of Western diets and adopt something similar to the Mediterranean diet. And they should especially start doing so at a young age (that won’t be an easy sell on most college campuses, but maybe someone can figure out a viral marketing campaign for Gen Z). I know this to be true as I have twin girls living off of campus food right now. But one of them is attending a school that is ranked number 1 in the nation in the qualify of food they offer their students.
As I stated earlier in this podcast, I did my research and I’m a Mediterranean diet devotee. Now, I just need to get better at practicing what I’m preaching here. I don’t spend a lot of time in my kitchen. I’m more of a eat to live person and don’t have a lot of patience for food shopping and meal prep. In fact, once when my twins were in car seats and we were driving home, I told the girls we couldn’t make any stops because mommy had to get home to cook dinner. One of them said, “But mommy you don’t cook…you microwave.” What a weisenheimer. I do plan to really get focused on eating in the manner as I move into the new home I just purchased with a really beautiful cooks kitchen. I’ll be sure to share some of my cooking escapades with you all. It should be a healthy adventure.
One other side affect of longevity I want to mention before closing out this episode is the healthcare costs we’ll have during our long lives. Of course, the benefit of eating better and daily exercise is that you’ll hopefully be able to lower your healthcare costs during your lifetime and particularly in retirement. For a single woman, healthcare costs can be huge over the course of retirement. Out of pocket costs are estimated at $125,000. And this doesn’t include long term care costs.
While this data is a good starting point, we believe at Her Retirement you should use modern tools and software to get better data to base your financial decisions around. When you partner with us for coaching or participate in our membership program, you’ll have access to an amazing tool that provides personalized, science backed projections about your health and care costs. It’s a science-based and research backed software program created by a woman named Heather Holmes who along with her team are experts in the health and longevity space. The tools consider family health risks, projected active and assisted years, projected longevity, projected living to 110, longevity optimizer, projected out of pocket care costs, and projected assisted care costs. The output is a much more accurate projection for these critical care needs in retirement. When you know more, you can have more (however you define more).
I urge every woman listening to this podcast to make sure your retirement plan includes healthcare and long term care costs. We simply don’t know how long we’re going to be on this Earth. But while we are, why not live the longest, happiest, healthiest and wealthiest life we can. It all starts with you. Her Retirement is here to help you get her done.
Thanks for listening. Talk to you next week.
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