In recent months, many of my clients have experienced health issues that impact their enjoyment of life and plans for retirement. Health and wellness have become a greater concern as Americans face an epidemic of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Long term financial planning starts with an assumption that you’ll be here to enjoy the long term. This month’s blog, “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise” takes a detour from my usual financial topics and shares my own evolution in seeking greater knowledge of health and wellness. I’d like my own life to be full of health, wealth and wisdom. My goal is to help you achieve or maintain the same.
More than 35% of the US adult population is clinically “obese”. That figure is up from 23% in 1962. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity_in_the_United_States
It gets worse. The percentage of the US adult population clinically diagnosed as simply “overweight” is even higher and rising very quickly. It was 39% in 1997, 45% in 2004, 57% in 2007 and 66% in 2010. The National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC says this figure is expected to reach 75% in 2020 and 85% by 2030.
Obesity in the United States is a major health issue, resulting in numerous diseases, specifically increased risk of certain types of cancer, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, as well as significant increase in early mortality and economic costs. While many industrialized countries have experienced similar increases, obesity rates in the United States are the highest in the world.
More than half of all Americans will eventually succumb to heart disease. Another 1/3 to cancer, diabetes or stroke. These “lifestyle diseases” are diseases of affluence. They rarely occurred hundreds of years ago. Today they are nearly unheard of in less affluent parts of the world such as rural China and most of Africa where the populations eat mostly unprocessed whole plant-based diets. Americans spend more per capita on health care, yet our health outcomes are lower than most developed nations and many nations in the under-developed world.
Nutrition is a very hot topic. Diet books are perennially best sellers. Almost every magazine and newspaper features nutrition advice. Given the barrage of information, are you confident that you know what you should be doing to improve your health? For most of us the answer is no. There is too much conflicting information out there. It’s easy to become confused.
Health and nutrition have been on my mind for some time. While I am first and foremost a financial advisor, many of my conversations with clients often drift toward their health and wellness. America has a health problem. So do many of my clients.
I’m a prolific reader. For the past twenty years I’ve read (or listened to) dozens of books on financial planning, investment management and economics. This probably doesn’t surprise you. I’ve also read (or listened to) dozens of books on health, diet and healthy lifestyles. That may be a surprise.
The most impactful of the financial books I’ve read was What Wall Street Doesn’t Want You to Know by Larry Swedroe. The ground-breaking principles I learned in that book literally launched my career as an independent fee-only financial advisor and investment manager. A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel, The Investors Manifesto by William Bernstein, and The 7Twelve Portfolio by Craig Israelson are three more of my favorites. These and other books helped me overcome years of misinformation and the effects of a steady diet of corporate ‘Kool-Aid’ designed to benefit their own bottom lines. These books opened my mind to the smoke and mirrors that characterizes much of America’s financial services industry and made me a better financial advisor and investment manager in the process. Wall Street and the financial news media have a financial interest in keeping us both entertained and confused. They focus their efforts almost entirely on stock picking and fortune telling -- what Jane Bryant Quinn refers to as “investment pornography”. They emphasize what is sexy and fund rather than what is truly important. More knowledgeable investors focus their efforts on asset allocation, routine rebalancing and the use of low-cost, tax-efficient index funds and ETFs. This doesn’t have sizzle and doesn’t line the pockets of Wall Street Wizards, but it works.
In the financial world, there are a few simple truths. Anything that deviates from those truths invites confusion. The same is true in the world of health and wellness. After dozens of false starts, I’m now confident enough of my knowledge in this area to share it with you.
We are now in an era of lifestyle medicine – a trend toward eating mostly unprocessed whole plant-based foods combined with moderate daily exercise. This simple yet powerful lifestyle combination can reverse or undo the most common chronic diseases as well as to help prevent them. I’ve learned that decades of randomized controlled trials by dozens of researchers definitely prove that radically simple lifestyle changes can often have greater impact than do drugs or surgery, and without the negative side effects. Most of the things we know or think that we know were brought to us by years of steady propaganda from the meat, dairy and pharmaceutical lobbies designed to benefit their bottom lines. Let’s call that “nutrition pornography”. Both the financial services profession and the nutritional community suffer from similar afflictions.
