Making Sure Our Retirement Is a Long and Healthy One // Planning for Longevity

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I have this thing where I really want to live to be 100. And because Mr. ONL is three years older than me, I’ve told him that he has to live to be 103. (He’s not totally sold, but I figure I have a long time to convince him.) Sadly, statistically, I have a better chance of making it there than he does, but we’re also talking about something 60 years away, and I figure a lot could still change in the world and medicine to improve our chances.

That said, I have zero interest in making it to triple digits if I’m confined to a chair or a bed for many of those years, or if I’m just barely hanging on, or in pain, or not myself.

And just as we’d all look to the habits of those who’ve achieved success and wealth if our goal is to achieve success and wealth, I often find myself looking to those who’ve made it to their second century as a guide for how we should be thinking about our health long term. (I highly recommend the book The Blue Zones if you’re interested in this topic.)

Studies of people who make it into the advanced years show some consistent habits that represent what we do when we’re at our best: eat mostly plants, eat the smallest meal of the day for dinner, keep our weight in check, get plenty of exercise, stay social.

But then there are weeks like last week when I got fewer than 10,000 steps in the entire week. I am not exaggerating. Here are some excuses I could make: work was busy, it was cold out, the trails are still snowy and muddy, my ankle is injured. (Note: only one of those excuses was work-related. All the rest are excuses I could still make after work is gone.) But it’s spring and daylight time now, so there was no reason not to get outside at least a few evenings.

If there’s something we know heading into retirement, it’s this:

We need to focus on protecting our health every bit as much as we focus on our finances and all the rest of our post-retirement life.

Here’s how we plan to do that.

Planning for Good Health and Longevity in Retirement // longevity, lifestyle design, good health

Everything we’ve read suggests that good health over the long term boils down to a few key factors, namely:

  • Genetics
  • Eating habits
  • Exercise habits
  • Lifestyle habits
  • Access to health care
  • Geography
  • Social habits

We can’t control genetics, so won’t talk about that, and I’ve written extensively about health care, most recently here. But there’s plenty we can start doing or do better on all the other factors.

Eating Habits

Food trends and what diet is considered “healthiest” constantly change. Plus, nutrition is notoriously hard to study, and we should all take the latest dietary recommendations with a grain of salt. So rather than try to pretend to know the answers, we try to use common sense, aided by commonalities in eating habits among those who’ve gone the age distance.

  • Don’t eat more than we need.
  • Avoid anything with a long ingredient list, or ingredients that don’t look like food.
  • Eat a colorful diet full of fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Minimize or eliminate meat.
  • Eat the biggest meal of the day in the morning or midday.

But note the operative word there: try. Mr. ONL has fortnightly cravings for fried chicken, and if I’m in the presence of good gluten-free pizza or donuts, buckle up. Plus sometimes it’s exhausting to even think about trying to whip up a healthy meal from scratch when there is a more convenient, less healthy option available — something I know we can all relate to.

This is an area that we really want to focus on improving in retirement, mainly because we hope to be less tired and to have more time to create our meals. We have had spurts of meal planning in the past, but have always fallen off the wagon, which impacts both our diet and our spending. We hope to do a better job of planning our meals consistently in retirement, prepping them in bigger batches so that the most convenient option is also the healthiest. And we hope that we’ll generally approach meals from a less exhausted place, so that we aren’t trying to figure out what to have for dinner while in the depths of decision fatigue and minimal willpower. And finally, we will have time to go to the farmers’ market every week in the summer, and loading up on the freshest seasonal produce is the best way we know to get us to eat more of that good stuff.

Exercise Habits

We feel like we have a head start on physical activity because we already relocated to a place that makes it especially easy to get consistent exercise. Our number of true bad weather days is low, and there are accessible things to do outside in every season. We can’t walk to the store, but we can bike there, often even in the winter, and once we have time to do that, we’ll be on our bikes, skis and snowshoes as much as possible.

Of course, location and available activities aren’t the only factor. Like last week shows, just having trails nearby isn’t enough. We have to make the effort to get out there.

That’s the biggest reason why, when I’ve talked about how we’ll structure our days in retirement, you see exercise always coming in the morning. That’s not because morning is always the best time to be outside here, but because if we leave exercise until late in the day, we’re more likely to make excuses and switch it. So I might in fact have my best writing mojo in the morning, but it’s important to us to set a strong, lifelong exercise habit, and we think we have the best chance of doing that if we make it happen every morning before the decision fatigue sets in. (The idea that willpower is highest in the morning, which used to be accepted fact, is now coming into question. But I will say this: my willpower is certainly highest in the morning.)

Lifestyle Habits

This is some of the easy, obvious stuff: don’t smoke, don’t drink too much.

But it’s also some of the less obvious stuff: be grateful, be kind to others, keep learning and challenging ourselves, face challenges head-on instead of hiding from them.

This blog is pretty much a running tally of our thinking on these topics, but it’s absolutely true to say that we’ll keep thinking and talking about all of this stuff, and keep striving to get better. And if somewhere along the way, someone decides they want to fund our second act as professional masters’ degree students, because lifelong learning is so important, we won’t turn it down.

Some of the things we already do to some extent and plan to continue or ramp up include: Always studying languages, whether that’s refreshing old skills or acquiring new ones. Practicing gratitude. DIYing our home projects as much as possible so we’re forced to learn new things. Trying new physical activities, for the same reasons.


Data show quite clearly that people live longer in some places, and shorter in others. Places that don’t have clean, safe drinking water, for example, tend to have shorter lifespans for a variety of reasons. (The water may carry pathogens or toxins that increase cancer risk, and poor infrastructure for water is a strong indication that other infrastructure for safety, health care, education, etc., is equally lacking.)

There’s no good data on longevity in our small town, though we do say to ourselves sometimes that we don’t see a whole lot of super old folks around. We do know that high altitude places have higher incidence of skin cancers and macular degeneration, so we’re liberal with the sunscreen and sunglasses-wearing, but beyond those things, we don’t know if we’re in a place that will help us grow old healthily.

One thing is clear in the longevity data overall, though: a huge percentage of people who make it to 100 live in cities, not in small towns or rural areas. Which makes tons of sense: cities give you more opportunity to walk to the store or other services, which keeps you active. They provide more opportunity for social interaction and other forms of engagement. And cities provide better access to health care than you get in rural areas.

We love our mountain town and plan to stay here a good long while. But we’ve always had in our minds that we mostly likely won’t stay here beyond, say, our 60s. Dealing with all the snow will get old at some point. So will chopping firewood, weathering the long and cold winters, taking care of a mountain home under constant assault by vermin and woodland creatures, and living under the threat of wildfire half the year or more. We have a mid-sized city in mind as our current “late retirement” destination, though that’s also many years off and could change.

Social Habits

Until I see more blogs talking about this, I’m going to keep repeating myself: you need new friends in retirement. The size and depth of your social network plays a huge role in your health, happiness and longevity, not to mention that a long life with few friends just sounds lonely and sad. Even introverts need quality social interaction, just perhaps on a different scale from what extroverts need. (Plus most of us are ambiverts, so we should stop labeling ourselves as though it’s either/or.)

The fact is that some friendships grow distant over time naturally, and add to that the loss of job relationships at retirement, the fact of existing friends not being free to hang out during the work week when we’ll suddenly have time, and the added challenge of forming community for those contemplating long-term travel. This is big stuff to deal with, though not insurmountable, so long as we have a plan.

Our plan involves joining more community organizations when we retire, making a concerted effort to seek out friends younger than us, and making sure we don’t travel for many months at a time to avoid harming social ties (and because we just don’t think the long-term nomad life is for us).

Do you include health in your financial independence or early retirement planning?

As always, we’d love to hear from you guys! Does health factor into your future plans in a meaningful way? What do you already do or plan to do in the near future to keep your quality of life high for many years? Any other aspiring centenarians out there? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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86 replies »

  1. I suspect a lot of people overlook these when planning for retirement. It’s why sadly a lot people don’t survive the first years of retirement. If you don’t have a plan to stay healthy and active you won’t get the chance to enjoy retirement. I don’t have plans as of yet as we’re at least 15 years out, but given our retirement plan is to travel and on travel our primary activity is hiking, I don’t suspect issues.

    • I think you’re right. And all kinds of things sky rocket after retirement — depression, divorce, death. (Hmm: new slogan: Avoid the 3 Ds! ;-) ) It’s hard to imagine that health doesn’t play some role in all three, or at least two of those. And just as you said, what’s retirement worth if you aren’t healthy enough to enjoy it?

  2. It’s a concern, and has become more of one as I approach 50 this year. I’ve noticed that the retirees that I think have the best quality of life are pretty active. They exercise regularly, get together with friends, and travel and do other things that satisfy a continuous need to learn.

    I just have yet to put my concern into sustained action, other than the “keep learning” part.

    • We’ve absolutely seen the same thing. Even among working stiffs, those who stay active have a natural outlet for their stress and stay in better health overall. (And they seem happier!) And honestly, if you’re focused on continual learning, you’re already doing better than most. I have found that learning via audiobooks while hiking is a pretty great way to kill two birds with one stone! ;-)

  3. One thing I miss about living in the city is the walking. Since I work from home I don’t walk much AT ALL anymore. Unless it’s the weekend and I decide to go for a walk/hike, or if I’m traveling for work and walking around an airport or city. But I make up for it by making sure I hit the gym 4x a week. I also ride my bike around town once it starts warming up (which it is doing now) since I’m a fair-weather rider.

    The diet could be better but the fact I’m not 30 yet and I work out quite a bit make up for my lacking in that department. Will probably have to revisit in 5 to 10 years. Maybe I’ll make it to 100 like you :)

    • Oh yeah, working from home is the scourge of inactivity for sure. It’s impressive you’re still getting to the gym that often, and good for you for biking (and no shame for being a fair weather rider — same here!). And I think it’s fine to not seek perfection in your diet, just be mindful of habits — having known Mr. ONL since his 20s, I have seen that it is hard to cut back on the junk as you get older! ;-)

  4. A lady I used to work with retired late last year. Two days after her last day at work she had a massive heart attack and passed away. She was in her late 50’s and outwardly looked pretty healthy. That right there is my motivation to stay fit and healthy. I’ve been slacking on that front lately myself, but will be ramping up the exercise when the weather gets nicer (hard to do stuff outside when it’s been raining 9 days straight and everything is gross and muddy and cold.) My new house is only a mile from the farmer’s market and would be a lovely ride Saturday mornings!

    • Oh man, what an awful story. But I can totally see what a motivation that would be for you to stay active, as well as motivation not to work until your 50s! And I don’t think it will kill you to skip exercise for a little while when the weather is bad. It’s more about long-term trends — are you active most days in a year? If yes, then you’re probably doing pretty well.

  5. The whole deliberate exercise thing is one of our personal bugaboos. We don’t. We both hate deliberate exercise. Instead we try to just be active. So maybe I don’t do a regular workout but I do garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, fix and carry, chop, and other things. Movement keeps you fit. I also try to incorporate movement into every day activities. A major cause of health problems in the elderly is injury from a fall. Two major causes of injury are lack of flexibility/balance and poor vision. So, for example, even at my age I always stand on one foot and put my shoe on the other without any support. We also installed grab bars and bannisters everywhere and we keep our glasses up to date and we use them. The number one way people get hurt RVing is falling on the stairs of their rig so we are religious about the step down and the grab rail out no matter how rushed we are. We buy sturdy shoes with good treads and replace them often. According to a physiotherapist we know the best way to keep your general balance is to walk on uneven demanding ground. We try to get on one walk every day that is 45 minutes to an hour. And since we hate exercising, we try to substitute with weekend warrior type fun like a two hour canoe trip or a nice long bike ride, or attending a local fair at least once a week and every chance we get. That doesn’t feel like exercise. This weekend is the McCreary Maple Syrup fest. It includes a free walking tour of one of the local operations and it says bring your boots and be ready to walk. We’re retired. Who wants to exercise?

    • It sounds like you get plenty of exercise, which is great. And exercise in the gym is NOT on our list — it’s more about being outside all the ways we love to experience nature: on trails, on water, on rock faces, etc. So it won’t feel like exercise the same way as if I woke up and said, “Okay, time to spend 60 minutes on the elliptical machine with a heart rate of 150!” No thank you. :-) I love how much you guys are doing to stay active (and safe!) — keep it up!

  6. Our desire to consistently live a healthier, more active lifestyle is probably the biggest reason we want to early retire. Some people are able to work demanding jobs, have kids (we have 1), AND manage to squeeze in working out regularly, but I find those people often compromise sleep, which is something we’re not willing to give up! Our ideal day in ER is similar to yours, with a few hours dedicated to being active and outdoorsy built in to the routine, followed by some “productive” time. I regularly fantasize about daily hikes, bike rides, and workouts now and can’t wait to turn the corner toward that life.

    On longevity – the city connection is interesting. We lived in a major European city in our 20’s and talked a lot about how we saw many more elderly folks living independently there — walking (at a snail’s pace, mind you) to get their groceries every day, strolling around parks, even climbing several sets of stairs up to their apartments. There seemed to be more of a cultural acceptance and inclusion of the elderly there — whereas in the U.S. we seem to expect anyone over 70 or so to be frail, need assistance, perhaps require living in a retirement community or senior apartments, etc. Don’t know how much is cause vs correlation (are old folks here generally in worse physical condition, or does infantilizing them promote inactivity and frailty?), but it’s interesting to think about. I think the stronger family and social supports in Europe probably help too.

    • :::waves hand in the air::: I’m one of those people who give up the sleep, but it’s not a good thing! I can’t WAIT to catch up on my years of sleep debt. Yeah, I’ve noticed that in Europe, too, and we saw tons of (tiny!) elderly people in Japan, too. It’s in interesting question of what the causal effect is in the U.S. that keeps many more older folks here from being self-sufficient.. wish I knew the answer! As a rule, Americans of all ages are more sedentary than our counterparts in virtually every other country, so on some level it shouldn’t surprise us that folks aren’t especially mobile once they reach an advanced age.

  7. Hi ONL family,

    I believe that Health is wealth.

    When you start thinking about variables, you realize how little you really have within your control. You can control what you eat, how much you exercise, health screenings etc. However, you may still get a terminal disease. Alternatively, you can smoke and drink regularly, and die at the age of 95 from the hands of a jealous husband ;-)

    Same is true with investments – you can control savings,what you invest in, your temperament and ability to keep costs low. However, you have no control over the outcome – for example someone who retired in 1994 would have had better tailwinds than someone who retired in 1929 or 1999.

    You can really only try to adapt to the best of your abilities. And live your life in a way that makes you happy and fulfilled.


    • This is a great point and one that gets overlooked by many FIRE bloggers who sometimes act like most health problems are caused by not eating healthfully or exercising enough. The most any of us can do is maximize the factors within our control and hope for the best (but have a backup plan for the worst).

      • I think of it as similar to stock market investing, honestly. You can’t control everything or predict the future, but you can make the best possible choices to maximize your chance of success. ;-)

      • Most health problems in the USA *are* caused by not eating healthfully, a sedentary lifestyle, and drug use. We can add cars to the mix, too, if you like, but I figure they’re part of the sedentary lifestyle. So yes, maximize your efforts on these fronts and you’re likely to be in good shape for a healthful life/retirement.

      • Most but not all. And you can do everything right and still have major health challenges (or just be affected by freak accidents!). But that said, there is no downside to doing everything you can to eat healthily and stay active! :-)

    • All of that is true, but I don’t think that’s an excuse for making bad choices. (Not that that’s what you’re saying — just that I’ve heard others say things like, “Well, I have cancer in the family, so it doesn’t matter what I eat,” and that’s not true at all.) Not to mention the skyrocketing rates of metabolic diseases like diabetes and stroke that are almost entirely the result of diet and not genetics. There’s always bad stuff that can happen in health and investing and life, but good choices can help us live with a higher quality of life in whatever time we’re lucky to get. :-)

      • Oh definitely – you need to do everything within your control for health and wealth. If you do the smart choices, you are tilting the odds in your favor. However, there is still the chance that things may not work out due to unforeseen events. This is why you need to be adaptable.

  8. Lovely post with common sense advice as always, and we’re doing our best to follow it.

    One reason your mountain town might not have a lot of super-elderly is actually the elevation. The oxygen content of air at higher elevations is lower, and as we get older our lungs are more sensitive to this. When retirees arrive at the north rim of the Grand Canyon in their RV caravans, the poor ambulance (I think there’s only one) drivers have a busy night taking them all to the hospital for supplemental oxygen. A few thousand feet make a world of difference.

      • It’s a bigger shock if you’re not used to it, but (especially for smokers/former smokers) they’d probably need supplemental oxygen a few years earlier or have much more trouble getting through a respiratory virus or pneumonia even if they’d lived at altitude their entire lives. On the bright side, if they moved down the mountain, they’d feel several years younger!

      • That makes sense! And can’t wait to go back in time when we move back down to sea level. ;-) I already love going to sea level because I feel slightly superhuman with all that extra oxygen! Haha.

  9. While I try to incorporate some exercise nearly daily, I can say that one of my goals when I can live more slowly is to walk and bike more places and receive all the ancillary benefits of the extra steps and pedaling. I do try and walk to pick my daughter up from school 1-2 days a week but if I can bike to yoga 15 minutes each way 4-5 days a week, that is about another 150 minutes of exercise on a weekly basis. Pile on the trips for errands that can be done via bike and walking, I’m guessing at least another 250-300 minutes of exercise. And moving a lot, in my opinion, is just as important as eating real food in maintaining health long term. My number one thing I’m looking forward to is not having my eyes on a screen while I’m sitting or standing. I’m less than 90 days away now. :)

    • Totally! How funny is it that I keep thinking, “I’ll get 20,000 steps every day, easy!” Hahaha. It seems like you still find time for a lot of exercise now, though — impressive! And heck yes to less screen time!

  10. Living in a city / walking distance to most errands is definitely something we want long-term. I grew up in the middle of nowhere on an acreage — I am not about that maintenance life! Small apartment our house for me all the way, ideally with little to no yard and right next to a park. 😀

    • Yeah, I’ve definitely realized, living in the mountains (albeit on a normal, suburb-sized lot) has made me realize that I do not want multiple acres, which I once thought I did. Our 1/3 acre is more than enough to deal with! I love the idea of a little house next to a park!

  11. ONL, we are 110% aligned on this one!! I’ve written quite a bit about this topic on my blog, and make it a major focus of our retirement/life planning. I recently read “Younger Next Year”, an EXCELLENT book (suggested by Ms. Montana) on the keys to longevity.

    The biggest takeaway from the book: 45 minutes of moderate exercise, 6 days a week. I’m making a dedicated focus on this (I even had a spreadsheet “red-yellow-green” scorecard, where I track each week!).

    Important stuff, thanks for highlighting it!! Here’s to making it to The Century Mark!!

    • I need to check out that book! I’m not convinced that anyone has that clear a picture of how much exercise we all need as we age, but I certainly think those numbers are a great starting point! And I LOVE your spreadsheet system! That’s so fantastic that you keep yourself accountable! :-D

  12. My grandfather lived to be 100 and passed away just 4 months shy of his 101 birthday. He lived about 15 years after my grandmother passed away and even to his last day, maintained his sharpness and memory. Both of my grandparents retired fairly early and traveled a lot. Every year they would take one or two big trips somewhere with a tour group. They traveled with friends, made friends on each trip, and maintained relationships with them. As you said, social relationships are key! They were also close to neighbors and had people over for dinner parties often. My grandfather continued to travel well into his 90s, again with friends and tour groups. The last time he flew on a plane he was 96. He also started painting in his 90s. He would take his favorite pictures from the places they had traveled and recreate them on canvas. At close to 100, he created a gallery of his work in the living room and invited people over for a viewing party. On a food note, he ate a 1/2 grapefruit every. single. morning. The point here is that I feel really lucky that I got to witness this all in practice and the older I get and the more I adopt the FIRE mindset, the more I connect with and appreciate how he spent his time and the simplicity of his later years. Thanks for this post.

