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Staying Healthy In Early Retirement

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Staying Healthy In Early RetirementI never thought staying healthy would be my biggest challenge in early retirement. Before I quit working full time, I thought my biggest challenge would be finance. I figured that we wouldn’t be able to save for retirement anymore and our net worth would slowly decline. Instead, we continue to save over $50,000 per year and our net worth has increased by over 50% since 2012. Luckily, our income has been better than I expected and the stock market was on a tear over the last few years. So we have done pretty well on the finance side. On the other hand, I haven’t done nearly as well on the health side.

Why did I think staying healthy would be easy? When I was working, I used to go the gym at lunch almost every day. I had been working out consistently since I was in college and I thought I could continue with no problem. Needless to say, it wasn’t as easy as I imagined. I joined the local 24 Hour Fitness, but haven’t fully utilized my membership. It’s just hard to find the time to go. They have a childcare facility, but the hours are a bit strange. It doesn’t work well for us.

Staying healthy should be everyone’s priority no matter what age you are. It should be easier when you don’t work full time, right? Your schedule is wide open and you can dedicate more time to staying fit. There are just a few things you need to do.

  1. Exercise
  2. Eat a healthy diet
  3. Control your weight
  4. Minimize stress
  5. Manage your long term conditions


Going to the gym isn’t working out for me. It was much easier to go to the gym when I was working because it was convenient and I scheduled it into my work days. We have been going to the gym about twice a week over the last few months. I don’t think that’s enough to make a difference. Once RB40Jr starts kindergarten, I should be able to go 5 days per week. I will try to fit it in right after he heads off to school. Once it becomes a regular part of my routine, it shouldn’t be difficult to keep up.

Meanwhile, I will have to find ways to exercise outside the gym. Lately, I have been playing tag with the kids when I go pick up RB40Jr and that’s pretty good. The kids are getting a lot faster and it’s a lot of effort to chase them around. Staying active is tougher in the winter because it rained so much this year. It should be much easier to go outside when the weather warms up. I really need to find a sport that Junior enjoys and then we can work on it together.

Also, I got a Garmin Vívofit 2 for Christmas and I’m using it to track my activity level. It’s actually very helpful to get some feedback. In January, I averaged about 5,500 steps per day and that’s too low. I need to bring it up to at least 6,000 steps per day. I really like the Vivofit and highly recommend it if you’re thinking about buying a fitness tracker. Here are some highlights.

  • No need to recharge. It uses a regular watch battery and you just need to change it once per year.
  • Waterproof up to 50 m. I wear it 24/7. It also has a sleep tracker so that’s a nice bonus.
  • The strap is comfortable and the size is perfect. I wouldn’t want to wear it 24/7 if it was any bigger.
  • Audible and visual alerts if you’ve been inactive too long. Unfortunately, I tend to ignore them…

Anyway, the key is to increase my activity level throughout 2016. I’m optimistic about this.

Eat a healthy diet

This one is difficult for a lot of people and I’m no exception. Well, I think we eat relatively healthy. We usually cook at home so our meals aren’t calorie bombs. I cook mostly Asian cuisine and that’s generally healthy. I don’t deep fry and I make sure to include vegetables with every meal. We need to eat more fish, though.

Drinks – We rarely drink soda pop and other sugary drinks. I usually drink tea or water. I rarely drink beer and wine these days. Alcohol is bad for my triglycerides level.

Snacks – I think this is my downfall. We have cookies, crackers, and chocolate around the house now because RB40Jr loves them. It’s tough to not snack when there is junk food on the shelf! I need to pick up some healthy snacks and wean myself from processed junk food. I just picked up some organic baby carrots today, but they don’t look appetizing at all. At least, we like fresh fruits and eat them regularly.

Control your weight

I’ve been pretty good here. My weight has been stable around 131 lbs for years now. I’m getting softer around the edges, but at least I haven’t gained weight.

