How To Improve Your Healthspan


Roger Whitney, writing for Forbes asks Are You Using The Wrong Age To Plan Retirement? It is a fun read that combines two interests of mine; retirement lifestyle and successful aging. The high level view is that people with the same chronological age (their actual age) can have very different biological ages and a person's biological age should be factored in to retirement planning. I've mentioned the 78 year old guy at my gym who decline bench presses 500 pounds. While any outcome is possible for anybody, financially he needs to be concerned with longevity risk; about outliving his assets.

Whitney notes that this has implications for when and how to take Social Security and that people may want to explore annuities, both immediate and deferred. An immediate annuity starts paying out right away and a deferred annuity starts paying out in the future. I am not an annuity salesman, I've never sold one, they are usually insanely expensive but not always. People I have known who have them have tended to love them, maybe not realizing how expensive they are and while I am not a fan there's no reason you shouldn't learn a little more even if you decide no. Whitney also touches on implications for when to retire based on biological age and whether to seek out some sort of side gig in retirement to put less burden on your portfolio.

One of my criticisms of the FIRE Movement (financial independence/retire early) is the extent to which people who retire at very young ages expose themselves to decades of variables any of which could threaten the long term viability of a portfolio. Someone who retires at 35 or 40 realistically needs their portfolio to last for 50 years or so without ever getting a meaningful Social Security payout. Here's a blog post from Fat Tailed & Happy saying essentially the same thing.

The reason I bring that up is someone who retires chronologically at 60 but who biologically is closer to 40 or 45 needs to consider that they need to get 40 years out of their portfolio, obviously someone who is 60 and worked most of the time will get a useful Social Security payout. SS notwithstanding, a lot of things can derail a financial plan over the course of 40 years. The risks can be top down like an adverse sequence of returns or bottom up like taking on financially responsibility for a family member unexpectedly.

As friends on Facebook or my colleagues in the Fire Department will tell you, I have become very interested in trying to learn about diet and exercise in pursuit of healthier aging (if you follow me on Twitter @randomroger you'll see I Tweet some about this too). It is relevant to my blogging as well and have covered it several times. The context I put it in is being able to do the things you like for longer. It turns out there is a word for this; healthspan which is along the lines of lifespan. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I watched coverage of the Ironman Triathlon from Kona. Very quickly toward the end they showed an 85 year old man finishing the race. Fair to say, he's gotten an awful lot out of his healthspan. That story is one type of extreme and you can figure out the extremes at the other end.

There is a way to assess your biological age by testing the length of your telomeres. Telomeres are caps at the end of each strand of DNA, the longer they are the younger you are biologically. I know a little here but still have more to learn. My impression is that testing telomeres is still in the very early innings so maybe that means it's tough to get a good read but you might be able to figure out whether you are or are not biologically young for your age.

If you don't like what you learn about your biological age there are things related to diet and exercise that can help, this was something Whitney did not get into. Part of what makes people biologically older is become frail from sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) and osteopenia (loss of bone density). Resistance training with weight (using barbells/dumbbells/machines) or your own body weight can build up muscle mass and bone density, offsetting or delaying frailty. I have come to believe that a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet can solve a lot of metabolic problems which could also lower your biological age or maybe slow down the rate at which you age biologically. I've done a lot of research thus far on this and will continue to learn more and I have drawn conclusions about what is best for me. No one should take my word for this, what I am promoting is that anyone who has not already done so make the effort to learn to draw their own conclusion.

I feel like I have a good personal benchmark for this with the fire department requirement to pack test in order to fight a wildfire. This requires hiking three miles in 45 minutes wearing a 45 pound pack. I am not fast but my recovery time is pretty much zero. At some point a firefighter can no longer pass the pack test and that age varies widely as you might imagine. I've worked with guys who can pass it into their 70's and unfortunately have seen guys in their 30's who can't do it. If you're active, maybe you have your own similar benchmark related to something physical you do.

Obviously, science and technology will only improve prospects for people and life expectancy will continue to rise for people who can avoid chronic maladies related to blood sugar, weight and/or blood pressure and take something other than opioids for any sort of pain issue. I would note there are many studies and anecdotes to support LCHF reversing those chronic maladies. Don't believe it? Learn and draw your own conclusion.