Healthy living: Key to a happy retirement

  @Money February 18, 2013: 2:19 PM ET
health retirement sec

Good health means you have to save a bit more -- but that's because you're living longer.

NEW YORK (Money Magazine)

This story is part of Money magazine's retirement special Dream big, act now: Six secrets of retirement, which lays out the key drivers of retirement happiness -- including your investments, health, career, family, midlife changes and debt -- and what you can do about them.


The secret: A greasy burger is worse than a bear market.

When it comes to retirement, good health cuts both ways. As any financial calculator will tell you, living longer actually means you'll need a bigger nest egg. But the healthier you are leading up to retirement, the easier it is to build up the savings you'll need.

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study by James Poterba, Steven Venti, and David Wise found that people who were among the healthiest 20% in their fifties retired with three times the assets of the least healthy. And the healthy also spent down their wealth more slowly.

Related: 8 apps for losing weight, staying fit

Poterba says that's because the impact of health on your finances begins well before you quit working.

"People in good health have lower health care costs, so they have less of a drain on their resources," he says. Also, other research shows that about half of people who retire earlier than they planned cite health as the reason. Staying healthy gives you more power to save for longer.


Know your numbers. According to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, one-third of adults with diabetes don't know it, and 20% of adults with high blood pressure are unaware. If you haven't been checked for a few years, do so now. Make sure your spouse does too.

Focus on what you can control. Just because you have a family history of a health condition doesn't mean you'll get it as well.

Related: 5 retirement choices: Get 'em right, live well

"DNA isn't your destiny," says Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity. "Research shows a very small number of factors make a big difference." Those probably won't come as a surprise: whether you smoke, how much you drink, your weight, and your exercise routine (you've got one, right?).

Any smoking is bad, but how much alcohol or weight is too much? Here's the scoop: No more than seven drinks a week for women or 14 for men, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. For weight, check your body mass index at to see if you are in the healthy range.

You don't have to become a triathlete. Just 2½ hours of moderate exercise a week can make the difference, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

How your health care will change in 2013

Need some extra motivation to hit the treadmill? People who are fit in middle age battle fewer chronic ailments in the last five years of life, so they get to enjoy more of their retirement being active and feeling good.

More secrets to a dream retirement:




Midlife changes

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Longevity costs, but it's a bargain
Good health actually means you have to save a bit more -- but that's just because you're living longer. Every year retired people devote a lot less of their budget to health care.
Good health Poor health
Average lifetime health care costs, starting at 65 $260,000 $220,000
Average annual health care costs in middle years of retirement $6,000 $7,416
Notes: Annual costs for households with husband ages 70 to 74. Costs include Medicare, home health care, and insurance premiums. Source: Center for Retirement Research
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