Are You Weighing Down Your Retirement?

US News

We're all concerned about how to afford retirement. We check the balances on our IRAs, and obsesses about how to get the most out of Social Security. But we forget that there's another way to help achieve a financially secure retirement: Lose some weight.

A 2010 study from George Washington University estimated that being overweight costs the average male over $400 a year, and the average female over $500 a year, in extra medical bills, disability and personal costs. The price of outright obesity (a BMI over 30) widens to almost $3,000 for a man, and $5,000 for a woman each year.

If this isn't enough to motivate you to shed some pounds, think of the other cost. Being slightly overweight has no measurable effect on your life expectancy. But moderate obesity will shorten your life by an average of one year. And extreme obesity will cut close to five years off your life expectancy.

There are many ways to lose weight and save money in the process, and not one of them is easy. But if (according to one estimate) some 46 million Americans have been able to give up smoking, then we baby boomers can surely get our arms around our expanding waistlines.

Four years ago, when I was tipping over from merely overweight to outright obesity, I decided to make the effort. I lost 15 pounds in four months. Since then I've managed to stay in the just slightly overweight category. I'd like to get down to normal. That's probably not going to happen. But at least I have no sign of diabetes. And now that the load on my aging knees has been lightened, I don't have to go back to the orthopedist for a cortisone shot or pay for physical therapy.

I don't know how other people have lost weight. But here are the five things I did:

1. Drink water, not soda. I used to drink two or three diet sodas a day. They're diet, I told myself, and have zero calories. But somehow those diet sodas set me up for padding on the pounds. So I turned to bottled water. My wife wants me to drink water out of the tap. It's just as good, she says. But there's something special about cracking open a cold bottle of spring water, and it's still cheaper than soft drinks.

2. Have a piece of fruit. I eat cereal for breakfast, with 1 percent milk. I usually have raisin bran, for the, you know, raisins. Some fruit. I still go out to breakfast about once a week. Two eggs, over easy, with butter on my toast. But I trade those greasy, overcooked potatoes for a cup of fruit salad, which provides a nice contrast to the heavier eggs. Then, in the afternoon, instead of reaching for chips, I have an apple or a banana. Summer is a great time to start your love affair with fruit since all the good stuff is in season: blueberries, cantaloupe, peaches and watermelon.

3. Go easy on the meat. I used to love hamburgers. Well, actually, cheeseburgers. But they are full of fat, and who knows what else they grind up in there. So I decided to push back from the carvery. I do have an occasional hamburger when we go to a friend's house for a barbecue, but at home we mostly grill chicken or fish, along with sliced vegetables. I still like steak. But that's an expensive treat, so I'm not going to get fat on the amount of steak we eat.

4. Keep busy. Exercise is good, no doubt about it. But I've found that simply staying active at work or play takes your mind off food, and - this is critical - keeps your head out of the refrigerator. Sometimes when I've spent most of a day on the golf course, out with friends or busy working in the yard, I've even let time slip by and inadvertently skipped a meal.

5. When dinner is over, stop eating. This seems pretty basic, but honestly, I used to go back to the kitchen after dinner and make myself a cup of tea, usually with a cookie or two. And sometimes it didn't stop there. But now at dinner my wife and I finish with our cup of tea. Then we clean up, turn out the lights and go do something else. Kitchen closed, until morning. Once I got out of the habit of the midnight snack, I really didn't miss it. And now at the end of the evening, instead of eating, I do what I'm supposed to do. I go to bed.

Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.

More From US News & World Report
View Comments (2)