One of my readers, Jim C., sent in the following e-mail:
Whitney, I get inspired by some of the things you do at an age when most people are securely planted on the couch watching reruns of The Rifleman...
But I'm also curious how you do it, in particular, what your exercise and diet regimen look like... I'd like to have the same kind of experiences as I head into retirement, but I want to do it right, meaning I have to get my diet in line and start preparing myself with the right exercise... any chance you'll share your secret?
I discuss this in my book, The Art of Playing Defense... So today, I'd like to share that as a response. Below is the relevant part...
Having Your Body Break Down
While, of course, not as serious as dying, having your body break down prematurely is a genuine calamity. Most people don't take care of their bodies – more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and 40% are obese. As a result, as they age, they often suffer years of pain and disability and die years before they should.
Buffett gives a wonderful analogy: "If you were only given one car and you had to make it last for your entire life, imagine how you'd treat it: you'd drive it slowly and carefully, change the oil regularly, etc."
Yet most people do the opposite with their bodies: they stuff it full of sugar and fat, poison it with drugs, cigarettes, and excess amounts of alcohol, and do little to no exercise.
If you take nothing else from this book, vow to treat your body better. You don't have to be perfect – everyone has their vices (mine are Diet Coke, candy, and a little ice cream sundae every night) – but you can go far by taking a lot of small steps over time.
I don't follow any particular diet, nor am I a nutritionist. I just try to eat mostly healthy foods and avoid overeating.
Rather than trying to change everything at once, you might think about giving up (or at least cutting back on) something you know isn't good for you.
For 30 years, I ate a lot of candy every day – I had huge five-pound bags of gummy bears and Twizzlers in my cabinet, from which I would refill a little bag I kept with me at all times. I ate it very slowly, but the near-constant infusion of sugar added up.
Then I went on a trip to Europe a few summers ago and didn't take any candy with me. I found that I didn't miss it, so when I returned, I threw away all of my candy and never looked back. I quickly lost 10 pounds – and my teeth and stomach thank me every day! I didn't give up candy entirely – for example, I'll chew on some to help me concentrate on a long drive – but I'd estimate that I've reduced my consumption by more than 90%.
A healthy diet isn't just what you eat, but how much. Portion sizes today are so much larger than in the past that it encourages overeating. To combat this, when I eat out, I deliberately order something that's good reheated – pasta rather than a burger and fries, for example – and then I bring half of the meal home. It drives my wife Susan crazy sometimes because our refrigerator can get filled with leftovers that we end up throwing out, but it's better than overeating!
Countless studies show that regular exercise leads to better health and fitness, a lower risk of many diseases, and a longer life expectancy. It literally reshapes aging. In various recent studies, active older people's muscles, immune systems, blood cells, and even skin appeared biologically younger, at a molecular level, than those of sedentary people.
Exercise also leads to more energy and self-confidence, lower stress, better sleep, and more happiness. Physically active people are half as likely to be depressed.
But wait, there's more: studies show that exercise increases your memory, learning, creativity, productivity, and self-control. Many people who begin to exercise stop using their credit cards so often. They procrastinate less at work. They do the dishes earlier in the day.
An article in The New York Times summarizes:
Scientists have found and reaffirmed the extent to which movement, of almost any kind and amount, may remake how we think and feel. In one study after another, physical activity beneficially remodeled the brains of children and the middle-aged; lowered people's risks for dementia or, if dementia had already begun, slowed memory loss; and increased brain volume, tissue health, and the quality of connections between neurons and different portions of the brain.
Exercise also seems able to buoy moods far more than most of us, including scientists, might have expected 10 years ago. In observational studies, physically active people proved to be much less likely to develop depression or anxiety than sedentary people, no matter what types of activities they chose.
So get into the habit of regular exercise by finding something you enjoy. I like to mix it up: pickup basketball one day, going to the gym the next, then tennis the next, maybe a good run or race on the weekend. Plus, I ride my bike around the city pretty much every day. At least twice a week, I try to mix in high-intensity interval training, which studies show is important – usually via a session with a personal trainer or running coach or a boutique fitness class like Tone House.
Susan, in contrast, is a creature of habit: she gets up early every morning and does the exact same workout on an elliptical machine in the gym in the basement of our building.
Figure out what works for you – but make it a habit! If I go more than a day without a good workout, I really notice it. I know we're all super busy, but even if you're short on time, you'd be amazed at how much of a sweat you can work up in only a few minutes – for example, I sometimes use the 7 Minute Workout app.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa, shared this advice in an op-ed published in The New York Times:
After practicing family medicine for 16 years, with a focus on nutrition and obesity, I've learned that the keys to good health are quite simple to describe. In fact, I believe the best health advice can be boiled down to 48 words:
Avoid trans fats.
Replace saturated fats with unsaturated if you can.
Cook from whole ingredients – and minimize restaurant meals.
Minimize ultraprocessed foods.
Drink alcohol at most moderately.
Exercise as often as you can enjoy.
Drink only the calories you love.
P.S. I welcome your feedback at [email protected].
P.P.S. The Empire Financial Research offices are closed on Monday in observance of New Year's Day. Look for my next daily e-mail in your inbox on Tuesday, January 3. Happy New Year!