When I entered high school, I was 5 feet 7 inches and weighed 240 pounds. That’s not just overweight—that’s really overweight.
Much of the reason stemmed from the fact that while my parents worked hard and loved my siblings and me dearly, there wasn’t much to go around. And when money is scarce, you eat a lot of fast food because it’s the cheapest way to feed everyone.
Being that heavy was depressing. It haunted me every day. The real hammer blow, however, came when I was 17.
After a life of not eating well and taking care of his body, my father died. He was just 52. At that point, I pledged to live healthier, never wanting my own kids to experience the pain that comes with losing a parent at an early age.
I learned that filling my body with food was not the same as giving it the necessary nutrients. When I was younger, I figured that if my stomach was full, that meant I was eating well.
Likewise, I began to appreciate the difference between a diet and a lifestyle. Diets are transitory, lasting perhaps a couple of months. By contrast, a lifestyle is something you do every day for the rest of your life.
So, what does this have to do with me, you ask? Plenty.
Physical and financial health are inextricably linked. For some reason, though, many advisors don’t work hard enough to help clients understand the connection. We should.
Here’s a sampling of the stakes:
- Life expectancy. The top cause of death in the United States is heart disease, killing nearly 700,000 people in 2019. Among the other top causes of death are cancer and diabetes. While it’s impossible to ignore family history, avoiding the common risk factors associated with each of these diseases—obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure—comes down to making a commitment to staying active and having a well-balanced diet. Ask your clients whether they want to live a long, full life. Do they, for instance, want to see their grandkids grow up? These are dramatic questions, but if they aren’t as healthy as they should be, they are also relevant ones.
- Professional advancement. Healthy people frequently are more hopeful, energetic and vigorous than their peers. That often means their professional performance is better as well. That could lead to a string of opportunities and promotions that would not have been available otherwise, which translates into more money each year. Even if it’s incrementally more, the implications could be huge. Consider that if a client were able to put away an extra $5,000 a year for 25 years at an average annual return of 4%, they’d net about $228,000 on top of what they were already saving and investing. And it’s all because they took good care of themselves.
- Health care costs: A penny saved is a penny earned. Health care expenses have exploded in recent years. According to a recent report, the average Medicare recipient spends more than $5,400 a year in out-of-pocket costs, while those with employer-based plans pay more than $1,200. Of course, millions of Americans, including many independent financial advisors, must get individual plans. For families, those can cost about $1,200 per month. Healthy people, however, tend to have much lower out-of-pocket medical bills and pay lower premiums. That’s more money toward retirement each year.
Even as advisors are accustomed to having uncomfortable conversations (e.g., death, divorce or job loss), many would likely cringe at the prospect of having to tell a client they look unhealthy. Indeed, no one wants to say, “Hey, you look overweight. What’s going on?”
The interesting thing, however, is that when you personify a healthy lifestyle by looking fit, having a lot of energy and bringing a positive attitude to every meeting, you won’t have to. They will bring it up to you. And that will be an opening to have a much broader conversation about how their physical and financial health is intertwined more closely than they realize.
Of course, some will say that being healthy is easier said than done. After all, being an advisor can be sedentary work, sometimes entailing long hours sitting behind a desk and an endless string of take-out lunches.
But if a poor kid who was 100 pounds overweight and with no idea what a balanced diet looked like can do it, so can you, and so can your clients.