Minimize stress

Here is one that I’m doing very well in. I was very stressed out before I left my career and it was negatively affecting my health. I had headaches all the time. My shoulders were painfully tight. My eyes were blurry from looking at the computer screen 10+ hours every day. My back hurt from sitting too long. To top it all off, the stress was causing panic attacks and depression.

These days I feel much better and I’m not constantly stressed out anymore. Being self employed isn’t completely stress free, but it’s a lot better than my former corporate environment.

Manage your long term conditions

It’s inevitable to pick up a few long term conditions as you get older. About 10 years ago, I went in for a routine physical and the blood test came back with a very elevated triglyceride level. Triglyceride is a type of fat (lipid) in your blood that can increase your risk of heart disease and other health issues. My triglyceride level was over 500 mg/dL and that’s way higher than normal. I got it down to a more normal level with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. However, it seems to be getting bad again. My last blood test shows my triglyceride level to be around 200 mg/dL. Anything above 150 is not good. I need to exercise more and eat healthier.

*I also have mild mitochondrial disease. It’s a genetic mutation that limits my ability to exert myself. I can’t sustain intense activities like running for more than a few minutes. So intense programs like cross fit won’t work for me. That’s why going to the gym is the easiest way for me to exercise. I can rest between sets of resistance training. I can also monitor my heart rate closely when I’m on the cardio machines. I have to keep my heart rate under 150 so I don’t faint.

Easier said than done

It should be easy to stay healthy, but I’m having a difficult time with it. I don’t see myself as overweight or completely sedentary so I don’t put enough effort into exercising or modifying my diet. Seeing my triglyceride level elevated is a wake-up call for me. My priority this year is to bring down my triglyceride level and improve my fitness. You can have all the money in the world, but life won’t be enjoyable if you’re not well. I need to live a healthy lifestyle so I can be around for my family. 

What about you? Do you have a difficult time with exercise and eating healthy?

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{ 45 comments… add one }

  • Susie - Quit Work for Life February 5, 2016, 12:25 am

    Right on the money, you’ve got to invest in yourself as much as you invest to retire early! I figure when I retire it will be like I’m on vacation, a couple weeks worth of indulgence, then getting bored with the indulgences, craving my old routine and hopefully finding the motivation to get back to it.
    Good luck with your fitness goals! I’m sure it will get easier as RB40Jr gets older. 🙂

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:14 am

      Thanks! I think it will be easier as Jr become more independent. I’ll have lots of time to focus on my fitness in a few years.

  • Ernie Zelinski February 5, 2016, 1:19 am

    I may have a tough time with exercising regularly — but do so anyway. It’s all about commitment. I would guess that I have exercised vigorously for about an hour a day at least 340 days a year for the last 30 years.

    I eat healthy too. Having said, I like to share the alternative point of view, particularly through quotations:

    “I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the time he killed himself.”
    — Johnny Carson

    “To safeguard one’s health at the cost of too strict a diet is a tiresome illness indeed.”
    — François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

    “He neither drank, smoked, nor rode a bicycle. Living frugally, saving his money, he died early, surrounded by greedy relatives. It was a great lesson to me.”
    — John Barrymore

    “Use your health, even to the point of wearing it out.
    That is what it is for.
    “Spend all you have before you die; do not outlive yourself.”
    — George Bernard Shaw

    “Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.”
    — Mark Twain

    • Mike H. February 5, 2016, 6:59 am

      “Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.” – Redd Foxx

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:17 am

      That’s great! I need to make a commitment to become healthier. This year will be a slow ramp, but I’m very optimistic for next year.

  • Michael @ Financially Alert February 5, 2016, 3:17 am

    Hey Joe,

    I’m right there with you too. Easier said than done, right?

    This year I’ve been trying to exercise by getting back to a sport I actually like… tennis. So, I signed up for a class which keeps me financially committed as well – so far so good! I think I may actually be able to sustain this.

    I have been eating healthier than last year, but definitely slip up now and then. It’s not like I’m overweight, but I know I’m at the prehypertension stage with my BP.

    Good luck with your progress! 🙂

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:18 am

      The problem is I don’t like any sport. 🙁 I like low impact activities like yoga and taichi. I’ll try to sign up for those after the kid goes off to school.
      Good luck with your tennis classes.

