1 Simple Move Can Seriously Trim Your Senior Healthcare Expenses

There's a catch, though: You'll have to keep doing it for awhile.

Motley Fool Staff
Motley Fool Staff
Jun 18, 2019 at 9:21AM
Investment Planning

When people try to calculate how much money they'll need in order to retire comfortably, they often start by plotting out how much they expect to spend each month, and work the math backwards from there. Food, housing, utilities, and the like are expenses adults can forecast with a fair bit of accuracy; we've been grocery shopping and paying our electric bills for a while now, and we know the drill. One category of expenses, though, often skyrockets unpredictably for retirees: healthcare.

But as Robert Brokamp explains to cohost Alison Southwick in the What's Up, Bro? segment of this Motley Fool Answers podcast, a number of studies show that a reasonable amount of exercise can go a long way toward making you healthier -- and thus, wealthier -- in your elder years.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on June 11, 2019.

Alison Southwick: So, Bro, what's up?

Robert Brokamp: Well, Alison, last week we discussed the high price of prescription drugs with Leigh Purvis of AARP and one takeaway from that was you better save a lot of money so you can afford to...

Southwick: Drugs are too damn high!

Brokamp: ...cover all that. That's right. But there are some other ways to at least try to limit the cost of that, and that is be in good shape so you reduce the chances that you need any medication or medical care. That's what we're going to talk a little bit about for our What's Up, Bro? this week.

I'm going to talk, first of all, about an article by Paul Brandus on MarketWatch.com with the excellent subhead, "Want to retire well? Your personal trainer may be as important as your financial advisor." He included a couple of examples of folks who try to stay in shape.

Here's the workout followed by Joyce Field, who three days a week does this. She has a 30-minute warm-up. She does a cross-trainer machine, ab exercise, stretches, wall push-ups. Then comes Johnny, the trainer and they do mountain climbers, resistance bands, weight machines, squats and burpees. Then she closes with three reps of 60-second planks with a 45-pound weight on her back.

Do you want to know how old Joyce is?

Southwick: Old enough to make me feel really bad about myself.

Brokamp: 86 years old.

Southwick: Good for her!

Brokamp: When did she begin doing all this? When she was 78. Another fun fact from that article. The number of people age 70 and older who are doing triathlons [the biking, running, and swimming] is up 168% since 2009. Pretty impressive! So it's never too late to start and there are plenty of studies that back this up including one from last summer by Gretchen Reynolds of The New York Times. She highlighted this in her article. "Exercise makes the aging heart more useful."

What this study did was take a bunch of sedentary middle-aged people, run them through various exercises four or five times a week. One of those sessions was strenuous, but otherwise it was pretty easy. Mostly just walking around and things like that. Sure enough, after two years the exercisers were in better shape, specifically [and here's the quote from the article] "the left ventricles in the exerciser's heart muscles were stronger and less stiff than at the start of the study. Their hearts, in effect, were more youthful now," even though they really hadn't done much exercise up to that point.

That's very encouraging. But a more recent article by Reynolds showed how much the benefits of exercise last, even after you've stopped exercising. She discussed a study that was published in April that revisited a study that ended in 2003. So go back to 2003 and this study took people between the ages of 40 and 60. They were all overweight. They were all basically sedentary. Broke them into three groups. The control group did nothing. One group did moderate exercise, mostly walking and things like that. And another group did more vigorous exercise similar to jogging.

After eight months of doing these things, you can guess what happened, of course. The people who were doing some exercise were better on all kinds of factors, such as aerobic fitness, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, and waist circumference. But the recent study went back to these people a decade later and said, "Would you like to do a little reunion study?" More than 100 of them said, "Yes, let's do it."

So they looked at these people. Some of them continued to exercise. A lot of them didn't. But those from the control group, the folks who did nothing, just basically got worse. Most had lost about 10% of their aerobic capacity, which is typical, apparently. After age 40 we lose about 1% of our fitness annually. How depressing is that? [laughs]

But, those men and women who had exercised vigorously for eight months retained substantially more fitness, and this is 10 years after the study.

On average, their aerobic capacity was only about 5% compared to where they were when they joined the study. And those few who were still exercising four times a week were in better shape today than they were more than a decade ago when they started the study.

Southwick: Even though they're 10 years older.

Brokamp: Yes. The walkers in the study from the early 2000s lost about as much aerobic capacity as the control group, but on measures of metabolic health they were still in better shape and that is stuff like blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, and things like that.

So in the words of Dr. William Krause, professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke who oversaw this new study, he said, "Exercise is a powerful modulator of health and some effects can be quite enduring." And that, Alison, is what's up!