What’s the most important investment product that you own? Shares of GE? Apple? An index or bond fund? Your house?
There’s an investment product out there that’s far more important than any of those. In fact, it’s such a monumental investment that it makes any stock certificate look like a lifeless, meaningless piece of paper (or, um, binary code). This investment has such value that trying to put a dollar value to it only serves to degrade it. Yes, Warren Buffet owns it, but so do you. Actually, you own all the shares of it that you’re ever going to get. You can’t acquire more, but you can still make those shares increase in value.
Of course, the investment to which I’m referring is… YOU. And I’m not just referring to your future earning potential within your chosen career. You may have a career, and an earning potential, but you are far more than that. One of the most common bits of investment advice is Buy low, sell high. What that really translates to is getting a good return on your investment. How, then, can we ensure that we get a good return if our investment vehicle is, well, ourselves?
Your Body is an Investment
Unless you’re a firm believer in reincarnation, we can safely say that the body you currently possess is the only one you’ll ever have. And oh, how we as a society mistreat our bodies! How many of us have to go to work everyday and sit for hours on end, perhaps staring into a computer monitor, or perhaps staring at the road from behind the wheel of a vehicle?
And how many more of us come home from a day of work at a sedentary job and spend more hours sitting in front of a television? Human beings were not designed to be sedentary, and even if your work life is prohibitive to physical activity, one of the best ways to improve your bodily investment is to get moving. There’s no absolute need to run out (pun intended?) and join a gym. If your life is pretty sedentary right now, just try this simple activity: turn off the TV and take a 30-minute walk. Start doing that a few times a week or more, and you’re already on your way to getting a better return out of the investment that IS you. Increased physical activity will lead to better health, higher mental clarity, and potentially a longer life. Oh, and an improved sex life. Yeah, I said it.
Ever since the end of elementary school, I’ve always had a few extra pounds. My weight has always been – for lack of a better word – manageable, though my smaller frame tends to hide the extra pounds well. My colleagues and my old friends from grad school have called me skinny (among other less-flattering names), but they haven’t seen me naked! Thank heavens for that.
As it so often happens, after I got married a few years ago, the needle on the scale started a slow-but-steady trend northward. I was up to 188 earlier this summer, which is the most I’ve ever weighed. This is despite the fact that I already walk and bike on an almost-daily basis. I guess the food that my wife cooks is just too tasty!
Back in early June, I decided the time had come for me to take the investment that is my body more seriously. I joined the fitness center at my university for $20 a month, and because I’m such a cheapskate, I’ve been going to the gym three days a week consistently and won’t allow myself to quit. It helps that my wife goes too, so I have an accountability partner. At the gym, I’ve been utilizing mostly the ski-machines and the cycling machines for aerobic exercise. So far, I’ve solidly lost 10 pounds, and I feel physically and mentally healthier than I did six weeks ago. In other words, I’m getting a better return out of my body-investment than I had been before summer started.
The Food You Eat is an Investment
Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage that you are what you eat. I used to not believe it or think much about it at all. I feel differently now.
Along with increased physical activity, one of the best investments you can make in your body is to pay a little more attention to what you eat. Exactly how nutritious is that double-whopper you had for lunch? I’m not dietician, but I don’t suspect it did your body any favors. I think some good advice here is: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
Some religions teach that the body is a temple. Religious issues aside, I agree with that teaching. The problem is that I’ve heard this teaching used before to justify why drinking any alcohol is a bad thing. Excuse me? I enjoy a good craft beer or a glass of wine in moderation, but I’ve literally been engaged in a conversation before in which my interlocutor warned me against the perils of alcohol using a body-is-a-temple rationale, all while munching on a Big Mac and washing it down with Cola. When I pointed out his current temple defilement-in-progress, he didn’t like it very much. Anyway, back to the point at hand.
My father has Type 2 diabetes. So did his father, and so do three of his four siblings. My mother is (thankfully) a cancer survivor. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but sometimes I wonder if any of their ailments could have been negated, or at least delayed, by a better lifestyle. Both of them lead sedentary lives, and both are overweight. Their diet isn’t so great. They do eat a lot of fresh fruit, but almost everything else they eat comes directly from a can or a box. They eat fast food regularly.
I used to not care at all about what I ate or drank, especially back in my teenage years and into my twenties. I engulfed fast food and guzzled soda pop. Everyone is a moron when they’re teenagers, so that much can be forgiven, but this behavior continued for me right until I started graduate school. Twenty-five was a turning-point age for me. It was then that I realized that I’m not invincible (anymore), and (oh sh*t) my dad is a diabetic, so maybe I should be careful about how much sugar I suck into my body. It was as if a light switch flipped in my mind, and I immediately cut out all soda pop from my diet. The amount of soda that I’ve consumed since then can be measured in ounces, and most of that was the kind that uses actual sugar as a sweetener instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
Eventually, I decided to eliminate all HFCS from my diet, and the amount of meat and dairy that I consumed (especially red meat) began to shrink, being replaced by more fruit, vegetables, and whole-grains. At this point, I like to say that I’m a vegan, but I’m not very good at it. I eat some meat two or three times a month. Whereas a decade ago I lived on fast food, it’s inedible to me now. It smells like plastic.
Some people may think I’m a radical because I eat lots of produce and read labels at the grocery store. Maybe I am, but I’m determined to avoid – or at least postpone – the diabetes that has taken most of my father’s eyesight and may soon take his legs. If my desire to avoid that same fate makes me a radical, then so be it. Plus, I fail to see why it’s considered normal or medically conservative to treat certain issues (such as heart disease) with prescription drugs and surgery, whereas it’s considered weird or radical to adopt a mostly vegan diet.
No matter your current age or condition, you can improve the investment that is your body by taking steps to improve your diet. You can start simply: try drinking water instead of sugary drinks, for starters. If you’re craving a snack, try some fruit instead of a cookie. Buy wheat or whole-grain bread instead of white marshmallow bread. Little changes like that can make a big difference in the long run.
When it comes to ingredients, I like to think of the tiny little quote by Thoreau (from Walden): “Simplify, simplify.” I like to buy food that comes with short ingredient lists. In this case, less is more. If I’m reading a label, and I don’t know what some of the ingredients are – if I can’t even pronounce them – why on earth would I want to suck it into my body?
This is the only body you have, so think of it like an investment. Come to think of it, it’s the only investment you have that the fat cats on Wall Street can’t diminish. The Bernie Madoffs of the world can’t lie, cheat, or steal it from you. The government can’t inflate away its value (though perhaps time still retains that ability). It should be a comforting thought that your body is the only investment vehicle for which you are directly responsible. Treat it well, and its share value increases. Treat it poorly, and it slips into recession. Providing it with regular physical activity and healthy, nutritious food is like buying low, and my hope is that your body will pay rich dividends for the rest of your life.