  • Aaron Smykowski February 5, 2016, 3:35 am

    I’m no expert, but I’ve been a certified Crossfit trainer for a few years and have had a genuine interest in health and exercise for the last 5 years or so. In my journey the one that I’ve been sold on is the idea of short, intense workouts ideally in a group setting. Whether that’s a bootcamp class, crossfit, spin class or one of many other types. Full body movements at high intensity for short periods of time (20-30 minutes) works. Group classes at high intensity where you just come and do what you’re told overcome the barrier of figure out things for yourself. Show up to a class three times a week and trust me that’s all you should need to get in good shape. Yes they are more expensive but they work. Most people don’t have the discipline to go to a regular gym alone and push them to do intense exercise on a regular basis. Especially when first starting out.

    Fruit is natures candy for a reason. It really isn’t good for you. Yes it has vitamin C generally but the sugar that comes with it makes it a poor choice especially if you’re looking to lose weight.

    Read labels! Sugar is in everything. “Fat free” is the ultimate marketing gimmick. Fat is good for you. It doesn’t get converted into body fat when eaten (carbohydrates do) and it helps fill you up. Fat is where all the flavor is as well. When something is fat free, the manufacturer removes the fat and substitutes sugar to add some flavor back. Go pick up both versions of salad dressing and look at the labels and you’ll see what I mean.

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:41 am

      Cross fit won’t work me because I have mitochondrial disease. I can’t sustain high intensity for more than a few minutes. I updated the post with this info.
      I didn’t know that about fruits. I thought you can eat as much fruits as you want. I’ll have to find a snack alternative. We don’t eat fat free stuff. 🙂

    • Brian Knight February 5, 2016, 6:01 pm

      I agree with Aaron. Also, great article Joe.

      I know you struggle with snack ideas. Especially, with RB40 Jr.’s snacks being within easy reach. I know you were munching on some plain carrots the other day. One of my favorite snacks is celery or carrots and dipping them in almond butter. If you do not like almond butter then try Justin’s Maple almond butter and it is delicious. Almond butter is more expensive but I recommend it over peanut butter. Some people complain about the cost of high quality food but you can either pay now or pay later.

      Use pork rinds if you need a crunchy snack since they have not carbs. Make sure you get only the plain. Also, almonds, walnuts or high-quality beef jerkey make great low-carb snacks. Just some suggestions. Sugar is the key to dropping the triglyceride levels. Like Aaron said, GOOD fats will help as well and raise your HDL.

      • retirebyforty February 6, 2016, 10:02 pm

        Thanks for the ideas. I picked up some celery yesterday. We have some almond butter around because we can’t bring peanut butter anymore.
        I love pork rinds! I usually don’t buy it because I thought it wasn’t good nutrition wise. I will do a little research. I also got some pistachio.

  • Maria February 5, 2016, 4:24 am

    Hi RB40,
    Hoping this might help!
    I retired in Dec. 2015 and have began tracking my exercise just like I track my finances! I chart it on a huge calendar with stickers.

    I think the way to increase exercise is to shake it up. Usually exercise classes force you to exercise for 60 minutes and usually offer child care too. So shake it up with Spinning, Yoga, Zumba and Sculpt classes. Then hike, dance , walk or play tag with RB40 and sign him up for soccer season on days you are unable to take a class. Doing these things will put you at 10,000 plus steps by 12 noon. Happy exercising and always have a relaxing recovery day on Sunday. Maria

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:45 am

      Thanks for the suggestions. I think a chart would really help. I will look for some fitness classes. I like Yoga and other low impact classes.

