Many years ago, I read a popular book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. The book was about ethically producing results, and while I was not crazy about the book as a whole, I haven’t forgotten the simile Covey used, likening trust to a bank account. More recently, I have been using a similar concept where I have been teaching my clients and students that health is also like a bank account.
When it comes to money, most of us have to work and save throughout our lives, and then, if we’re fortunate, we have a nest egg to rely upon during retirement. Along the way, however, we all have to deal with things such as a mortgage, food, and utilities. We will also probably make some purchases along the way, like appliances and cars. Then, of course, there are the inescapable things such as taxes. All of which must be accounted for if that nest egg is to last us our remaining years.
We can also use this concept when it comes to health. Every time we do something to benefit our health, such as eat healthy fruits and vegetables, get a full night of restful sleep, exercise, manage our stress — and so on, we are making deposits into our “health account.”
When we eat sweets or fast food, stay up late, watch too much TV, or don’t manage our stress, we make a withdrawal from our overall health account.
We also have to consider that at a certain point, usually in our 30s and 40s, we begin to decline physically. Somewhat later, our cognitive fitness also begins to decline.
These are the taxes I referred to earlier. Taxes will need to be paid no matter what and are constantly coming out of our account.
The key here is to make more deposits than withdrawals for as long as we can so we can build up our health nest egg for later years.
Why does this matter? Well, like not saving enough during our working years and running out of money in retirement, we can also run out of strength, stamina, and mental acuity. Unfortunately, some people go through their lives eating fast food daily, smoking, drinking alcohol excessively, and being generally sedentary only to reach their 60s and 70s in poor health. Their remaining years are probably few and are most likely of very poor quality. Many of these people are effectively waiting to die.
This scenario is largely preventable, however. Sure, some things like hereditary conditions and accidents are unavoidable. Still, most of the common causes of death in the US, such as heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes, are mitigated by “making deposits” into our health account.
The bottom line is that if we want to live longer AND maximize our quality of life, we need to start taking care of ourselves right now. We absolutely cannot afford to wait another moment. Building the balance in our health account should be top of mind.
Our diets should consist of mainly non-starchy vegetables with some fruit and lean meats if you eat meat. Processed food should be avoided as it is generally high in trans fats, sugar, and salt and is low in nutrients and fiber. Alcohol should be limited, and if you smoke, stop.
Physical activity is of paramount importance. Turn off the TV and put down your phone. Get up and move. The old adage of use it or lose it is true in this case. Our bodies were made to move. If we want to be strong and active later in life, we need to be strong and active now.
Also, manage your stress. Get lots of quality sleep. Sleep is not a passive activity as it helps to heal the body and protect the brain.
Last, be social. Research has shown that strong interpersonal relationships have been linked to longevity and happiness. Remember, it is never too late to start building up your “health account.”