In 1966, I was accepted by the University of Vermont medical school at about the same time Bernie Sanders was arriving in the state. Medical school appealed to me in part because I was a hypochondriac, but I had also paid my dues as an undergraduate having to endure tough courses like organic chemistry, and I couldn’t bear to have that ordeal go to waste. As it turned out, I decided to go to the US Berkeley Graduate Business School instead, so here I am. Be thankful that I’m your Retirement Planner and not your physician. But as just your planner, I can’t emphasize the importance of good health as a primary ingredient of a successful retirement. It’s more important than money.
While I am not as compulsive as the crazy guy in Chicago years ago who performed his own appendectomy, I do what I can to solve health problems that come up. The latest, in my experience, was a persistent knee pain that I determined was the result of a golf swing that was tough on my right knee. Even when I stopped playing for awhile, the pain just got worse. With parents who between them had four artificial joints by the time they were my age, I was beginning to think that this might be the end of my having all natural joints.
I liked my orthopedic surgeon right away when she recommended that I use cod liver oil. She also prescribed physical therapy for a few months. The exercises were counter-intuitive in that they had little to do with the knee itself. It was all about the muscles in the hips and thighs that support the knee. Like magic, my knee is now fine and I’m back playing golf and running.
In the meantime, I am also hooked on a morning smoothie with protein powder, apple cider vinegar, collagen, hyaluronic acid, and glucosamine. For preventive maintenance, I bought a contraption that turns my road bike into a stationary bike and I ride that every morning while listening to National Public Radio.
Cholesterol? Not a problem anymore. My new primary physician looking at my past history of high numbers can’t figure out how it can be so normal now without statins. The answer, as far as I can determine, starts with daily exercise (the bike) and a short run with my dogs. Then, there’s the bowl of oatmeal which says right on the package that it is a cure for cholesterol problems. To cover my bet, I also double down on the cod liver oil and drop a few tabs of Red Yeast Rice --- all at the direction of my friends at Open Sesame, the local health food store. For lunch, I typically make do with a cup of almonds and raisins, instead of what used to be tuna salad on a croissant --- for many years.
Twenty years ago, I had problems with hip pain until I started using a machine referred to as a “stomach machine” at the health club. This calls for leaning forward from a sitting position against weights which strengthens the stomach, but what it really does is flex and develop all the muscles around your hip joints. Pain goes away, or at least it has for me for the past twenty years.
Back problems? An associate once cured her chronic back problem after a steady unsuccessful march from one chiropractor to another. For what became an effective cure, she finally went to the Alta Bates back clinic where the first thing they do is to get chronic sufferers to start walking even if they have to use a back brace. The idea is to strengthen the core stomach muscles to take weight off the spine. Again, who would have thought that solving a back problem had anything to do with the stomach?
For me, the most amazing statistic is the majority of people who elect to have open heart surgery rather than effect a change in their life style that would accomplish the same result. For some people, changing health habits is like pulling teeth. If a healthy relationship with a significant other is said to be worth the equivalent of $50,000 of annual income, what similar kind of a value would we put on a healthy pain-free existence in retirement? Whatever it takes to live the fitness lifestyle is time well spent.