  • Pennypincher February 5, 2016, 4:35 am

    You look pretty healthy to me, Joe. I won’t play doctor here and lecture. But you listed a few key things that may be the culprit. You can’t get to the gym right now because of time constraints. That will change when “you know who” starts school. There are some great, free, workouts on TV you can do. Yoga, pilates, intense aerobics, you name it. Search them out. Aaron listed some good tips as well. I think the guy knows what he’s talking about! I’m wondering if you could take a run when Mrs. RB40 gets home from work to watch Jr.
    You also mentioned the food that mysteriously “shows up” in the house w/kids. Oh yes. I know those well. Packaged, processed foods for convenience. Who’s not guilty of that! Maybe you could put a photo of the Pillsbury Dough Boy on your cupboard or fridge to remind oneself to stay away!
    If you offered up cut carrots, apples, grapes, snap peas, you get the idea, ready to eat, I’d bet a dollar Jr. would eat them.
    Lastly, (whew!) get some ground flaxseed to add (slowly) to your daily smoothie of fresh spinach, chopped apple, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, almond milk, tea. The spinach will give you energy. Flax lowers blood pressure & cholesterol levels. Enough said.

    • Pennypincher February 5, 2016, 6:41 am

      I found Aaron’s link to the carb count in fruit very helpful. Which led me (somehow) to an excellent, reputable source for exercise- webmd.com/fitness and exercise. Lots of good stuff.
      Ps- the Pillsbury dough boy’s official name is Poppin’ Fresh – fyi. : )

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:48 am

      Mrs. RB40 gets home a bit too late for that. We go for a family walk after dinner in the summer, but it gets dark very early in the winter. I’m pretty sure things will improve once the weather warms up.
      Yes, the junk food is tough. I ate those carrots last night and they almost made me throw up. I might be allergic to raw carrots or something like that. I’ll try celery next. Jr likes cucumber.
      Smoothie is a good idea. Mrs. RB40 likes them.

  • Linda February 5, 2016, 4:50 am

    Even though retirement is 10-15 years away for me, this is something I need to think about now. I have a pretty active job, so I don’t really exercise on my own. But once I quit, I need to replace that activity with something, otherwise I don’t see myself enjoying retirement for too long!

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:50 am

      Yes, you need to make a plan. Lucky that you have an active job. 🙂

  • Sara February 5, 2016, 6:14 am

    Check out fitnessblender.com for a ton of FREE, awesome, at home workouts. Great when you don’t want to go to the gym ( I quit after having kids) Going to the gym just take time, but I can find 10-30 minutes at home to do something.

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:51 am

      Thank you! I will check it out.

  • Mike Drak February 5, 2016, 6:38 am

    One of my major concerns right now is the state of my health and I need to put some new routines in place to turn things around. I plan on setting health goals and tracking progress on a daily basis. Also instead of driving everywhere I recently purchased a bike and will be riding instead of driving whenever possible. Also will establish some cool goes like doing a half marathon with my wife in October provided I can make it to the starting line. It will probably more walk than run but still another step in the right direction. If it works out I plan on taking the show on the road and take part in similar events in other countries which should be a lot of fun. I think for me it’s all about creating good full routines.

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:52 am

      Those are great goals. Creating good routines is the way to go. Good luck! We need to be healthy to enjoy our retirement longer.

  • Jim @ Route To Retire February 5, 2016, 8:01 am

    This is actually one of the main reasons I want to retire early… to start exercising more!! It sounds like you didn’t have as much time as you initially anticipated, but it’s good you’re really getting focused on it.

    I’ve never been a big exerciser, but I’m thinking since that’s one of the biggest goals of post-retirement that I’ll be able to stay on track with it. You’re absolutely right that all the money in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t lead a healthy lifestyle.

    — Jim

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:54 am

      Yes, it’s tough to find personal time when you’re a stay at home dad. The kid is growing up fast, though. I’ll have more time to do things on my own soon.

  • Mr. Tako @ Mr. Tako Escapes February 5, 2016, 8:26 am

    Hi Joe,

    Since you are good at handling the financial side of things, maybe it makes sense to keep track of your health via its financial impacts. How much would a hospital stay cost if you have a heart-attack? It could be considered a ‘hidden’ cost in your lifestyle. Maybe you should amortize and deduct that from your savings?

    Just another way to think about it I guess.

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:55 am

      Yikes! That’s just scary. Nobody want to think of it that way, but you maybe right. I will think about how to implement this. Seems kind of tricky. Financial incentive for exercising could be a good idea.

  • Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life February 5, 2016, 9:10 am

    In the past few months I finally found a routine for exercising that has worked for me and I’ve gotten 5 to 6 days of exercise a week for 3 months now! There’s so much advice you can find about exercise regimens, but it really came down to what would actually work for me and my schedule. Eating well is much harder for me. We don’t eat terribly unhealthy foods, but I always eat too much! It’s a hard habit to break, but trying is better than not caring at all I guess!

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:56 am

      Oh wow, that’s awesome. 5-6 days per week is really good. I think I need to incorporate exercise into my routine. Maybe just go exercise after Jr goes off to school. Right now, there are just too many things that comes up. Eating well is tough for me too.

  • Mr. Enchumbao February 5, 2016, 10:02 am

    Hi Joe, I’m really bad at working out. I like to walk but can’t find the way to the gym and we have two fitness center at our campus. My wife pushes me to come along for Yoga and Zumba. I have yet to make it to Zumba. I’m trying to break that and exercise 3 times a week this year. I’m also trying fun workouts like Salsa dancing.
    We eat a very healthy diet and without a child there’s less temptation to give into the sweet desserts but that will change at some point.

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:57 am

      I like yoga and hiking too. I need to figure out a way to incorporate those into my routine. It’s much easier in the summer when the weather is nice. We might need to move to Hawaii or something like that… 🙂

      • Mr. Enchumbao February 5, 2016, 12:07 pm

        The warm weather definitely lends itself to keeping more active. I prefer the outdoor activities to being working out inside a gym. Thanks for sharing these. It helps in keeping the rest of us motivated.

  • middle class revolution February 5, 2016, 10:49 am

    Yikes. Mitochondrial Disease is quite serious. I know there are major differences in terms of severity. I’m glad you’re able to exercise and live a regular life.

    • retirebyforty February 5, 2016, 10:58 am

      I think I have a pretty mild case.

  • Mrs. SimplyFinanciallyFree February 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

    If you are having trouble getting motivated to exercise sign up for a race or something in the future that you have to work towards. Maybe a 5k run in the spring is a good place to start. You will need to get out and run or exercise at least periodically in order to run the race and not feel like a slug behind everyone else. I run Spartan Races (if you are adventurous I highly suggest them) and I know that I am much better at sticking to my plan when I have a race coming up. The past 2 months I have slacked a little because my first race isn’t until May but now that this race is on the horizon I am ramping back up. Set the goal, commit to it, and then you will be surprise to see the exercise routine and maybe even your diet improve.

  • Tawcan February 5, 2016, 12:37 pm

    Maybe sign up for a race (i.e. triathlon or marathon) would get you motivated to exercise? Or join a team to play some team sport.

    I hear you on the snack. We try to make our own snacks as much as possible. Here’s a snack that’s quite easy to make and is healthy for you – http://www.threemorebites.com/spice-bars/

  • nicoleandmaggie February 5, 2016, 12:43 pm

    Most nutritionists will say that fruits are fine, though some fruits are better than others depending on your personal body issues. For example, grapes are worse glycemically on average than apples, which is an issue if you have insulin resistance. Unlike junk food, fruit comes with vitamins and fiber.

  • KS February 5, 2016, 3:51 pm

    I lost a lot of weight in 2014 and so far I’ve kept it off. Veggies and lean protein, stocking up along the edges of the grocery store, cooking simply, walking and biking are now my habits. It can be harder to walk Nov-Feb. with the shorter days. I block my schedule to leave my desk by 4:00 and that way I have an hour of daylight. Now there’s twilight until 6:00 pm, so I can leave by 4:30 and enjoy 90 mins – enough to walk 3-4 miles. I really miss walking outdoors when the sidewalks are snow-covered, but that’s why I have a treadmill. Oh yeah, I also go a Vivofit 2 for Xmas and it is comfy, easy to read and synch, but not entirely accurate. It’s a good indicator of whether I’ve done enough each day. I also recommend arranging a standing desk for yourself and working your way up to longer periods of standing vs. sitting. Standing really feels more energizing. Now I can stand most of the morning, sometimes 3-4 hours straight. Plus you can wiggle around more, especially during those boooooring conf calls!

