We had a corporate doctor at MegaCorp who politely reminded people that if they are over 35 years old, you are much more likely to pass away from a heart attack than anything else. You can see it on this infographic form the UK’s National Health Service (2015):
Still, I was surprised by my heart attack the day after Christmas. Many people have asked me if I had a family history of heart problems or any of the key risk factors. The short answer is no. I’ve been healthy and expected to be able to enjoy a healthy retirement.
In fact, I’ve tracked my heart attack risk for more than a decade. I was in an executive health program at MegaCorp starting in 2003 and every year got a full physical and measured the likelihood of a ‘cardiac event’ through the Framingham Risk Score. These scores are based on a study commissioned by Congress in 1948 that have been continuously tracked thousands of patients and resulted in 3,000 peer reviewed findings.
If you haven’t checked out your score, you should: https://www.mdcalc.com/framingham-risk-score-hard-coronary-heart-disease
My risk of a heart attack over the next 10 years stood at 5.6% – prior to actually having a heart attack. That’s just over half the average risk (10%) of someone my age, but as the law of averages says, ‘anything that can happen, can happen.”
Here is how I profiled against the the key risk factors that you find listed on the American Heart Association website:
- Family History? – NO
- Age >45? – YES
- Male? – YES
- African-American? – NO
- Diabetes? – NO
- Physical Inactivity? – NO
- High Blood Pressure? – NO
- High Cholesterol? – NO (statin)
- Smoking? – NO
- Obesity? – NO (but overweight)
- Life / Work Stress? – NO
- Excess Alcohol Use? – NO
- Illicit Drugs Use? – NO
I share this background to illustrate the point that we can’t know what challenges we are likely to face in retirement and the best we can do is be on guard for them. There are some risks here that we can’t control (age, sex, family history, race), and others that we certainly can (exercise, smoking, weight. etc).
My biggest opportunity is to eat better. I’m pretty social and love going out to eat with friends. While I weigh much less and am in better shape than when I was working a few years ago, I still know I can eat out less or eat better when I do (salad, anyone?).
Just as you plan for your financial risks in early retirement, you’d be selling yourself short if you aren’t also addressing your health risk factors. As you can see on the chart above, heart disease or a cardiac event of some sort is far and away the most likely health issue to catch up with you. Why not start working on them now?
Image Credit: Pixabay