Most people understand how essential it is to allocate and spend their money wisely so that they can have some surplus to save. Failing to save some of one’s income and other available monies for future needs is foolhardy, to say the least! How else can a person realistically expect to have financial resources for economic needs up to and after retirement?
Shockingly, at the time of this writing, retirement-age Americans have a median of $165,000 in retirement savings. While that might seem like a lot of money, it’s hard to imagine, with the staggering cost of living and inflation in this country, it would be enough. Indeed, financial advisers commonly suggest that people start saving 10 to 15 percent of their earnings as soon as possible because it could mean the difference between retiring with $165,000 versus over $1 million—or not being able to retire at all.
As imperative as it is for people to save some of their income for future needs, it’s just as important for people to “save “some of their time for the future.
I have written before about the kinds of human capital we all inherit or acquire. To briefly reiterate, in my view, people have actual currency like money and other fungible assets. We also have, to varying degrees, emotional capital, like being loved and loving; social capital, which involves friendship; professional capital that relates to one’s standing in an occupational setting; and perhaps most importantly, health and time capital—essentially our lifespan or longevity.
Unlike all the other forms of human capital that can be recovered, replenished, or restored, time is totally irretrievable and unrecoverable. Once you’ve spent a second, you will never get it back. Every moment is unique and will never come again. Hence, how you allocate and spend your time capital can be more important than how you spend your actual money. Because, unlike actual money, literal time is something you can never make more of nor ever get back.
Of central importance is the fact that “health capital” is the other side of the coin of time capital.
In fact, recent thinking on the subject has gravitated more to conceptualizations that focus on one’s health span rather than one’s lifespan per se. As long as you have health, you will have time. Thus, in a manner, time and health are reciprocal.
Here is the bottom line. If a person invests about 10 percent of their available time capital on a regular—ideally daily—basis into purposeful movement-based activity, it is very likely they will increase their health span and their lifespan. Yes, I mean exercise. Deliberate, purposeful physical activity has been shown repeatedly to be one of the very best predictors of health and longevity.
Think about it. Investing approximately 10 percent of one’s income into a conservative financial portfolio will almost certainly ensure that one will have financial resources in the future. And so, too, will investing about 10 percent of one’s time into physical activity as simple as walking virtually guarantee that one will extend one’s health span. That is, allow for more quality—and almost certainly quantity—of time in the future. Practically speaking, most people are awake 16 hours a day. Ten percent of 16 hours is 1.6 hours, or just a little more than an hour and a half.
Recent landmark science (e.g., Paluch et al., 2022) has convincingly confirmed the idea that simply walking three to five miles a day can reduce one’s risk of mortality from all causes by almost 50 percent. What’s more, not only does regular physical activity reduce illness and early, preventable death, but it also increases one’s current levels of health and fitness, strength, flexibility, endurance, cognitive functioning, and mood.
Therefore, simply walking (the more vigorously, the better) for about 90 minutes a day is investing crucial time capital into your future health span. This can be parallel to your money span, which is largely dependent on how much of your earnings or assets you save for your future. And just as running out of money in old age can be terrible, running out of health can be miserable, too.
Just as financial saving or investing requires several psychological factors beyond simply having some available money, investing time capital into one’s future requires the same mental components. They are delay of gratification, impulse control, sound reality testing, and commitment to a lifestyle that incorporates disciplined savings.
Hence, putting off unnecessary spending in the short term to enjoy much greater financial health in the long term requires the ability to delay immediate gratification. Related to this is working hard not to make impulsive purchases that often lead to buyer’s remorse. Reality testing is simply having an accurate awareness of the consequences of one’s actions—both positive and negative. This means recognizing and avoiding many of the mental tricks people play on themselves to justify their poor choices, such as denial, rationalization, and maladaptive cognitive dissonance reduction. In essence, self-discipline. Thus, disciplined, committed savers almost always enjoy the benefits of having good financial health in later life.
Similarly, delaying gratification by going for a walk or engaging in some other physical activity before watching a show, reading, having a snack or a beverage, etc., is the way to go. And summoning discipline and restraint to resist engaging in unhealthy, impulsive eating or sedentary behavior but to move instead is very important. But most of all, a person needs to understand the widespread negative health outcomes of a largely sedentary lifestyle. That is, they need to open their eyes to realities like risks for heart disease, stroke, and various cancers, as well as chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, musculoskeletal deterioration, and cognitive decline. Very common and largely avoidable ailments can be significantly reduced by simply spending some time on movement-based activities. Thus, disciplined and committed “movers” almost always enjoy the immediate benefits and long-term dividends of maintaining good physical and mental health.
And just like sensible financial savings don’t necessarily require massive deprivation and sacrifice of many creature comforts, it doesn’t take a massive amount of physical activity to improve health. As noted above, a recent study published in Lancet Global Health (Paluch et al., 2022) indicated the risk of dying from any cause began to significantly decline once study participants passed a threshold of around 4,000 steps per day (the equivalent of roughly two miles). The threshold was even lower—around 2,500 steps per day—when looking specifically at the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
These trends stayed fairly constant across different geographic locations, as well as when comparing men and women, the researchers found. There were, however, some differences among people of different ages. Adults older than 60 saw about a 42 percent drop in mortality risk when they walked between 6,000 and 10,000 steps per day, while those younger than 60 saw a roughly 49 percent reduction when they walked between 7,000 and 13,000 steps per day.
The research on this subject is very clear and very hard to refute. The main question is, what are you waiting for? Just as the sooner you start saving your actual money, the better off you’ll be financially in the future, and the sooner you start investing some of your time capital into your health span, the better your long-term quality (and probably quantity) of life will be.
Remember: Think well. Act well. Feel well. Be well.