A common question I get asked from individuals who started investing later in life is:
How do I make up for lost time? Is there a better option than ‘save as much as you can’?
If you had asked me this question in years past, I would’ve told you, “Not really.” After all, assuming you can’t increase your portfolio returns, what other option do you have to catch up besides saving more?
But, then I realized that I was thinking about this question all wrong. Because I shouldn’t have been focusing on how to get more money (via higher returns or increased contributions), but how to get more time. After all, if you can get more time, you can use that time to save more money, earn more returns, and catch up financially.
But, how do you get more time? Unfortunately, paying for it isn’t an option. As I stated in Ch. 21 of Just Keep Buying:
Though you can always earn more money, nothing can buy you more time.
But, what if instead of buying more time, you could earn more time?
Well, it’s possible. How exactly? According to the data, the answer is…exercise. Exercising regularly to improve your strength and your cardiovascular health is the most effective way to increase how much time left you have on this Earth, all else equal.
Don’t just take my word for it though. Consider what Peter Attia, a physician and longevity expert, has stated on the issue. In this podcast episode of The Drive, Attia and exercise physiologist Mike Joyner, M.D. discuss how proper cardiovascular fitness can add three to five years to your lifespan and six to eight years to your healthspan. As a reminder, lifespan is how long you live, but healthspan is how long you live while in good health. So having six to eight more years of healthspan really means six to eight more years of living the life you want.
But, what do you have to give up for this additional healthspan? A lot less than you think. Assuming you spent four hours a week exercising, 50 weeks a year for 50 years, that would be 10,000 hours of lifetime exercise. That’s barely over 1 year of time. But, for that one year, you would likely get six to eight additional years of disability-free health. In other words, every hour you spend exercising is likely to give you six to eight hours of additional healthy life.
There is no other lifestyle change that even comes close. To illustrate this, let’s consider the case of smoking and nutrition. As Attia stated in this episode of the Huberman Lab podcast:
Smoking is approximately a 40% increase in the risk of ACM [all-cause mortality]…it means that at any point in time there is a 40% greater risk that you are going to die relative to a non-smoker.
In statistical terms, we would say that smokers have a hazard ratio of 1.4 (i.e. a 40% increased risk of ACM) relative to non-smokers. A hazard ratio is simply, “a measure of how often a particular event happens in one group compared to how often it happens in another group, over time.” In this case, the event is death (i.e. all-cause mortality) and the groups are smokers and non-smokers. So a hazard ratio of 1.4 means that death is 1.4 times more likely for smokers than for non-smokers at any point in time.
On the nutrition front, someone who never eats fruits and vegetables has a hazard ratio of 1.35 compared to someone who eats five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, according to this meta-analysis. This means that, the increased risk of dying from smoking (relative to non-smokers) is nearly equivalent to the increased risk of dying from never eating fruit/vegetables (relative to those who eat five or more servings of fruit/vegetables per day).
So what’s the hazard ratio associated with not exercising? According to Attia, it’s 2.0 when comparing those in the bottom 25 percent of cardiorespiratory fitness (via VO2 max) to those in the 50th to 75th percentile of cardiorespiratory fitness. This means that being in the bottom 25 percent of cardiorespiratory fitness (for your age and sex) doubles your chance of dying relative to someone in the 50th to 75th percentile. So, just by becoming better than average, your chance of dying (relative to someone with low cardiorespiratory fitness) would be reduced by 50%.
But, we can go further. If we compare someone in the bottom 25 percent to someone with an elite level of cardiorespiratory fitness (i.e. those in top 2.5% for their age and sex), the hazard ratio goes up to 5.0. That’s a 400% increase in the risk of death (ACM) if you are in the bottom 25 percent relative to the top 2.5%. In other words, being in the top 2.5% of cardiorespiratory fitness drops your risk of death by 80%! These figures are so extreme that Attia states:
That’s probably the single strongest association I’ve seen for any modifiable behavior.
Think about what this means. Attia, who is one of the smartest and most knowledgable experts on longevity in the world, is claiming that the behavior most strongly associated with extending your life is—exercise.
He didn’t say to eat blueberries or to meditate or to follow a specific morning routine (despite the benefits that all of these behaviors provide). He said to exercise and to do it until you are in the top 2.5% for your age and sex (with regards to your VO2 max).
That’s how you get more time.
And, counterintuitively, this is also how you catch up financially. You don’t need stress yourself out trying to save every penny. Instead, you exercise more, reduce your stress, and extend your life. This is a non-financial solution to a financial problem. And while it might seem unorthodox, for those that are having trouble saving more, it might be the best option available.
Now that we’ve discussed the overarching strategy to get more time, let’s look at the specific tactics to do so.
How Should You Exercise For Longevity?
Based on the research, those with higher strength and better cardiovascular health tend to live longer than those without it. As this study found, “Men who can perform 40 pushups in one minute are 96 percent less likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who do less than 10.” This is similar to the benefits (highlighted above) associated with higher cardiovascular fitness. Therefore, any specific workout routine you follow should focus on these two pillars—strength and cardio—at a minimum.
And while I’m no fitness expert (please consult a physician before making any drastic changes to your exercise routine), I’ve read a lot on this stuff and have found that the following works for me:
- Strength (3-4 days per week)
- 1 day of legs (squats, Romanian deadlifts, leg extensions, calf raises, etc.)
- 1 day of back/biceps (barbell rows, seated cable rows, shrugs, preacher curls, farmer carries, etc.)
- 1 day of chest/shoulders/triceps (dumbbell bench press, overhead press, tricep extension, etc.)
- Cardio (3-4 days per week)
- 3-4 “Zone 2” cardio sessions per week (45 minutes on incline treadmill)
- 1 “Zone 5” cardio session – sprints (5 rounds of 20 second sprints with 2 min rest in between rounds)
What are Zone 2 and Zone 5 cardio? These represent different intensity levels based on your cardiac output (i.e. how hard your heart is beating). Zone 1 would be something like a casual walk while Zone 5 would be high intensity interval training (HIIT). Therefore, Zone 2 is a workout at about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.
Technically, Zone 2 is defined as “the highest metabolic output/work that you can sustain while keeping your lactate level below two millimole per liter.” But, for us normal people, you can tell if you’re in Zone 2 if:
- Nose breathing only: You can do the workout while breathing only (or mostly) through your nose. If you feel like you need to breathe through your mouth, then you are likely pushing yourself into Zone 3 (or higher).
- Talking is somewhat unpleasant: You can do the workout and talk or have a conversation, but it feels slightly unpleasant while doing so. If you feel no unpleasantness, then you are probably in Zone 1. And, if you feel lots of unpleasantness (or can’t talk at all) while working out, then you are likely in Zone 3 (or higher).
If both of those conditions hold, then you are probably in Zone 2.
In terms of timing, I usually alternate between cardio and strength days. So a cardio day followed by a strength day followed by a cardio day, and so forth. I don’t take rest days deliberately because the alternating pattern allows for lots of rest and unplanned rest days happen often enough. Life gets in the way, trust me.
For example, currently my Zone 2 workout is 45 minutes walking on the treadmill at 3.3 mph with a 15% incline. When I first started I could only do this at 2.9 mph while struggling to stay in Zone 2 (i.e. I needed to breathe through my mouth more often than not). But, after a few months, I improved and can now stay in Zone 2 at a slightly faster pace. For context, Attia does Zone 2 on the treadmill at 3.5-3.6 mph with a 15% incline. If you want to try a Zone 2 incline treadmill workout, I recommend starting slower (or with less incline) and then working up from there.
Of course, there is no “right” way to exercise just like there is no “right” way to build wealth. People have gotten strong and fit (and wealthy) in a variety of different ways, so arguing about specifics seems mostly pointless to me. However, I hope that by exposing you to some set of specifics, you will experiment further and find what works for you.
I know I’m not a fitness guru. But I am someone who wants you to act smarter and live richer. So I hope that you take my recommendation seriously and start getting more time for yourself today.
Happy exercising and thank you for reading!
If you liked this post, consider signing up for my newsletter.
This is post 311. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data