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Start doing this now.

Elizabeth O'Brien
January 27, 2018

Raise your hand if you follow doctor’s orders to a T. Not quite? How about if we told you that there’s real money in it for you if you do.

A 45-year-old man with high blood pressure can save an average of $3,285 in health care costs annually over his lifetime if he makes a few simple lifestyle adjustments like taking medication as directed, according to data released on Tuesday by HealthyCapital, a new joint venture between HealthView Services, a Danvers, Mass.-based company that provides retirement health care cost data and tools to financial advisors, and Mercy, a large health care system with facilities across the Midwest.

Put another way: not following doctor’s orders can substantially increase your medical costs over your lifetime, diverting money that you could be saving for retirement.

“We as consumers of medicine have a tendency to not really follow protocol,” says Ron Mastrogiovanni, CEO of HealthyCapital. Indeed, Mercy’s research shows that half of Americans diagnosed with a chronic condition don’t take their prescribed medicine after six months.

Taking control of your health boosts your bottom line today and in the future: If the hypothetical 45-year-old plows his $3,285 in annual savings from following doctor’s orders into a retirement portfolio that earns a 6% annual return, he could generate an additional $100,348 for retirement by age 65, according to HealthyCapital. (Heads up though: No one’s going to send you a check for $3,285; it would be on you to invest the money that would otherwise have gone to medical costs in an Individual Retirement Account, or to increase your contributions to your workplace 401(k).)

These findings come at a critical time. About half of all adults (117 million people) have one or more chronic health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and retirement health care costs are rising at a faster rate than the annual raises seniors receive in their Social Security benefits.

While those who start early get the biggest bang for their buck, it’s never too late to begin following doctor’s orders more closely, Mastrogiovanni says. Retirees can still improve their health and save on medical costs by taking their medicine as directed and following other simple guidelines. What’s more, these healthy behaviors can extend older adults’ independence, delaying the need for long-term care, he notes.

Not only will lifestyle adjustments save you money, but they can also add years to your life: the 45-year-old who gets his high blood pressure under control will extend his life expectancy by three years, according to HealthyCapital projections.

Following doctor’s orders doesn’t mean anything draconian. These lifestyle tweaks are sustainable over the long haul, and that’s key. In the case of high blood pressure, for example, behavior modifications include taking medicine as directed; exercising for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week; drinking in moderation; limiting dietary salt and stopping smoking, if applicable. It’s common for people with hypertension to skip their high blood pressure medication, doctors say, since they don’t feel like they’re sick.

Dr. Michael Munger, a family physician in Overland Park, Kansas, agrees that money can motivate patients to adopt healthier habits. He asks his smoking patients, “What would you do with an extra $3,500 this year?” And that’s just the cost of the cigarettes themselves—medical expenses related to smoking can add to that total.

One patient in his mid-50s took that question to heart, quit smoking, and put his savings for the first year into a Caribbean cruise with his wife, Munger says. With the hard first year behind him, he can look forward to more discretionary income each year to spend or save.

There’s more good news when it comes to obesity. People who have a lot to lose before they reach their ideal weight may give up trying to shed the pounds, thinking they’ll never reach their target. But incremental weight loss also carries financial benefits.

A 45-year-old obese male who is 5’10” and 70 pounds overweight will see a reduction of $22,881 in pre-retirement health care costs if he loses just 9 pounds, according to HealthyCapital. The analysis doesn’t account for the likelihood of this man ending up with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes should he not lose more weight, conditions that which would substantially increase both pre and in-retirement costs.

The savings are even more dramatic when it comes to diabetes: a 45 year-old-man who gets his diabetes well under control will save $2,788 a year in health care costs before retirement—for a total of $86,117 if that money is invested—and extend his life expectancy from 71 to 80, according to HealthyCapital.

Bottom line? You have more control over your health than you may think. Seizing that control and taking manageable steps can extend both your life and your savings.

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