Four Ways Physical Fitness Impacts Financial Fitness

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The other day, I just finished my last spring physical readiness test (PRT) for the Navy.  As I finished my second-to-last fitness test, I celebrated to myself—one more PRT, and I’m done!  My entire career, I’d thought of the PRT as paying rent—every six months, you pay up.  You don’t get credit for doing any more (not in the Navy, at least).  However, the Navy hammers you for not doing the minimum.  So, I’d always thought of the PRT as an annoyance.  It’s not anything to get nervous about, but an hour that I could have spent doing something productive.

As soon as I celebrated my little milestone, I immediately thought, “This doesn’t end when I retire.”  Ever since I turned 40, I noticed all of the aging that I never thought would happen to me.  Also, I realized that this will only progress over time.  Just because the Navy doesn’t keep tabs on my physical fitness after retirement doesn’t mean that I don’t need to.

Fitness Impacts

Of course, I tried to think of the different ways that our physical fitness impacts us financially as we age.  If you think of your financial situation as an enabler to improved quality of life, it’s easier to imagine the relationship between physical fitness and finances.  I came up with four ways that physical fitness directly impacts our financial fitness, and thus our quality of life.

1.  Health insurance costs

Since the inception of Obamacare and the effort to drive down costs of delivering health care, everyone has been scrambling to figure out how to do exactly one thing:  maintain or improve profits while transferring risks to someone else.  That’s essentially what insurance is…risk transfer.  In the overly complicated field of health care, there have always been plenty of companies, non-profits, and other entities to share the risk.

The difference now is that the government has taken a more active role in trying to decrease the amount of money, and decrease the amount of risk that billpayers (individuals, employers, and the government) have to assume. You will most likely see differences in your health insurance after leaving the military – whether that is in cost, availability, or coverage.

With that said, insurance companies are exceptionally good at one thing—gathering and analyzing data.  As they face pressure to manage more risk, they’re looking at ways to shift that risk to others.  Over the next ten to twenty years, that will lead to a trend of shifting risk to people who exhibit bad health behavior.  You already see it today:  insurance companies document whether you smoke or not, and smokers pay more in life insurance premiums.

Health insurance companies award incentives to people who lose weight or engage in certain physical fitness activities.  However, things that are only incentives now will end up being expectations in ten years.  Remember when Wi-Fi was only available in certain airports?  Now, it’s an expectation because you can go into any Starbucks or McDonalds and get free Wi-Fi.  In twenty years, you’ll have to pay health insurance companies for the privilege of being a smoker or being obese.  Count on it.

The savings can also extend to life insurance. Life insurance premiums are less expensive when you are in good health. You represent less risk to the underwriters. Being in poor health could mean buying a high-risk life insurance policy, which is generally more expensive than buying a plan when you are in good health.

2.  Health care costs

The reason why health insurance costs are going up is because they directly reflect the rising costs of health care.  Costs are rising due to longevity, improved technology, and advancements in medicine.  They’re also rising because our diseases are more complex.  When life expectancies were in the 50s, we didn’t have to worry about elder care, treating Alzheimer’s, or osteoporosis.  All of these diseases are associated with the aging process.  Also, our quality of life is directly related to how we take care of ourselves as we age.

For example, that bum knee that you never had checked out…you might need a replacement that you could have avoided if you’d gone to the doctor.  Maybe not, but a couple of hundred-dollar visits might have been worth postponing or avoiding that $50,000 knee replacement.  Perhaps the doctor would have encouraged you to lose 20 pounds so that you could put less stress on that knee.  Maybe a simple knee brace during your over-30 pick-up basketball games could have helped you postpone your surgery.  Hopefully, your health care insurance will take care of it.  However, don’t think that they won’t try to find some sort of bad behavior to pin the risk back on you.

3.  Longevity costs

As previously discussed, two generations ago, we didn’t have to worry about Alzheimer’s, elder care or long term care insurance, or joint replacements.  100 years ago, we had polio, measles, and smallpox.  Each of those diseases crippled or killed millions of children.  Many of those who survived were debilitated or scarred for life (FDR, anyone)?  Thanks to vaccine research (and a lot of money back then), scientists have nearly eradicated each of those diseases.  However, now that we’ve got more people, and they’re living longer, that means the cost of taking care of them is skyrocketing.

So what’s that got to do with physical fitness?  Simple…as we get older, there are certain key functions that are directly related to longevity and quality of life.  Two of them are:

  • Grip strength
  • Ability to stand up from a seated position

Those are all things that we take for granted in our 30s, 40s, and 50s.  However, that hand you always thought was carpal-tunnel syndrome might be the hand that keeps you from falling in the shower when you’re in your 70s.  Or, it might slip, and you break your hip.  Think it doesn’t happen?  It’s a fact that people who are physically active in their retirement live longer, and have a higher quality of life than people who decide not to stay active.

4.  Employment opportunity costs

My uncle recently retired.  Since he’s almost 65, that makes sense.  However, he didn’t retire on his own terms.  He was forced to retire due to medical reasons.  He’d had a couple of TIAs, and the doctor told him that the next one might be a stress-induced stroke.  He’s worried about his finances, because his health forced him to adjust his financial plan.

If you think about it, you can probably find at least one person had to stop working early due to medical reasons.  While my uncle’s medical retirement was strictly due to genetic factors (family history of strokes and Alzheimer’s), I know several people who had to retire early due to self-imposed medical issues.

I’ve met plenty of people who were relieved when they no longer had to take the routine physical readiness test (PRT), or worry about being over their service’s bodyfat percentage.  However, physical fitness is directly related to other aspects of your well-being, especially your finances.  Taking care of your body, even after you leave the military, will help you ensure financial success…as well as the ability to enjoy it.



Forrest Baumhover is a Certified Financial Planner™ and owner of Westchase Financial Planning, a fee-only financial planning firm in Tampa, FL. As a retired naval officer, Forrest helps veterans, transitioning servicemembers and their families address the financial challenges of post-military life so they can achieve financial independence and spend more time doing the things they love.

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