Does FIRE Have Longevity Advantages?
For those of us reaching FIRE in our late 30’s and early 40’s, our retirement timelines are a little longer than average. Many of us are planning retirement periods of 40 years… long enough to reach the end of a typical human lifespan.
But what if we’ve been planning it wrong all along? What if FIRE also has hidden advantages that allow early retirees to live longer than normal lifespans? What if our “retirement” timelines end-up lasting 50 years? Ten years longer than normal!
It might just be possible…
The Blue Zones
I’m not just talking about the unique snowflakes that have the right genetics to live to 100 — Whole communities exist on the planet where living to age 90 is considered nothing out of the ordinary.
Researchers from National Geographic and the National Institute for Aging found five of these so-called “Blue Zones” — areas of the world where good health and longevity allow a much higher percentage of people to live well into their 90’s, and often into their 100’s.
The Blue Zones studied were: Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Icaria (Greece) and a Seventh-day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California.
Researchers found amongst these long-lived populations there exists a number of common behaviors that allowed people to live longer and healthier lives:
- Strong family connections — Family is often very important.
- Less smoking and drinking than shorter lived populations.
- A primarily plant-based diet. Some meat is OK, but not huge amounts.
- Constant moderate physical activity.
- Social engagement – Strong social ties and strong connections to the local community.
- Legumes were commonly consumed – Aka beans (the magical fruit).
- Low caloric intake (essentially a form of caloric restriction)
While correlation should never be confused with causation, it would be foolish to ignore the commonalities found across the Blue Zones. None of the factors described in the research are new.
For example, the benefits of getting plenty of physical activity is very well understood at this point… absolutely nobody is going to argue the health benefits of getting exercise.
Diet is another area that’s fairly well researched — The dangers of eating lots of red meat have been extremely well studied, and it’s one of the main reasons why we don’t eat a lot of beef at home.
The Tako family recently returned from a trip to Okinawa (one of the Blue Zones), and it was absolutely clear that a traditional Okinawan diet includes far more vegetables, seaweed, and tofu than a traditional Western diet. Overall, the food was great! Meat was surprisingly rare, and we were seeking-out as many traditional Okinawan dishes as we could find.
Some of the other “Blue Zone” behaviors are “less proven” by medical science. Factors like caloric restriction have been proven to increase lifespan in animals (including primates), but haven’t yet been carefully studied in humans.
(It’s worth noting that the exact opposite — obesity, has been well studied in humans. The negative health effects are abundantly clear.)
Is Longevity Really Under Your Control?
While we have a social tendency to believe that our genetics drives many life outcomes, that’s not the entire story when it comes to longevity — studies with twins have shown that only 20-30% of the variation in human lifespan is tied to genetics.
Only 20% to 30%! This means the vast majority of our lifespans are tied to our behavior (food intake, exercise, etc) and environment.
So, YES, the length of time you’re going to live is absolutely under your control!
The FIRE Longevity Advantage
This brings me to one of the great advantages of financial independence and early retirement — time. Not only do FIRE’ees (is that a word?) have lower stress levels, but we have the time to build close family and social connections that could sustain us well into our 90’s.
Most people are stuck stressing-out over a job 10 hours a day. After work, they race home in their giant SUVs to heat-up a frozen pizza, or devour a generous portion of Taco Bell.
If they spend time with their family at all, it’s frequently done in front of the TV. Sitting. Not talking.
It’s a testament to medical science that despite this fabulous lifestyle, life expectancy has continued to rise steadily in the United States.
Early retirees have big advantages in this longevity game — we have the time to walk to the grocery store every day, and the time to make a scratch-cooked meals every day.
We have the time and energy to get regular physical exercise when everyone else is busy working. Instead of collapsing in front of the TV every night (perhaps from mental exhaustion), we can sit down to a nice board game with the family and build those ultra-important family connections.
Simply put, we have the time to replicate those Blue Zone behaviors… and ultimately live a long and healthy life.
What About Environment?
It’s also worth considering that one of the major factors for longevity in Blue Zones could be environmental. The majority of the studied Blue Zones were islands (Okinawa, Sicily, Icaria), and every single one of them had a warm climate.
If we look at the U.S. State with the longest life-expectancy… it happens to be Hawaii. Again, it’s an island… with a warm climate. Coincidence?
There could be any number of things causing “the island factor” — For one, it’s easier to get outside to enjoy physical activity when the weather is nice.
Another possibility is that islands are isolated. The limited size and space on islands like Okinawa or Hawaii makes beef incredibly expensive, but fresh fruit is relatively cheap and abundant. Refined sugars and bread are basically non-existent in traditional island diets.
