When I talk to people about assets and which ones are most important, I often hear about homes, 401k balances, collectibles, antiques, jewelry, secure jobs, and education. But no one ever mentions what I think is your most important asset: Your health. Think about it: Without good health you can’t work, or at best your working options will be limited by your health restrictions. If you can’t work, you’ll have to get by on the small income provided by Social Security, anything your family can provide, or whatever limited income you can produce.
When you are in poor health, all of your other traditional assets may go by the wayside. The home may have to be sold (either because you can’t make the payments or you can’t take care of it), your education becomes a moot point if you can’t get out of bed to go to work, the art, collectibles and jewelry may have to be sold, the great career will implode, and the retirement accounts may have to be liquidated to provide for your care. Good health is the cornerstone to acquiring and maintaining all of the other financial assets you’ll have in life.
Health also just about the only asset you can’t get back once it’s gone. You can replace a home, money, and things, but lost health is almost impossible to get back. You may be able to improve your health, put some diseases into remission, or have surgery to repair bones and tendons, but many conditions are irreversible. Even things that are “fixed” are often not the same as they were before they were broken. Repaired knees are never as strong as your natural knees. Beating cancer is great, but it can leave you vulnerable for other cancers or diseases. The best thing to do is to avoid losing your health for as long as you can.
Obviously some of your health is out of your control. Genetics play a big role and you can’t control certain accidents that aren’t your fault. Then there are the diseases that seem to strike people out of the blue. But for all that you can’t control about your health there is a great deal that you can control. Here are some ways to control your health and improve your chances of having your most important asset last a long time.
Eat right: You know this. Lots of fruits and veggies, reduce sugar and sodium intake, get lots of vitamins, limit portion size, and limit fats. Avoid foods that aggravate any conditions you may have. If you need help in this area, read lots of books on nutrition or hire a nutritionist. Fad diets aren’t the answer. You need a program of complete nutrition.
Go to the doctor: Get all of your routine screenings and don’t skip physicals. A condition caught early is more treatable than something left too long. You know your body. If something seems off, get it checked out.
Don’t neglect your mental/mind health: Keep your brain active to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Tackle new challenges and keep learning. Don’t let mental illnesses like depression go untreated, either. Your brain is just as important as your body. One can’t help you without the other.
Exercise: You know this, too. You don’t have to run marathons, but you have to do something. Get your heart rate up, get in some resistance training, work on your balance and flexibility and add more activity to your day by taking the stairs, doing your own cleaning or yard work if you can, and walking more. Moving more will help prevent disease and stave off conditions like arthritis and age-related mobility problems.
Stop the bad habits: You know that smoking, drinking to excess, illegal drugs, and fast food addictions are terrible for you. Stop it. If you need professional help to break the addiction, get it.
Drink more water: Staying hydrated is important to your overall health. It improves digestion and keeps your organs functioning smoothly. Water is the best substance for your body. Tea, coffee, and soda taste great, but they don’t work as well as water when it comes to hydration. Limit your intake of other beverages and drink more water.
Control stress: Stress leads to heart attacks, mental health problems, and contributes to other diseases. Find the way that works for you to control it. It may be exercise, religious practice, meditation, griping with friends, or therapy. Whatever works, do it.
Try to avoid accidents/injuries: You can’t control the crazy driver in the next lane, but you can control your own actions. Don’t drink and drive (or text/use the cell phone), don’t speed, and don’t tailgate. Don’t tackle tasks around the home that you are not prepared for. Call in the professionals if you need something done like electrical work, tree removal, roof repair, or anything else that you don’t know how to do or that you can’t safely manage. Don’t run your body into the ground, either. Exercise is great but overdoing it to the point that you need double knee replacements and a hip replacement is asking for trouble. Moderation is key.
Take precautions when you can: Wear sunscreen and sunglasses to protect you against the sun’s harmful rays. Wear insect repellant when outdoors to keep from getting insect borne diseases. Wear proper safety equipment like helmets and eye protection when necessary. If something is available to you that will protect your health, use it.
Invest in your health: This one is important and some will think it goes against the spirit of Saving Advice. For all that we talk about saving money and cutting expenses, your health is the one area where economizing can cost you. Sure, you want to save money on your grocery bill but don’t do it at the expense of eating healthy food. Always make certain that you have health insurance or have saved enough money to pay out of pocket for proper care, and be prepared to spend the money. Waiting to get treatment because you don’t have the money or you don’t want to spend it can cost you. Although there are many ways to exercise for free or on the cheap, if you know you’ll only be motivated by a gym membership or personal trainer, spend the money. Get professional mental health help if you can’t break an addiction or deal with a mental illness on your own. What you spend on your health will pay for itself far into the future. You don’t want to look back from your hospital bed and say, “Boy, I sure saved a lot by eating fast food all the time and skipping those doctors visits.”
Don’t wait until you’re sick to think about the value of your health. Make the move to better health now. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes to get healthy (and some things can’t be reversed). Your health is your most important asset because all of your other assets are dependent upon it. Treat it accordingly.