    • Wow, both of your grandparents sound like they were amazing! And I’m so impressed with your grandfather traveling so late into life, and taking up painting in his 90s. What a great role model… and nice to know you have good genes for longevity! :-)

  13. Great post. We’re a ways off from ER, but already, we’re both trying to be more intentional about how we spend our free time, what we eat, screenings, etc. We both work, and have 2 kids, but it’s better to maintain these habits now, than go fallow and use ER and our busy schedules as an excuse to basically be lazy.

    I’ve also read plenty about the connection between cities and longevity. It’s tough for us right now because we live in the middle of DC and reap all of those benefits (I bike to work everyday, for instance). However, my wife wants to move to rural northern NJ, where we’d have closer access to outdoor rec opportunities, but I feel like the tradeoff wouldn’t quite meet up. It sounds nice, but it’s tough to “operationalize” healthy habits there.

    Believe me, it’s quite a source of stress trying to make that decision. I could maintain a blog about that alone!

    • It’s great you’re so focused on staying healthy continuously instead of trying to dig your way out of a health hole when you retire! Especially in DC, which has plenty of unhealthy, overstressed people! And living in a place with far less infrastructure than a big city, it’s plenty easy to get exercise if I make a point of it. I’m not forced to do it only because I work from home (I could theoretically commute by bike here, too). And because I let myself get busy and tired while working. I think if you guys moved to a place with lots of outdoor activities, it would be plenty easy to get the exercise you need… at least until you reach a certain age and need everything within close walking distance or a short bus ride. ;-)

  14. I think about health all the time when I think about FIRE. It’s what makes me nervous for people that talk about being utterly miserable for a decade in exchange for a chance at happiness later. And it’s not just the fact that we’re not promised tomorrow. It’s the incredible toll that misery (and all the coping mechanisms it inspires) can take on people later in life.

    I’m really glad you brought up social circles and friends. Part of why I love my job so much is that many of my coworkers are like my family. Working from home seems so appealing for so many reasons, but I would really miss those people!

    • I am TOTALLY with you. And even with all of our talk of long hours and tons of travel, we are not remotely miserable at work. If we were, we’d find a way to walk away, or formulate a different plan. Because I totally agree — that stuff takes its toll big time on your health long term! And it’s awesome that you have great social circles at work! I have no doubt that you could create them elsewhere (ahem, hello blogs!), too, but I understand that it’s tough to want to walk away from great networks!

  15. Yes! We try as best we can to live a healthy lifestyle. When going out with friends to dinner, sometimes we get weird looks when we order the meat-free dishes, but they get used to it after a while. Sometimes people are looking for healthier options and even start to ask our opinion on the “veg” lifestyle.

    If we can eat health 95% of the time (mostly at home), we’re happy with that. It’s so fun to keep active by dancing, hiking, yoga, and everything else! Stress becomes much less of an issue and we find ourselves smiling more. Along with our salsa dancing, we’ve been trying hard to learn Spanish to know what they’re saying in the songs we’re dancing to.

    Latin dancing classes end up having community built into it. We love those people so much! How refreshing to not know what anyone does for a living, but just share a common love of movement and music. :) We’re hoping to make it past 100 and will keep on trying!

    • If you achieve 95% healthy, that’s impressive! I hope to hit that bar after all the work travel ends, but it’s definitely not possible right this second. I aim for more like 80% healthy, though I probably also have a higher bar for what equals healthy than most normal people. Hahaha. And OMG — that might be the best reason I’ve ever heard to learn a language! To understand the dance music! Love it. :-D

  16. I was recently taken out of work due to being pregnant with twins. It’s kinda like a mini-retirement, because the babies are not here yet, but I’m receiving disability payments. However, I am so very limited in my activities due to my physical condition. It really goes to show just how important it is to be healthy.

    • Yeah, that’s a completely great analogy! Like a day off from work when sick is not fun at all, and it’s nothing like retirement. I do hope you have an uneventful rest of your pregnancy, and that your little twins arrive safely. Sending the love!

  17. Love this. I have around 50-60 articles on longevity bookmarked. I hope to write a really long-form article (mini-book) on it someday.

    I think the best article of the bunch (which I can’t find right now, ugh) studies a small foreign community and gives tips like healthy eating, exercise, relationships and stress-reduction are the key features. It’s not a city, so maybe that’s not a factor if you have everything else (sorry, haven’t read your link yet).

    I think you shouldn’t read too much into a lack of older people in your mountain town. As you note, it might get old. It’s quite possible that as people in your town get older they move away from the snow.

    Being able to afford living to 100 is an interesting financial topic. There are many 4% “rule” (theories) out there. One thing I like about real estate is that it has built-in inflation protection. Rents go up over time to keep pace. I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket, but I think it’s good income diversification.

    Have you looked at buying into annuity that pays a steady income after you turn 85? Obviously you could self-fund it with your investments, but you’ve mentioned before that you value certainty greatly.

    • I would LOVE if you’d write a book about longevity. It’s still something that’s so hard to study, and I’m always curious about the latest knowledge on the subject. (And I hope to have many more years to keep learning the latest and greatest info!) ;-) And yeah, I totally think it’s that people move away when they hit a certain age. This isn’t an easy place to live if you aren’t able-bodied and self-sufficient! And yeah, totally with you on the real estate. It was never part of our plan (we bought our property specifically for a relative to rent from us), but now that we have that property, we’re glad we do! And we haven’t bought any annuities yet, but it’s definitely something we’ll consider in another decade or two. ;-) You’re exactly right that I’d pay a premium for some certainty, so the idea is appealing… we just haven’t had time to explore that.

