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For all that readers may have learned about the financial preparations that improve retired life, any accumulation of money management expertise becomes a moot point in the face of serious health problems that might have otherwise been avoided. It's not just that we might die before enjoying many retirement years. It's more debilitating when the quality of retired life is adversely impacted by persistent health problems.

So I was struck by a New Yorker interviewer's observation when talking to Don Johnson, the 64-year-old actor made famous as the star in "Miami Vice" (and Melanie Griffin's husband before that). The relaxed, remarried father of young children was careful to remove the croutons from his Caesar salad as he pointed out that "only 11 percent of his body weight was fat." This is really commendable. You're considered athletic with 20 percent or less.

A week later, I read the obituary of Dr. Albert Stunkard, dying at 92, who pioneered the early studies of the connection between genetics and excessive weight. His early work proved that weight gain was genetic. But, as the years went by, he stood and watched while excessive weight climbed from 6 percent of the population in the 1950's to 25 percent in the '70's and now hovers at more than 35 percent. That's essentially my generation growing up if you consider our demographic bubble.

When I had my fat percentage checked in an immersion tank, the results prompted me to ask the attendant what I could do to get to "athletic." He said, "don't eat anything white," which I took to mean no starches or processed sugars -- and which explains Don's eschewing of his croutons. Clueless diet habits and a sedentary lifestyle are the enemies of staying fit. But in a struggle against the food industry, we're paddling upstream. Americans consume an average of 44 gallons of soft drink per year and we subsidize the sugar industry at a cost last year of $280 million while we pay for all the medical problems that sugar causes. Go figure.

At the same time, the average American walks about 350 yards a day counting perambulations around the house, the office, the mall and then back and forth to the car. That average includes marathon runners, hikers, mail delivery people and others whose jobs involve a lot of hustling. So, imagine how little some people must move around for the average to be so low.

Joint pain, of course, gets in the way of mobility, and can trigger a spiral down the mortal coil, but even that can be held at bay by, of all counterintuitive solutions, exercise. Joints and tendons need blood flow to heal, so repetitive exercise, massage therapy and diet can go a long way to repairing joints that had been otherwise on the path to hip and knee replacement. I discovered 30 years ago a series of exercises that have helped me avoid the three hips and one knee that my parents had had replaced by the time they were my age.

The book "Body for the Ages" by my friend Pax Beale has been a motivating guide to living what he calls "The Fitness Lifestyle" -- exercise and a sensible diet. Pax is an 85-year-old body builder and founder of a facility in San Francisco that specialized in teaching people how to solve back problems with exercise so they could avoid surgery.

So, here's the thing. I know a Caesar salad without croutons is just not the same, but it's like they say about money: "Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves." Watching a diet carefully and forcing yourself to get more exercise can pay dividends worth far more than any you might earn by investing in, say, the "Dogs of the Dow" (the 10 Dow Jones industrial average stocks with the highest percentage dividend payout).

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