The two most important plans for a great retirement are a robust 401k and robust accrued health. You don’t want to be arthritic and bed-bound when you retire; you want to travel the world with the love of your life, run with your grandchildren, and spend time with friends.
Just like the concept of financial investment, you must invest in your health every day to get that compounded return. So, what can we do for robust accrued health?
Here’s a good mantra to go by - One who SEES well retires well (Sleep, Eat, Exercise, and Socialize well).
Sleep well (at least 7–8 hours daily) to recharge your body. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to medical problems like diabetes, hypertension, and stroke.
One may know the difference between healthy and unhealthy choices but still be unable to choose the right one. A rested mind makes better choices.
Eat good food, avoid bad food, and fast.
Good food (Vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, etc.): Let's focus on vegetables and fruits because, as per CDC, only 1 in 10 adults meet the daily requirement (at least 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of fresh leafy vegetables), and this will have the most impact on your health. Fresh leafy vegetables are laden with antioxidants, fibers, and nitrates. Consume it daily!
Antioxidants: The act of breathing is living, but the side-effect of breathing (and oxygen) is its byproduct - oxidative radicals - which damage cellular proteins and cause aging. Antioxidants neutralize it.
Fiber intake is important for good bowel function and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, the absence of which is linked to multiple health and mental problems.
Nitrates are required for a healthy blood vessel system, but sadly, our body produces them less as we grow older, so the need to maintain this supply exogenously.
Why only “1 in 10 adults get enough fresh fruits or leafy vegetables”?
Primarily because of friction. To decrease friction, make it easy to adopt: One suggestion: blend 2 cups spring mix + honey-yogurt + ice (+/- berries) and drink the “green smoothie” every day. One extra benefit of blending: Do you see herbivores like cows and giraffes chewing all day? You are a human that created blenders and rocket ships to the moon; you just have to blend it for a minute. Blending massively increases surface area and digestion index (beneficial nutrients get more readily absorbed into your body).
Avoid bad food: The most commonly abused substance is not cocaine, alcohol, or marijuana, but bad food. We constantly overindulge in it despite knowing its negative ramifications. Bad food can be categorized into a diet high in sodium, high glycemic index, red meat, processed food, and a high AGE diet.
A high Sodium diet not only causes the bags below your eyes but also all your organs and cells to swell within. It has been linked to various medical problems and premature death. (I always say to my patients you don’t swell with water, but you swell with Chinese and Cheesecake factory).
Red meat and processed food are low in essential nutrients (dietary fiber, nitrates, antioxidants) and high in sodium and unsaturated fat. Processed foods are also high in unhealthy additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.
High AGE diet: A.G.E. stands for Advanced Glycation End-products, which are glycated proteins (sugar-attached protein molecules). Consuming dietary AGE increases oxidant stress and inflammation, which is linked to the recent rise in diabetes and cardiovascular disease epidemics. (Diabetes mellitus, a medical condition, is an endogenous high AGE state.) Long and/or high-temperature cooking increases AGE content in food, like oil-fried items (donuts, French fries, fried chicken), while poached chicken and boiled eggs have less AGE.
Any food that makes you sleepy afterward isn’t good for your health. It is highly inflammatory.
High glycemic index foods, like sugar, sugary foods, soft drinks, white bread, potatoes, and white rice, cause abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome X. This increases the risk of age-related medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and stroke.
It is ok to indulge in bad foods in small amounts or infrequently, but when you do it regularly, the bad habits compound too. They tend to reinforce each other to end up with an unhealthy cluster (bad food, bad sleep, lack of exercise).
Fasting: When the cells are not eating, they are healing. Fasting activates the cellular recycling and renewal process of autophagy, slowing aging and improving overall health and intelligence (Fasting is also a bio-hack to increase intelligence and creativity: Evolutionary wise Hunger enhances creativity in finding food sources).
An easy dictum to go by: “Eat only when the sun is out.”
Exercise well: Take the unique benefits of each form of exercise.
Strength training — weightlifting, calisthenics, etc.
Aerobics — For cardiovascular health.
Yoga — For tendons, ligaments, and joints. All our life, we are impacting our joints and ligaments. Yoga does the reverse and dis-impacts this tension.
Daily 5-minute meditation: Throughout our life, our mind is running errands—time to give your mind a break and a little space to reset and heal. (Meditation is essentially getting rid of all thoughts in your mind and focusing on taking deep-long breaths.) Meditation also gives your mind’s brake (like a car’s brake) practice. Anxiety (or rumination) happens when this “brake” doesn’t work well.
Socialize well: Happiness experts recommend meaningful socialization at least once weekly. Try combining socialization with exercise by playing tennis or biking with friends. Lack of meaningful socialization and social support can lead to chronic stress (which is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cancer, accelerated aging, etc.) and a myriad of mental health problems (e.g., anxiety with associated somatization, which can manifest in many forms, such as tension headache, postprandial distress syndrome, chronic back pain, generalized pain syndrome, etc.).
Final words: Aging is an irreversible process, but it is a process with momentum that you can change. One who SEES well, ages slowly, and retires well.