  18. Health is half of our focus in early retirement. Love that you wrote about this subject!! It’s not as much about longevity for us as it is about being healthy enough to do physically what we want to do all through retirement. In our household, I am the financial half, and the very significant other is the healthy half (by profession for both of us), making sure we exercise and eat healthy. Mostly anyway. We have big plans for early retirement, and we want to be physically able to easily participate in all of those plans – healthy living is sooooo important (and so is having that piece of cake but only occasionally).

    • It’s funny — when I first started the blog, I wrote about this All The Time. ;-) But I guess I felt like I maxed out that topic, because then I haven’t touched it in almost 2 years. So yeah, bringing healthy back… to the blog. Hahaha. And THANK YOU for mentioning the piece of cake every once in a while. That’s sooo necessary too. ;-)

  19. I’ve talked about maximizing our health and wellness in retirement, but we are definitely going to have to keep that in the forefront of our minds. My parents are 86 and 77 – so I can definitely see 90+ in my sights. My dad has Alzhemier’s though – and that is definitely something we think about. I agree with you that the diet information is challenging to consider – but small amounts, “real” food, focusing on fruits and vegetables makes the most sense. In terms of exercise, we’ve give up marathon running and walk a great deal instead. We definitely need to mix that up as we move forward too. I was in the best shape of my life when I trained for a triathlon. Lots of different muscle groups at work!

    • That’s great that you have some longevity genes! Though, gosh, I’m sure that’s super tough for your dad. I’m sorry. :-( And yeah, I don’t know that we plan to do any tris, but we can’t wait until we can get in the kind of shape that only comes from doing several different kinds of activities regularly!

  20. Want to be 100? I am less ambitious and aim to be 90, in full health, sporty and sane and then go out in one big bang!

    Living healthy is part of what we try to do. I recently use the bike as much as possible – like yesterday evening when I biked to the city and back, rather than taking the car. We do pay attention to what we eat and drink, yet not in an extreme way – a beer or pizza now and then is fine and we surely appreciate homemade fresh food.

    The next working point is being gratefull for all we have now. And I plan to keep being curious and learn about new stuff.

    All the best in getting Mr ONL to 103! I am sure you can do that

    • I think 90 is still a great aspiration, especially with your caveats about being in great health then! It sounds like you are doing everything right, and with moderation, which is super important too! We will absolutely enjoy a treat now and again, and sometimes indulge in a lazy day. And I love your addition about being curious and grateful and always seeking to learn new things.

  21. Lots of wise words and we practice many of them ourselves as well, as we figured that a healthy retirement is far more important than “retirement”.
    But I have one beef with your list of items affecting your longevity. The genetics that you have on the top of the list is in fact quite a bit further down in terms of impact. The impacts of food, stress, access to medical care and education are all far greater.
    I’ve read many medical and dietary studies and one thing became clear pretty quickly, genetics only account for only a few percent of terminal medical conditions. You have a lot more control over your own health than most people realize.

    • So true that a healthy retirement is so much more important than just retirement itself! And while I think it’s definitely true that we all have more control over our health than we may realize, I think that the genetics component is a bit more personal. For some people, it’s a big factor, and for others it’s small. But I also think this is an area where science still has much to learn. :-)

      • Genetics are certainly personal and if you are unfortunate to have been predisposed, the only thing you can do is limit the risk factors and/or try to limit the impact. Both of these can often also be done with making lifestyle changes such as diet, stress reduction and exercise. So you’re back at having some control over your own health (within personal limits of course!).

      • I should clarify what I’m thinking about in our exchange. This post outlines it: https://ournextlife.com/2015/04/08/why-the-urgency-2/. But in my case, we still don’t know if I have inherited a genetic disorder for which the trigger mechanism is not known, and for which there is no good treatment and certainly no cure. So I totally agree with you that limiting risk factors is always smart, but when you don’t know what the risk factors even are (and when they are unlikely to be the usual things like stress or an unhealthy diet), it’s hard to come up with a plan for that!

  22. Your comment about relationships spoke to me. As Mr. ThreeYear and I think about moving to an international location, that’s one of our biggest concerns. We want to have deep, enduring relationships in our lives. We think that eventually, that means living near extended family, having our kids live near their cousins. Having a wide network of people you know you can rely on provides an extra stability that surely improves your health. You’re right, it’s not talked about a ton in the PF world, but the quality of our relationships can trump almost everything else, even physical health. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • You’re welcome! Glad this is helpful. I definitely think it’s possible to form strong relationships anywhere, so long as you have the mindset of actively seeking friends. And technology today works wonders to be able to keep in touch with folks around the world. I’m sure you guys will figure out a great balance!

  23. My advice is to hire a trainer.

    Yes, it can be pricey, but mine has made a world of difference in my results — wish I had done it 25 years ago.