  • Catwoman73 February 6, 2016, 7:44 pm

    Get yourself a Wii Fit. It’s a lot of fun, and the whole family can participate. None of the exercises are super intense, which might make it ideal for your situation. Even if you do some of the more intense ones, you can design yourself a program that alternates those with less intense stuff, so you get a bit of a break. We’ve had one for a few years, and I use it as a part of my fitness routine- I also run, do yoga, ballet, and a variety of other fitness classes. Changing it up regularly keeps it fun and interesting. 🙂

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2016, 10:01 pm

      That’s a great idea. I will see how much a used Wii cost. 🙂

  • Mike February 7, 2016, 2:01 pm

    Having you looked into adding an Omega 3-6-9 supplement or a little bit more fish to your diet? I have heard that there are a lot of benefits to adding some of these to one’s exercise regime.

    • retirebyforty February 8, 2016, 9:20 am

      I am taking fish oil supplement and we are trying to eat more fish. We don’t know how to cook fish that well so it’s a big change.

  • Revanche February 8, 2016, 2:42 pm

    You just reminded me I have to polish up that post on exercising while home with a baby / kid!

    We have similar challenges, I think. It’s easier to schedule in the exercise time when you make it part of a traditional workday that involves a commute. Some people can fit the workout in the morning before work, or over lunch, or making it part of the commute. I used to walk a couple miles a day as part of my commute but ever since I started a contract and telecommuting, I’ve had to find other ways to make exercise happen.

    I’ve also taken on most of the cooking responsibilities because of the convenience of my telecommuting-related flexibility but I’m *awful* at incorporating veggies – I’d love if you would share any of your recipes. We do a mix of Asian and American cuisine but somehow I always manage to cook an entree and a starch and fail on the veggie front.

    I haven’t mastered cooking whole fish but I’ve found a really easy way to do fillets (we normally do tilapia for this): place raw fillets on a large sheet of foil, drizzle a bit of olive oil, dash of salt and pepper, and a couple slices of lemon. Pile on sliced onions or cut tomatoes (or both!) and pull the edges of the foil up and roll them together so you have a foil packet. Pop into the oven (we just use the toaster oven for this) at about 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes or til the fish is white and flaky and voila! Pretty good.

    • retirebyforty February 8, 2016, 4:17 pm

      It’s tough to fit exercise time in when you have small children. Some parents run with their kids in stroller. That’s pretty good, but it doesn’t really work for us.
      As for veggies, I would make sure to buy at least broccoli and carrots when you go shopping. You can do a quick steam if you need some veggies on the side. Salad is good too. My kid loves frozen peas and corns. You should try that with your kids. That’s the easiest way for the kid to get his vegetable. Lastly, try making a carrot salad. Look up papaya salad and substitute carrot. The easy version is to grate the carrots. Add a little lime, fish sauce, and a sugar. Add peanuts if you’re not allergic. Very easy. Good luck with vegetables!

  • Mysticaltyger February 9, 2016, 7:33 pm

    I found a list of 5 foods that are supposed to reduce high triglycerides naturally. I hate taking medication of any kind on a regular basis. Don’t want to make Big Pharma any richer if I don’t have to. Here are the 5 foods:
    –Cold Water Fish: Salmon/Tuna/Cod. Salmon is supposed to be the most effective.
    –Olive Oil.
    –Grapes (and blueberries were also mentioned).
    –Beans (and also peas and lentils).


    • retirebyforty February 10, 2016, 10:55 am

      That’s great! I will check the site. We are trying to eat more fish. I need to learn how to cook fish better. It shouldn’t be that difficult!
      Grapes, blueberried, and olive oil are a regular part of our diet. I don’t know how to cook beans well either. We’ll just throw some in rice. That should work. Thanks!

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