Recently, a study receiving wide circulation indicated that a satisfying marriage or relationship, on a scale of happiness, was equivalent to an additional $100,000 of annual income. I found myself wondering if the same study also included some dollar value for having good health. For retirees, nothing could be more valuable in dollars than avoiding serious health problems.
Meanwhile, Joe Weider just died in Los Angeles last week at age 93. For those not familiar with the name, he's the one responsible for what is now known as "The Fitness Lifestyle" -- a way of life that calls for eating right and getting plenty of exercise. For 30 years, supermarket checkout counters have been festooned with his magazines that included Muscle and Fitness for men and Shape for women. He sold the publishing company recently for about $400 million, which is an indication of how many readers still read print when the message is compelling.
Reflecting on the "fitness lifestyle," some people apparently don't get it. I recall a study illustrating that 50 percent of people with incipient heart trouble -- trouble that could be mitigated by a change in eating habits and exercise -- opted instead for open heart surgery.
It's hard to imagine someone eschewing big helpings and regular walks for the alternative of having their breast bone plied apart and subjecting themselves to the risk of general anesthesia and possible infection. But there you have it. We're all creatures of habit, and the condition gets worse with increasing age.
But societal changes are like a rising tide that makes it easier for us to adopt better, more fitness-oriented lifestyles. I started using Weider's muscle-building protein powder 35 years ago when it was sold in sporting goods stores. I've since switched to a more potent formula supplied by my health food experts at Open Sesame in Lafayette, but the purpose is to get plenty of protein without the fat that comes with consuming meat. Beyond just the basics, it never hurts to load up on a variety of supplements ranging from vitamins and cod liver oil to apple cider vinegar.
Weider's counterpart in Northern California would have to be my friend Pax Beale in San Francisco -- the 83-year-old bodybuilder occasionally featured in Weider's magazines. Pax, a Cal graduate and former boxer, started running in 1960 and was the 47th person to sign up for Bay to Breakers race in that year. He was the only person running the race for fun. The idea that people would run around just to feel good was a novel thought at the time.
He started the Cathedral Hill Medical Center Joggers Club, which was the first such club in the country. He later dreamed up a combination run, bike and swim up in Sacramento, which was the first triathlon anywhere. For leadership by example, Pax managed to run from the bottom of Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney, but that was after he had ridden a bike from San Francisco to Juneau, Alaska on a bet that he could beat the Pacific Far East cruise ship.
Pax also had back problems as a result of old football injuries for which surgery was recommended. Instead, he developed his own series of exercises that combined weights and stretching. The system offered permanent relief from pain and evolved into a commercial business known as the Backpax Medical Center in San Francisco.
When it comes to aches and pains, some wag once said, "If you're over 40 and something doesn't hurt, it's because you're dead." Short of that extreme, there are many ways in which physical therapy combined with elements of the fitness lifestyle can relieve pain. Any repetitious movement of aching joints strengthens the muscles and stretches the tendons. What it really does, however, is get blood to the joint and this is the mothers' milk of pain relief and permanent repair.
A late fellow member of my health club held his Parkinson's at bay for many years by daily workouts. He often spoke at meetings about the positive effects, but he lamented the fact that it was virtually impossible to get older people to follow his example.
Well, it's never too late to prove him wrong. When we think about the value of retirement income in dollars as we spend them, what would be the attributable dollar value of good health with no disease or pain? If we think in those terms, an hour of working out or walking every day could be valued at what? $500 per hour maybe? On an annual basis, that puts it on a par with a happy relationship.