There are probably thousands of articles published every day on how and why to eat well and exercise. And yes, these are critical endeavors for healthy aging. But, they don’t cover everything you need to do to live your best life for as long as possible.
What might be missing? The two most overlooked endeavors for preparing for your future are:
- Carefully fostering intellectual and social habits
- Building and maintaining a comprehensive financial plan
Americans Embrace Habits for Physical Health, But Fewer Have Adopted Financial and Intellectual Habits
The data is pretty clear that Americans have gotten the message on the benefits of diet and exercise. However, they have not yet as widely adopted financial and intellectual habits that are also critical to thriving in old age and are key to how to live your best life.
Let’s take a look at who does what and why each area of self improvement is important.
1. Healthy Eating and Getting Exercise
According to Pew research, a whopping 97% of Americans believe that healthy eating habits are key to a long and healthy life. And, 98% say that it is important or somewhat important to get enough physical exercise.
That is almost everyone who at least believes that taking care of your body is important. (Whether we actually do it every day is a whole other story.)
2. Intellectual and Social Habits
Maintaining your mind through learning and social activities is proving to be as critical to thriving in old age as eating well and exercising. And yet, these activities do not seem to be as widely adopted.
Your Intellectual Habits
Research from UC Berkeley found that when people in their 80s were taught something new over just 6 weeks, they could make their brains up to 30 years younger. Wow. Learning is powerful.
And, while Pew research has found that about 74% of Americans engage in some kind of personal learning, it is not clear that the learning endeavors are focused and sustained in the way that may be necessary to stave aging. In the Pew Research, they reported on the types of activities personal learners undertook:
- 58% read how to publications
- 35% attend a meeting, club, or group
- 30% went to a conference or convention
- 25% took a course
These are great and beneficial activities, but it is important to make learning a focused and conscious habit. And, it doesn’t have to be calculus or rocket science. In the UC Berkeley research, people learned painting, photography, music, and how to use an iPad.
Learning Falls with Age: The Pew study also discovered that people who identify themselves as lifelong learners are likely to be younger and more educated. Take a look at the self identified learners by age:
- 81% of 18-29 year olds
- 76% of 30-49 year olds
- 72% of 50-64 year olds
- 62% of people over 65
Learning is scientifically proven to reduce the intellectual impacts of aging, it is also a time worn concept well understood by artists and intellectuals.
Think back to high school or college English. Do you remember the poem, “Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats? The poem essentially calls out to the reader to develop an intellectual and creative life in order to survive the physical downsides of aging. Your body might not be able to keep up, but a nourished brain can enliven life at any age.
The National Institute on Aging finds that 25% of Americans over 65 are socially isolated, and a meta analysis of 277 studies with 177,635 participants from adolescence to old age found that people’s social networks increase through young adulthood, then decrease steadily over the rest of their lives.
Fostering social connections is another critical part of aging well. Research has found that social 60 year olds are almost 12% less likely to develop dementia than less socially active peers. And, the National Institute on Aging links loneliness to higher risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and more.
3. Financial Planning Habits and Living Your Best Life
According to research from Charles Schwab, only 33% of Americans have a written financial plan, making personal finance, the least adopted habit – by far – that is important to your long term well being and living your best life.
Having a financial plan has myriad concrete benefits:
Confidence: A written plan increases your confidence and reduces your stress. When you have a plan for how to use your money, you know what you need to do to live your best life.
Better habits: When you have a written financial plan, you develop better habits. People with a plan are much more likely to:
- Save more
- Invest appropriately
- Have an emergency fund
- Reduce banking and investment fees
- Avoid credit card balances
- Pay bills on time
- Re-balancing portfolios and regularly updating the financial plan
Improved outcomes: The result of those financial habits? Better outcomes. If you have a financial plan, you are more likely to be able to achieve your retirement goals.
Written Plans Are Important to Everyone, But Especially Those at Low- and Moderate-Income Levels
Research finds that written plans may be especially important for low- and moderate-income levels. One-third of households with less than $48,000 in annual income with a written plan save 10% or more of income, compared with about one in 10 households in that income range without written plans.