Setting Your 2008 Health Goals
Vol. 4, Issue 1
People who have a Health Savings Account benefit from lower premiums and reduced income taxes. But the biggest long-term benefit for many will be the hundreds of thousands of dollars they will have in their Health Savings Accounts as they enter their retirement years. Of course, the only way to build up a significant amount in your HSA is to fund it every year, get a good return on your money, and avoid making withdrawals. And the easiest way to avoid withdrawals is to stay in good health.
People have much more control over their health than most of them realize. If you want to take more personal responsibility for your health, forget your New Year's "Resolutions" (if you're like most, you probably already have!), and make some real goals to improve your health and prevent future degeneration.
You Have the Power
The first step in the journey towards optimum health is to realize that you, indeed, do have the power to influence your health as you age. While the genes you inherited from your parents do affect your risks, for most diseases this influence is tiny compared to the role your lifestyle plays.
Here's the way it plays out for the average American: by the time they are in their 30's or 40's, most are on at least one regular prescription drug - typically cholesterol medication, blood pressure medication, and/or Viagra. By their 60's, most people are basically falling apart, on 2 or 3 medications, and suffering from arthritis pain, obesity, depression, insulin resistance, and a host of other complaints. Within 10 years, many are dropping like flies.
But of course it doesn't have to be this way.
Imagine the Future
How do you imagine your life playing out? Pour yourself a beer (do it now, before we get to the part where we actually write out lifestyle goals), kick back, relax, and dream. Imagine that you're 70 years old. Are you still in vibrant health, playing tennis, running on the beach? Or are you old and fat, with just enough energy to get off the couch and make it to the refrigerator and back during the Wheel of Fortune commercial?
Then imagine checking your HSA balance. Does it have $350,000 in it, or $350? If you're not in the best health, chances are your HSA won't be either.
If that's too far in the future, just imagine January 2009, and where you'd like to be. It's mostly your choice.
How Are You Going To Get There?
Once you've imagined the perfect future, it's time to get serious about getting there. And the key here is to focus on lifestyle habits, not end results.
Nothing is more important to your long-term health than eating a healthy diet. So your focus, as much as possible, should be the quality of your diet.
Base your diet on real, whole, unprocessed foods. Fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meat, nuts. Until 10,000 years ago, humans did not have access to bread and potatoes. It is only in the past 100 years that we've begun eating high quantities of sugar, corn syrup, white flour, and other modern foods.
If losing weight is one of your objectives, going on a diet is NOT the answer. Chances are you've tried that before, and you know it doesn't work. But what does work is permanently changing your eating habits, and where most people get stuck is they start out with a feeling of denial. Whether it's wings and beer, or Twinkies and root beer, whatever you eat that's gotten you to this point is probably what you feel like you "deserve" to eat, and you may feel that it's not "fair" that you won't get to eat this way anymore.
Get over it. The fact is that no one eats that way without consequences. Instead, choose to eat good food. Not temporarily, or just until you lose the weight. Don't tell anyone that you are "on a diet". Tell them that this is the way you eat, period.
are built to move, and anyone can improve their body's
functioning by moving more.
The basics: muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility.
Here's my prescription:
- Lift weights 3 times per week. Join a gym, or simply buy some 20 and 30 lb dumbbells. Each week make sure you work out your arms and shoulders, chest and back, and legs.
- Do something aerobic 3 times per week, for 20 minutes or more. Don't just go for a stroll, but actually do something that makes you breathe hard - whether it's jogging, rollerblading, basketball, or whatever.
- Stretch every night. Five minutes or less ought to do it.
The Power of Written Goals
So at this point you should have two ideas in your head. One is a picture of you at some point in the future. How will you look, how will you feel, and how will you function? The other is the permanent lifestyle changes you plan to implement to get you there.
Now is the time to put it on paper. This is a powerful exercise that will make your thoughts more "real," and more likely to come to fruition.
First, write out a detailed description of your future, exactly as you would like it to be.
Then write out your lifestyle habits in positive wording. What kind of food are you going to eat? What kind of food are you going to have around the house? Where and when will you eat out, and what kind of food will you order?
Remember, it is very difficult to make changes if you have feelings of denial. Fighting hunger is virtually impossible. Instead of focusing on what you won't eat, focus on what you will eat, and on the end result. And if you want to splurge on some Ben and Jerry's occasionally, go ahead.
How Much Will You Have In Your HSA When You Retire?
In 2008 the maximum annual HSA contribution is $5800 for families. If a family makes the maximum contribution each year, gets an 8% return on their money, and has $500/year in medical expenses, they'll have $261,885 in their HSA after 20 years. If they have $3000/year in medical expenses, they'll only have $138,354 after 20 years.
Stay healthy, get wealthy. They certainly go together. And with looming Medicare insolvency, you will certainly want to have as much of your own money available to pay future medical expenses when they do happen.
At one time it wasn't uncommon for me to have wings and fries for dinner, washed down by a few beers. At other times it was beer for dinner, supplemented by a few wings. Amazingly, the human body is able to take these raw ingredients, and produce eyes, lungs, heart, and everything else that keeps us going. But if we were able to look more closely, we'd see poor ingredients produce a poorly functioning body.
If optimum health hasn't been a focus in your past, make 2008 a year of change. You'll be glad you did.
P.S. - Are you taking maximum advantage of your HSA? Next month I'll remind you of some of the expenses that you may not realize you can pay for from your Health Savings Account.