I’m amazed and inspired by how and why these simple lifestyle changes are so powerful, how far ranging their effects can be and how quickly people can show measurable improvements – often in just a few weeks or even less. Research is showing that many of our most chronic and debilitating diseases, and even aging at a cellular level, can be slowed, stopped or even reversed by lifestyle medicine. This includes reversing severe coronary heart disease, reversing type-2 diabetes, reversing, slowing or stopping the progression of early stage non-aggressive prostate cancer, reversing high blood pressure, reversing elevated cholesterol levels, reversing obesity, reversing some types of early stage dementia, reversing some auto-immune conditions, and reversing emotional depression and anxiety. Hundreds of compelling studies have been published in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals and presented at the most well-respected physicians’ conferences. The world is beginning to take notice.
Science is a powerful tool for raising knowledge and awareness. Peer reviewed scientific research is the best answer to what is often the biggest obstacle – skepticism that simple lifestyle changes can result in such powerful, far-reaching and measurable improvements and how fast you can look and feel better. I’m taking the risk of laying out my convictions and sharing my own reading list in the hope you’ll take the first step of reading or listening to one or more of these books. My hope and expectation is that they will inspire and empower you as each of these books did for me. These books will help you rise above the noise and misinformation that we’ve fallen victim to when it comes to our own health and well-being. Each book has something different to offer, but they share a common prescription – following a mostly whole food, plant-based lifestyle is the key to your long-term health and longevity.
Imagine a world where Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson came up with a single pill that prevented or reversed most common diseases and extended life an average of 12 to 15 additional years. What would you be willing to pay for such a pill? That outcome exists if you open your mind to the possibility that much of what you know or thought that you knew may be wrong. Trust me when I tell you that a little humility and an open mind on this subject can be life-saving. Take that first step and read or listen to one of these books or watch one of the documentaries listed below.
Note: I listen to most of my books through an app at www.audible.com. I find that much more convenient as I can cover a lot of ground while at the gym, shopping for groceries, or driving in the car. The links listed by each title allow non-subscribers to download the app and listen to one book for free without joining. These same titles are available in print or kindle at www.amazon.com.
Here are my favorites:
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., biochemistry, nutrition, and microbiology. Campbell is a senior science adviser to the American Institute for Cancer Research and sits on the advisory board of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. http://a.co/2XKRTTS
The Engine 2 Diet, NY Times bestseller by Rip Esselstyn, former firefighter and world-class triathlete http://a.co/0aGFxOb
How Not To Die by Michael Greger, MD http://a.co/bbWR5N
Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, MD http://a.co/ip35ZZe
Undo It! By NY Times best-selling author Dean Ornish, MD http://a.co/4VBLn2p
If you prefer to begin by watching a movie instead, here are some good choices available on YouTube, Netflix or Amazon
Forks Over Knives: “Medicine is not something that comes in a pill bottle, it’s what you put on your plate. Rather than treat the symptoms of chronic disease, a diet focused on whole, plant foods have the potential to reverse it altogether”. Watch the trailer: http://amzn.to/2Bxhjk4
Vegucated: “Understanding the impacts of their choices can motivate people to make more permanent changes to their diet and the way they think about food”. Watch the trailer: http://amzn.to/2i0WKnB
Eating You Alive: “Once people make the connection between food and health, their world can be changed completely”. Watch the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8sGE5n-i1
Food Choices: “Your relationship with food will likely be changed forever”. Watch the trailer: http://amzn.to/2AgfPwf
What the Health: “Focusing on the debilitating chronic diseases that an overwhelming number of Americans are experiencing, What the Health shares how a plant-based diet has the potential to completely change the health of a nation and the world”. Watch the trailer: http://amzn.to/2i4Lx5u
Plant Pure Nation: “This documentary pulls the curtain back on the corporate interests behind the food industry and how that influences laws and social norms”. Watch the trailer: http://amzn.to/2zRsQgY
Chow Down: “Highlights the journey of three people who attempt to reverse their heart disease and diabetes by adhering to a plant-based diet”. http://amzn.to/2k8RJgR