How Staying Fit and Healthy Can Slash Your Retirement Costs

We believe a financial plan should factor in every aspect of your life. If you’ve read our other blog posts, you’ll see that one of the primary concerns of a firefighter’s financial plan is how to pay for healthcare in retirement. As a firefighter, you sacrifice your body to save others, and that directly translates to greater medical needs later in life, which is why It’s vital to have adequate insurance to cover your unique needs. In this article, we’ll focus on a different aspect of retirement planning. Instead, we’re going to focus on prevention because maintaining your body can save you just as much money as having health insurance, plus it will increase your chances of having a fulfilling retirement.

The Dangers of Ultra-Processed Foods

As a firefighter, your body is your most important tool. The physical demands of your job require not just strength and endurance but also proper fueling. While quick and convenient foods might seem like a good option during busy shifts, relying on ultra-processed and processed foods can pose serious health risks.

A recent umbrella review of numerous existing studies¹ reveals several alarming discoveries. The regular consumption of ultra-processed foods, such as fast food, chips, and processed meats, amongst others, leads to the following:

  • A 50% higher risk of cardiovascular disease-related death
  • A 40% to 66% greater risk of heart disease-related death
  • A 21% increased risk of death from any cause
  • A 12% greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
  • A 48% to 53% higher risk of anxiety and common mental disorders
  • A 22% increased risk of depression
  • An increased risk of sleep problems
  • A higher risk of obesity

As a firefighter, you’re already at an elevated risk for some of these conditions due to the nature of your job. A poor diet only compounds these risks, potentially setting you up for some serious (and costly) health issues down the road.

In contrast, a healthy diet helps mitigate all of the risks associated with an unhealthy one.² Numerous studies indicate that increased consumption of nuts, berries, legumes, beans, leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and lean meats significantly lowers the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even mental disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Does this mean you should always choose an apple over a candy bar? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that there should be a conscious effort to eat a greater proportion of healthier foods compared to processed and ultra-processed options.

The Transition to Retirement: A New Set of Challenges

As a firefighter, you’ve spent your career in one of the most physically demanding professions. Regular fitness tests and the nature of your work have likely kept you active and fit. However, retirement brings a significant lifestyle change that can lend itself to less physical activity if you don’t pay attention to it.

After years of intense physical activity and adrenaline-fueled shifts, the sudden shift to a more sedentary lifestyle in retirement with a large flat-screen TV and a cozy couch can be quite harmful to your body. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine³ reveals the serious impact of simply sitting for longer periods of time:

  • Increased risk of early death
  • Higher chances of developing diabetes
  • Greater risk of various forms of cancer
  • Elevated risk of heart disease
  • Higher likelihood of vascular problems, including blood clots
  • Increased risk of spinal injuries
  • Accelerated bone weakening, which is particularly concerning given the physical strain your career has placed on your body

Everybody loves to watch a good movie or spend some time relaxing at home. But the majority of your time probably should not be spent hanging out around the house waiting for the grandkids to visit. One of your first priorities in retirement (after a much-needed rest that is) should be to set an exercise routine and stick with it. Lifting weights will keep your bones strong (falls pose a significant risk to health and longevity in older adults, and weak, brittle bones won’t do you any favors), and cardio will help fend off the damage done to your heart and lungs over your career.

Just as important is creating a social network. After retirement, some firefighters have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they’re not part of a team anymore, and without a set schedule and a peer support network, all of those years of trauma and stress bubble to the surface, resulting in debilitating bouts of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD.⁴ Finding a new network is vital to staving off the effects of a long and difficult career.  

The Financial Impact of Health in Firefighter Retirement

We emphasize these health factors because of their direct influence on your retirement finances. We’re not your doctors, nutritionists, or trainers. But we are concerned about your retirement, and avoiding costly medical bills will help you achieve a secure and fulfilling one. While Medicare may cover a significant portion of your healthcare costs, the healthier you are, the less you’ll likely spend on treatments not covered by Medicare, such as long-term care at a nursing facility.

Let’s look at some sobering statistics on annual U.S. healthcare costs by condition:

– Chronic Diseases: $1+ trillion

– Cardiovascular Disease: $407.3 billion

– Cancer: $180 billion (2015 data)

– Diabetes: $237 billion (2017 data)

– Alzheimer’s & Dementias: $345 billion

Again, as a firefighter, you’re already at an elevated risk for several of these conditions. The question is, how much could you save by incorporating healthy habits into your daily life, both during your career and in retirement? According to research by Milliman, a risk management and benefits firm, your health status can significantly impact your lifetime healthcare spending.⁶ Their findings show:

– Healthier retirees can expect to spend approximately 12% less on total healthcare costs using Original Medicare plus Medigap (Plan G) plus Part D over their lifetime.

– For those with Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug (MAPD) plans, the savings are even more substantial at 28% less.

– Conversely, retirees with below-average health can expect to spend about 18% more on healthcare costs with Original Medicare plus supplemental coverage.

The difference is even more striking for those with below-average health on MAPD plans, who may spend 45% more over their lifetime.

For firefighters, these numbers are particularly significant. By focusing on maintaining good health now and into retirement, you’re not just investing in your well-being – you’re potentially saving tens of thousands of dollars in healthcare costs. Remember, every dollar not spent on healthcare is a dollar that can go towards enjoying your well-earned retirement. Whether it’s traveling, pursuing hobbies, or spending time with family, better health translates to more financial freedom and a higher quality of life in your retirement years.

In Conclusion

Healthcare is one of the most significant expenses you’ll face in your retirement, so we want to use every tool at our disposal to reduce them. A majority of bankruptcies are connected to the financial pressures placed on Americans due to medical emergencies and expenses, and as a firefighter, you’re even more at risk, especially if you’re forced into an early retirement. We don’t want you to become a statistic – you deserve more than that. We’d love to hear your financial concerns and how we can be of assistance. Just click the button below to schedule an appointment at your convenience.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, this is not intended as tax, legal, or financial advice. One should always consult with the tax, legal, and financial professionals of their choosing regarding their specific situation.

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