  24. You’re talking my language today! I’m all about health and wellness, including all the things you mentioned. Eat real food, move more, stress less, spend time with others you enjoy, and do activities that make you feel alive. Keep preaching it ONL! Love it!

    • Glad you enjoyed! :-) Especially love that last one — do activities that make you feel alive. I left that off my list, but that’s sooooo important!

  25. My activity plans are about the same as they are now, but with more time built in for kayaking than I get now. I have been loving the swimming and need to ramp up biking more, but overall, yeah i do expect to be more active. If nothing else, I notice I get over 15k steps on fridays off and the weekends compared to under 10k or mostly 8-9k per day during the week. I just do more.

    I do know that I can do other things to minimize the genetic predisposition to some things like skin cancers, by using sunscreen, long sleeves, hats, etc.. Other things like Alzheimers, I can’t do much about but just cross my fingers. Being aware of that stuff helps shape decisions I make now though, so that should count for something. :)

    As far as social aspect, I am hoping for the school connection to help some, but they may be cliquey and noone I want to spend time with, so i look for other things. If we end up near Canyon Lake, the Trout Unlimited has a really active chapter there and they are always needing board members and volunteers for their events/camps/workshops, etc… I’d love to be near enough to be more involved with that. If we end up somewhere else, i’ll probably look for a similar opportunity.

    I made a lot of friends even just through a home brewing group when I moved to LA, so there’s that or even a woodworking type of group as well I could seek out. We’ll see.

    • Oh, just wait until you aren’t at the office anymore — those daily steps can go sub-1000! :-) Hahaha. But you guys obviously live in a place where you can be outside year-round, even if it’s a little warm for my tastes, and that helps massively. And I think all those hobby groups sound like a great way to keep meeting folks — plus I assume you guys will keep meeting lots of parents through your kids’ activities. (Please tell Prof SSC that I keep thinking about your daughter’s super rad haircut — apropos of nothing, except that I’m jealous of a tiny person’s hair.) ;-)

  26. Come to Australia! The weather here is absolutely gorgeous. I noticed that in Canada 1/2 the men over 50 are bald or balding. Here, most people have a full head of hair even into their 60s and 70s. It’s definitely the abundant sunshine that causes this phenomenon.

  27. I think stress may be the biggest obstacle to overall health. Your mood plays a huge role. Interesting topic and while there are no guarantees I think you are on the right track. Good luck finding the sweet spot of health in retirement.


    • Amen to that! Stress is the thing we are most focused on reducing in our lives, and one of our biggest motivators to leave our careers. Thanks for the well wishes!

  28. This is such an important topic. One of the things slowing down my FI is that I’m spending a lot out of pocket related to improving my health. I have had thyroid issues, adrenal issues, a mold exposure, and CIRS and am trying to focus on fixing them. This mostly requires a functional medicine approach and lots of supplements, which adds up in cost, but I think it’s worth it if I can get my health straightened out. On the other hand, if I got to FI sooner I could focus completely on my health! I do use a high deductible insurance plan so I get my HSA and some assistance towards the cost once I reach my $1500 deductible. But I try to pay for the expenses out of pocket and use the HSA as savings.

    I just listened to a podcast about a new book out called Younger by Sara Gottfried. I haven’t read it yet but I put it on my list (along with Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf and The Wahls Protocol by Dr. Terry Wahls). I also highly recommend everything by Katy Bowman. She is a biomechanist who talks about natural movement and alignment. She’s written several books – her latest is Dynamic Aging. She has written a ton in a blog and has a podcast. Her website is nutritiousmovementdotcom Highly recommend her. Although be prepared to give up your high heels! I wish I was better about implementing more of what she says.

    I think a lot about where to live when I reach FI. I’m just starting out (rather late, I’m 37), and although i make a good income, I’m single (soooo jealous of the double income households!) so it will still be a while before I get there so I guess I have time to figure it out. I live in the DC area now like E in DC and it has it’s benefits but it’s too expensive and far from family for the long term. I do like walking/metro’ing to work and I even sometimes walk home from work (4.5 miles). I travel for work like the ONL’s and have such a hard time being active and eating well on the road – those are the busiest, stressful times with long hours so it makes it tough! (Excuses! I know!)

    It’s frustrating sometimes to spend money I could be saving on my health, but I know it’s worth it long-term!

    • Fortunately I’m 99% out of heels already! ;-) Thanks for the book recs!

      I’m glad to know, reading your story, that you’re focusing on your health despite the expense and despite the desire to save faster for FI! There truly is nothing more important.

      And the where to live Q is soooo personal. Where you are now offers some big benefits, but ultimately you should go where you’ll get the best overall balance of quality of life, cost and proximity to people or things you care about. And I totally feel you on the difficulty of staying healthy on the road, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Just try to do a little better each trip. I’m a big fan of “hiking” during airport layovers. ;-)

  29. My mom who is in her 70s and retired, has a rule that she tries to have friends in every decade. Meaning she likes to know someone under 10 years of age, 10-20, 30-40, etc. I really like this idea. It keeps you connected to what every generation is up to. Especially the younger folks. My wife an i talk a lot about retiring to one of those big retirement communities in Florida. There are Pro’s and Con’s. One of the Major Pros is the social aspect. My father in Law is in the villages in Florida and is having a blast socially. He and his wife are constantly doing something. Very social. One of the draw backs is that everyone down there is of a certain age. I like the idea of staying connected to the younger folks as i get older.
    Great post. This is really what matters when it comes down to it. You can have millions, but if you have no friends or health what’s the point.

