YOU’RE SAVING FOR RETIREMENT. 
Good. But if you die prematurely, it’ll be your wife and Husband No. 2 who will be having mutual fun with your mutual funds. So here’s a radical idea: redirect some of the money you’re saving and build a different kind of portfolio. Instead of buying just shares, invest in ways to lower your health volatility and minimise your risk of cashing out early. With this approach, you’ll be sure to live long enough to enjoy all the retirement money you’ve diligently squirreled away. As the old financial adage goes, “The rich invest in time; the poor invest in money.” Let’s get busy…

1. Travel to the Original Club Med
A life-changing holiday can be a lifesaver. “Take a trip to Tuscany or somewhere else along the Mediterranean,” says Dr Stewart Fogel, a retired physician. “This will give you first-hand experience with a diet proven to be best for a long life. Living that diet will impress you much more than hearing about it, so you’ll be more likely to adopt it as a lifestyle.”

A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people who followed the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fish, fruits, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, nuts and even red wine, reduced their risk of heart attack, stroke and heart-disease-related death by about 30%. The scientists believe the various nutrients work synergistically to help reduce inflammation and oxidation in the body. It was one of the largest studies of the diet to date.

If a big Italian holiday isn’t in the cards, then at least pick up The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, an updated version of the James Beard Award-nominated classic.

2. Follow Your Own Trends
Next time you have a blood analysis, enter all your numbers (HDL and LDL cholesterol, blood sugar, BP and so on) into a tracking app. Or if you already keep these vital stats in a file at home, invest a few hours into organising them. This will make it easier to spot spikes and dips. “A trend line is always more meaningful than an absolute number,” says Professor James Scala, a nutritional biochemist and author of more than a dozen books on thwarting disease through diet. “For instance, weight and blood sugar are two key components of adult-onset diabetes and they usually trend together. By tracking them over a period of years, you’ll be able to alert your doctor and act more quickly.”

This straightforward approach works for any important health measure. In fact, a recent survey by the Pew Research Centre found that tracking health stats in this way prompts people with chronic health problems to ask their doctors new questions, seek second opinions and reconsider treatments.

3. Hire a Nutrition Know-It-All
You have a doctor, a dentist, maybe even a cardiologist, but you may be overlooking the most useful advisors of all: a nutritionist and dietician. Poor eating habits and obesity are the starting blocks of disease, so nutritional and diet advice is key.

Registered dieticians are university grads with a minimum four-year scientific degree, who are registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. They deal with clients’ general health enquiries, sport nutrition and problems like hypertension. For example, if your blood pressure is high, it could be a matter of a wrong diet that needs changing – and not necessarily medication, which a doctor might just prescribe.

A nutritionist who is registered with the HPCSA is responsible for the promotion of nutritional health and wellbeing and the prevention of a variety of nutrition-related disorders. Be wary of anybody who calls themself a nutritionist and isn’t registered with the HPCSA.

4. Be a Quitter Who Wins
If you’re a tobacco user, you should be investing the largest part of your health portfolio towards finding a way to kick the habit. No other action will yield a greater effect on the quality and quantity of your years. It’s that simple. “As a radiologist for 30 years, I used to see the arterial damage in smokers well before they even realised their habit was having any detrimental health effects,” says Dr Fogel. “Any investment you make in quitting smoking will have enormous health pay offs.”

A study published in the Lancet suggests that smoking can cut more than 10 years off your life. But if you break the habit before age 40, you can cut the excess mortality associated with lighting up by about 90%. So it’s never too late. According to American Cancer Society research, the most successful treatment is a combination of individual cessation methods (nicotine replacement, prescription meds) 
and counselling (one-on-one, group or 
even telephone).

5. Move to a 
Health Haven
Changing jobs won’t only get you past that glass ceiling: it could also save your life. In the 2012 Discovery Health Health Company Index, which surveyed 19 000 employees across 110 South African companies, 92% of workers surveyed had a Vitality Age higher than their actual age. On average, that Vitality Age – an estimate of a person’s health, based on certain risk factors – was 6.4 years higher.

Send your CV to New Balance (the company with the most physically active employees) or NCC Environmental Services (which has the least stressed workforce), and read the full report at healthycompanyindex.co.za.

6. Find Your
 Escape Hatch
The tiny republic of Singapore has one of the world’s most competitive economies, surveys show. As a top plastic surgeon there, Dr Ng Chin Lin has seen the effects of chronic stress on her male patients’ faces. “Stress is one of the biggest premature agers of men,” she says. “It leads to such unhealthy behaviours as smoking and yo-yo dieting, which stretches skin and causes sagging.”

To ease anxiety and preserve your looks, she suggests devoting time and money towards cultivating a hobby you love. “Not only is it a way to ease the stress of daily life and be healthy, but it’s also a little-known secret to looking younger,” she says.

7. Take Off 
Your Shoes
Visit a podiatrist to minimise your risk of hip, back and knee problems. “If you don’t have a good foundation – if you have flat feet or high arches, for example – then the joints in the rest of your body will be stressed as they try to compensate,” says Dr Andrew Shapiro, a podiatrist based in New York. Over time, this can result in tendinitis, arthritis, plantar fasciitis and joint pain, 
he says.

Shoe inserts called orthotics can help correct many of these imbalances and support your tendons and ligaments. While a custom pair from a podiatrist can cost R1 000 or more, it’s still cheaper than knee or hip surgery later.

8. Cosy Up to Your Community
According to the Longevity Project, a landmark study that tracked 1 500 individuals for 80 years, the most important predictor of a long life is a strong social network. “It’s important to do things that tie you to ongoing social or community groups,” says Howard Friedman, a distinguished professor of psychology at UC Riverside and a researcher with the project. This could involve volunteering, supporting a local charity or doing work with a religious or political group, he says. These activities bestow a sense of fulfillment and belonging that fights loneliness and depression, two markers of deteriorating health for men.

9. Take Out Wife 
Insurance
Friedman’s research also revealed that a satisfying marriage tends to promote successful ageing. “The healthiest, longest-living men are generally those who nurture a good marriage,” Friedman says.

Such “nurturing” doesn’t have to involve penthouses and pearls. Occasional dinners, weekend getaways or just doing something thoughtful for her are more valuable than lavish gifts, says Friedman. Adopt this habit: every payday, make an investment in your marriage by doing something nice for your wife. It doesn’t have to be monetary; just use payday as a reminder to do it.

10. Find a Workout that isn’t Work
Not surprisingly, the Longevity Project found that consistent physical activity is linked to longer life. The surprise was that regimented “exercise” was not the key. The classic scripture of spending 30 minutes four times a week breaking a sweat is “good, up-to-date medical advice, but poor practical advice,” Friedman says.

Instead, find active pursuits you enjoy and invest in the instruction and equipment needed to do them well. Rather than forcing yourself to run forever on a treadmill, take lessons in surfing, climbing and other sports until you find one that replaces miles with smiles.

By Joe Kita