Optionality In Retirement

How health and fitness can improve optionality.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I visited with our (former) neighbor with a backhoe and his wife. Long time readers will know who this is but you can read more here in a profile I wrote about him on his 80th birthday in 2011. They left Walker a few years ago believing it would be difficult to stay as they got older. The reason for the visit is that they donated a bunch of items to the United Animal Friends (UAF) annual rummage sale which starts in about a month. UAF is the animal rescue (mostly dogs) that my wife has been involved with since 2005.

We drove the UAF van, it's pretty big, down to their place near Phoenix to fill it up. They had a lot of furniture and boxes of stuff to donate, it was a lot of stuff. In case you haven't done the math yet, our (former) neighbor with a backhoe is 87 and he was helping me carry stuff out to the van, hoisting it up into the van for trip after trip until the job was done. Oh and it was hotter than 90 degrees (I think it was 93 but not sure).

It took us about an hour to do all this.

In writing about health and fitness matters I have mentioned that we tend to start to naturally lose muscle mass in our late 20's and that some form of resistance training with weight can at the very least stave off that deflation. A byproduct of losing muscle mass is that at some point (different for all of us) we start to become frail and frailty greatly reduces our optionality. That our (former) neighbor with a backhoe can load a moving van at 87 should give an indication and maybe inspiration for the benefits of staying active enough to not become frail. He obviously benefits from good genetics but we have all heard countless stories of people in their 80's running marathons, completing triathlons; just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned seeing a guy at my gym who must be close to 70 doing a rep of decline benchpress with 500 pounds...five... hundred... pounds.

I don't think it is likely to lift weights around truly unlucky genetics, but people who can maintain an exercise regimen and healthy diet to stay fit later in life give themselves tremendous optionality for a good chunk of their retirement years. We've talked before about how this can save you money; less money spent on healthcare and prescriptions.

Optionality can also help in the form of being able to work longer for people who need to do so for financial reasons which if the surveys about average retirement savings balances are correct, will be an awful lot of people. Here is a link to a Bloomberg article talking about people needing to work past a traditional retirement age. This for me is a key line in the piece from a 70 year old truck driver; “I’ll keep doing it as long as I’m strong and healthy.” If you think you might need to work to 70 or older then you're probably lucky if the extent to which you're strong and healthy relies on you taking care of yourself (diet and exercise). Our (former) neighbor with a backhoe was a red carded firefighter (able to hike three miles in 45 minutes with a 45 pound pack) in 2007 and fought one fire that year.

I recently published a short book titled Random Roger's Rules: Building Blocks For A Happier Life which I hope you will consider purchasing. It covers a lot of ground related to personal finance and lifestyle including diet and exercise rules. A recurring idea that accompanies many of the rules is the extent to which every aspect of your life will be easier by doing such and such. That includes maintaining physical optionality as long as you can. You may need to be physically younger than you're chronological age but if you don't have that financial need, your life will simply be much better when you retire if you have the stamina of someone 20 years younger.