    • Oh, I LOVE that rule! Can we borrow it?? ;-) When I was younger, most of my friends were older, but we’re definitely seeing now the benefit of having friends of all ages, especially younger than us. And I’ve wondered about the retirement communities — seems like you do get a lot of social time, but at a certain point, you start to lose friends quickly, which could be really rough if that’s most of your community. (Can you tell I’ve recently been rewatching the Golden Girls on Hulu?) ;-) I think following your mom’s rule will serve you well!

  30. Confined to a chair is an interesting phrase. All of my friends who use wheelchairs love them because they are the very thing that give them freedom of movement. Mobility impairments get to everyone who lives long enough. Seeing that the built environment causes a lot of what we describe as disability is really helpful. For me, when I buy a condo, I will do it with the direct aim of wanting to be able to age in place. I know that eventually my knees won’t like stairs as much, and I won’t buy in a building without an elevator. I do this for my friends with disabilities now and for future me. Planning like this means that most homes are not suitable for me, but I know that I won’t be forced to leave my home due to acquiring a disability.

    And yes to keep learning languages and skills!

    • We bought our home with the same thinking — our city condo had mandatory stairs, and we didn’t want that because we never want to be forced to move. So even though we have a two-story house, we have everything we need on the first floor and can live just there if we need to. It’s only a matter of time, anyway, before we blow out a knee or something skiing, so I’m sure this will come in handy sooner rather than later, even if that’s temporary. And soooo with you on the built environment — that really stuck me in Tokyo, how unfriendly to mobility-limited people it is. Which shocked me quite a bit, because they’ve thought of everything else in Japan.

      • I had similar thoughts in Hong Kong. It is amazing to get around without a vehicle, as long as you can walk in crowds.

      • Somehow it surprises me less that Hong Kong is that way. Tokyo surprised me a ton just because they have clearly put a ton of thought into making things navigable, but only for able-bodied people.

      • Always an afterthought, if even a thought at all. 20% of the US population has a disability (not all are mobility impairments) and most of us without disabilities will be injured at some point or want to grow old. It’s such a waste of opportunity.

  31. I appreciate your moderation in how you view health prevention: not all diseases are caused by lifestyles, but several can be managed well if you are organized and if you have health insurance. I initially got drawn to FIRE blogs because I just don’t like nightshifts – there is nothing like sleeping in my own bed, even if I end up reading until 3 am because I’m not sleepy yet:) Some jobs are really harsh on your long term health: factory work, agriculture, nightshifts with high responsibility work and often low pay (at least in my side of the world), too many long hours etc. Having said that, early retirement does have it own risks and I saw them again and again in clinical practice as a geriatrician. You can’t really control how you’ll end up, but here are the things which I now think matter: 1. having some purpose in life aka projects, goals, you name them, be open to learning new things (you both do that excellently!), 2. eat lots of nutrients per calorie and maintain normal weight towards the lower limit, 3. fewer but reliable friends are better than a ton of acquaintances; have a long-term relationship (partner/spouse) – plus I’ve seen people with grandchildren and to a lesser extent children being more motivated to take care of themselves so that they’ll spend more time with them, 4. avoiding vices really does help and the money you don’t spend on smoking and related stuff can be saved/invested/donated much better, (I wrote at length on this on my blog at http://longevityletter.com/are-long-lived-people-who-age-gracefully-less-prone-to-addiction/) 5. last but not least, developing critical thinking skills really does help – sorry but I’ve seen too many patients suffer and/or die prematurely because they dismissed evidence-based medicine for all sorts of ‘therapies’, but I’ve also seen patients having unnecessary (non-urgent) surgeries when asking for a second opinion would have served them better.

    • Hi Anca — I SO appreciate you sharing this! I think I’ve hit most of your points in my 10 questions (https://ournextlife.com/ten-questions-to-retire-early/), but I’d love your input on whether I could beef any of that up. I agree that people do not talk enough about social interactions and the effort it takes to stay active enough. And while there are definite pluses to early retirement health-wise, like escaping from job stress and hazardous work environments, as you said, the risks absolutely need to be discussed more! Thanks again!

  32. I know this post is two years old but I’d love to see a follow-up now that you are actually post-FT work. I am struggling with this dilemma right now: Do I go ahead and retire NOW with four years left until Medicare kicks in so I can get away from sitting at a desk ALL DAY LONG, even though it means I’ll have less-than-stellar health coverage? Or do I wait it out four more years and hope I haven’t gained another 10 pounds from this mostly sedentary lifestyle? Up until 11 years ago when I went back to FT work, I exercised in the mornings and ate less, probably because I wasn’t sitting bored half the time! Decisions, decisions. I’ve run all the numbers and Obamacare is not an option for us…no subsidies so we’d be paying close to $23000 a year for extremely high deductibles and OOP. So we’d have to go with one of those non-insurance charity-based plans that are cheap but have sketchy coverage. We’re pretty healthy, but…