Five steps to age-proof your retirement healthcare costs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - You might not think that flossing has much to do with your 401(k).

A couple (L) and a jogger pass by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool before sunrise in Washington, September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

But stay with that thought for a minute.

Your everyday behaviors - from flossing to doing pushups to taking supplements - have a very big effect on whether Future You will be healthy and vibrant, or sickly and bedridden.

That, in turn, will impact whether you will be obligated to spend the bulk of your retirement savings on surgeries and co-pays and prescriptions.

In other words, health and wealth are inextricably linked, according to Jean Chatzky, financial expert for NBC’s Today Show, who has just released the book “AgeProof,” co-written with Cleveland Clinic’s chief wellness officer, Dr. Michael Roizen.

“If your health isn’t working for you, you are not going to be financially sound,” Chatzky says. “And if you are not financially secure, your health is going to suffer.”

Consider this number: $260,000. That is the estimated amount a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2016 will pay in out-of-pocket healthcare costs over the course of their retirement, according to money managers Fidelity Investments.

Most Americans have little idea that massive expenses like this are headed their way. In Fidelity’s recent “Retirement IQ” survey, people were asked to guess about those retirement healthcare costs - and almost a quarter of respondents were off by an astonishing $200,000 or more.

“The sad part of all this is that medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.,” says Roizen. “The good news is that if you can stay healthy, you can avoid a lot of those expenses - and put that money in retirement plans instead.”

One example is flossing: Poor periodontal care is one of the body’s major sources of inflammation. Inflammation is one of the major factors leading to heart disease. Stave off heart disease, and just think of how that will improve not only your quality of life, but your wallet as well.

Of course, the sheer amount of health information can seem overwhelming - and often contradictory. “AgeProof” attempts to boil down everything we know about health and wealth into a series of actionable tips. A sampler:

* Know your stats.

You cannot gauge where you are, or where you are headed, without knowing your numbers. In blood tests you are aiming for LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides of less than 100, and fasting glucose of less than 107. Blood pressure should be lower than 120/80, and ideally 115/75. Keep your waist less than half your height.

* Estimate your body’s “Real Age”

You can crunch this number by analyzing 157 different lifestyle factors, a discovery that might shock you into action ( If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, for instance, the average 55-year-old is actually around 13 years “older” than his chronological age, Roizen says.

* Get up and move.

Aim for 10,000 steps a day. Get your heart rate up with cardio at least three times a week, for at least 20 minutes each time. Boost bone strength and density by jumping 20 times on hard surfaces, in both mornings and evenings. Work on grip strength, which is a surprisingly accurate indicator of overall health prospects. Begin a regimen of push-ups and curl-ups, which will boost core strength and muscular endurance, and give you baseline stats that can be improved over time.

* Stop eating junk food.

It is no secret that most American diets are a total disaster. So work toward a Mediterranean-style diet rich on veggies, whole grains and olive oil. Cut back on red meat, egg yolks and anything processed. Avoid simple sugars, syrups, stripped carbs and saturated fats.

Have a glass of wine if you want, but stop there. For a sweet treat, try dark chocolate. Have emergency snacks at the ready - like nuts, olives, carrots and apples - instead of processed junk. Take needed supplements like magnesium, folate, B6 and B12.

* Chill out.

There is zero doubt that stress ages you, and quickly. So face and deal with whatever is stressing you out, instead of coping by overeating and overdrinking.

Meditation and deep breathing will calm you down and help with mental clarity. Try to sleep for eight solid hours: Achieve that by setting room temperature at 67 degrees, dimming the lights, not eating or drinking before bedtime and banishing all devices and screens from the bedroom. Power naps of 30 minutes or less are OK during the day.

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler