Responsible and Generous Living in Early Adulthood

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. – Mark 12:42

Why a Gym Membership is like a 401k

1. An essential investment

Stocks, bonds, mutual funds… these are what we normally think of when we talk about investing. These assets give you the option to contribute small sums of money over time in order to grow your investment into a much larger amount. To be a successful investor you must be intelligent, persistent, willing to take risks, and stick with it for the long haul. Our health deserves just as significant an investment.

Unlike stocks, bonds, and mutual funds we cannot diversify – we only have one body to work with.

It’s no secret that in our culture we are dealing with an epidemic in our physical health. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 38% of american adults are obese, while 17% of American children struggle with obesity. Obesity carries with it a plethora of related health issues, including an increased risk of heart disease, cardiac arrest, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Additionally the CDC estimates that the life expectancy of a chronically obese person is 8-10 years shorter than that of a person at a healthy weight. This reduction in life expectancy is equivalent to a lifetime smoker. These are alarming stats, and the most difficult to swallow is that obesity is often preventable.

Being stuck to the couch is really costing us.

The American struggle with health also comes at a tremendous financial cost. According to a Forbes article written in January of this year extra medical care related to obesity comprises 5-10% of annual total health care costs in America. An obese person (with a BMI of 35-40) will pay around $3,000 per year more on medical costs than a person at a healthy weight and the total societal cost of obesity in 2012 was $215 billion, an astronomical amount.

So while we want to encourage you to invest in your 401k and your Roth IRA, the most important investment you can make is in your health. Obviously it will pay off in quality of life, but it can also help you maintain financial freedom. The best thing is that it doesn’t have to cost you a dime, and you can and should start right away.

2. Choose your stones

After hearing statistics on obesity, preventable diseases and health care costs  it’s easy to slough off the responsibility with a joke or sarcastic jab at health-freaks and gym rats. Being healthy is not about achieving the perfect image, especially society’s image, of a toned body. Eating healthy isn’t about organic kale salads and quinoa for every meal. This is not an all or nothing conversation, there are always multiple steps between where you are and a healthier diet and leaner body.

Unfortunately for as many reasons as there are to improve your health, there are just as many excuses not to.

  • Genetics don’t give me a choice
  • I don’t have time to be healthy
  • I’m not athletic
  • Health food is too expensive

Here is where we invite you to change your perspective. 

Have you ever heard the illustration of the professor’s lesson about stones?

If you haven’t it goes like this:

A professor places a water glass, bowl of stones, bowl of gravel and bowl of sand on her desk. She fills the glass with the stones up to the top. She then asks her students “Is the glass full?”

‘Yes’ they reply, “almost completely.” She then pours a small handful of gravel over the rocks and they plink down through the stones filling most of the empty space. Next she grabs some sand and lets it slide through the stones, filling in even more of the crevices. Finally she walks over to the drinking fountain and fills whatever air pockets are left in the glass with water.

“What’s the lesson here?” she asks, holding the glass high for the students to see. A student replies, “That you can always fit in one more thing?”

“No,” the professor responds. “If you don’t put the stones in first, they’ll never fit.”

Exercise and eating healthy will NEVER come with a quick one two solution. For most of us they’ll never be particularly enjoyable, may feel limiting and are hard to stick with when we don’t see results instantly. But these two things are foundational to your health, your finances, and your quality of life.

Find the time, find the energy and find the will power. It’a a whole life investment and we couldn’t recommend it more.

3. How we make it work

Investing in your health includes more than simply changing your exercise habits, it also includes changing what you eat, where you buy your food, and how much and how frequently you sleep. Krista and I have slowly changed our habits in these areas, and reaped the physical and financial benefits. We are no where near the picture of perfect health — we sometimes stumble along trying to stay motivated and informed — but we try.

The gym can be a dreaded place where those of us who don’t have bulging muscles feel inadequate as we watch the narcissistic mirror gazers strut their stuff. In our case we trudge along on the treadmill while a cross country runner with gazelle-like endurance glides along right next to us. As much as Krista and I initially feared going to the gym, it’s a place we have grown to tolerate. I would love to be able to tell you that in the 2 years since we became regular gym members it now feels like our second home. That we sit up at night dreaming of dumbbells and sit-ups.

The truth is I still don’t like going to the gym, but we’ve chosen health as a priority.

The gym membership fee of $62 a month (total for both of us) is our health investment; increasing quality of life and keeping preventable diseases at bay. We acknowledge there are plenty of options that do not require a gym membership or any extra money, and once we’ve succeeded in consistently including those into our daily routine we plan to terminate our gym membership.

Currently we try things like practicing youtube yoga, playing pickup games of soccer with other George Fox alumni, going for walks in our expansive country neighborhood, dancing whenever possible and playing outdoor games with a bunch of middle schoolers (an endless source of energy). It’s not always about traditional methods, it’s about getting off the couch.

We’ve also tried numerous approaches to healthy eating and have currently settled on shopping at Trader Joe’s, not buying snack foods (beyond our beloved chips and salsa) and avoiding too much processing or unhealthy additives in the foods we eat (shopping at Trader Joe’s just simplifies the process for us as that’s a company standard). Contrary to popular belief, only buying healthy food is beneficial for our budget, we save almost $20-$30 each shopping trip for the same amount of meal coverage as we did before we made the switch. Healthy foods – fruit, veggies, fish, etc. are full calories, nutrient rich, and you need less of them to fill you. This is unlike the high but empty calorie stuff that appears to be less expensive.

Much like how we view finance, we always find it easier to make habits automatic. Our only ‘trick’ is always purchasing healthy options so in our moments of temptation, ‘healthy’ is all we have.

What are ways you stay motivated in your healthy endeavors? Any great advice?


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This entry was posted on April 24, 2013 by in Frugality, Planning for the Future and tagged , , .
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