It’s very possible those isolated island environments drive or reinforce the healthy behaviors.
Financially independent early retirees have big advantages here too — without a job tying us to one place, we can simply pick up and move to any healthy environment we want! There’s no chains tying us to an unhealthy environment.
This is one of the reasons why Mrs. Tako and I are searching for a new place to live.
The FIRE Community
When it comes to social connections and community, I believe the FIRE community has the opportunity to confer even more advantages to our unique lifestyle.
While the FIRE community is still relatively new, I already see a strong focus on physical health and social connection.
In addition to events like FinCon and Camp Mustache, we have bloggers like Mr. 1500 and Mr. WoW battling each other to lose weight. Or, incredible writers like Mrs. FrugalWoods frugal challenging her readers to save money!
This kind of community building is incredibly positive, and I only hope it continues.
The FIRE community has the opportunity to create our own islands of health, frugality, and wealth. If maintained, it’s very possible these social connections could help sustain us well into our elderly years.
So, getting back to the main question — Does FIRE have longevity advantages? I think it’s entirely possible.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a huge number of us that make it into our 90’s… perhaps still challenging each other to see who can walk the furthest (with our canes and walkers), or having the lowest budget.
In the FIRE lifestyle, I already see echoes of the Blue Zone behaviors — We have the time and energy to live a healthy, low stress lifestyle with strong social connections. It’s probably going to happen.
But what if you’re not FIREd already? Should you run out and try to implement all the Blue Zone behaviors?
That’s probably not a good idea. Like a fad diet, if your environment and social connections aren’t helping reinforce behavior, you’ll eventually give-up and quit.
No, a good place to start would be picking up the Blue Zones book while you’re still on the road to FI.
Begin thinking about the environment you enjoy, and social connections you want to keep. Slowly begin to build these support structures into your life. A good lifestyle isn’t going to happen overnight.
I also recommend learning to cook tasty low-meat meals at home. I can’t emphasize this enough! It’ll save you money, AND get you healthier.
Some steps (like moving for a better environment) might have to wait until you’re already FI.
Other actions — like following the FIRE bloggers you admire, and joining your favorite FIRE communities are something you can already do today. Maybe you’ll even start your own blog.
Just remember — You can choose to meet your end at the office (at age 55), OR you can die surrounded by friends and family when you’re 95 years old, having spent over half your lifetime retired.
The choice is yours.
34 thoughts on “Does FIRE Have Longevity Advantages?”
Very interesting post especially since I’m also FIREd! I agree with almost all of it.
As far as diet goes, I’ve eaten a Paleo diet for the last 6 or 7 years. Part of my diet is eating a fair amount of grass-fed beef. I disagree with you that “The dangers of eating lots of red meat have been extremely well studied”. Take a look at this article if you have time:
My take — Ask your doctor! People can write anything on the internet.
Thank you for the book recommendation, I look forward to checking out “The Blue Zone”!
While there can be many factors, I am a firm believer that we can really help to shape our own lives and health. It takes hard work, dedication and, at times, sacrifice, but the benefits are worth it to me.
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Loved this post! The right food, physical activity, not smoking, and limiting alcohol are no-brainers but many of us still struggle to consistently make the right choices. You’re absolutely right about having the freedom to choose where to live as a FIREee. I may be moving away from the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and back home to IL if my job interview is a success later this week. No issues with me or my family but I imagine living here in the PNW is healthier than living just outside of Chicago.
Probably the biggest detriment to living in the PNW is all the rainy weather in the winter. I think it keeps us indoors a bit too much.
I never thought about FIRE from this angle, but you’re absolutely right. Retiring early and avoiding the stresses of mandatory work surely help you add at least a few years to your lifespan right there.
You can still make the tie to eat well and exercise before FIRE, too. I think it’s much harder, of course, since 10 hours of your life are owed to the man, but it’s doable. I started waking up at 5 instead of 6 to make time for making breakfast and exercise.
Wow, good job! I usually get up around 7am these days, and then take a walk in the middle of the day with the kids.
Back when I was working, to get my daily walk in I would always “speed-eat” my lunch and spend the rest of my lunch hour walking.
Interesting topic! I have read about of posts about the danger of weight gain when someone retires early but haven’t really thought about the benefits of FIRE.
Mr. FAF and I have thought about moving to Vietnam or China when we retire because the costs of living are lower and we can be closer to family. However, the pollution there can cause more health problems and cost more money than we expect @_@
Yeah the pollution issues in parts of Asia would probably knock a few years off of your life… but there are still clean unpolluted areas though. Just takes more work to find them.
Good article. As someone who has recently FIREd with my family one of the thing I’m enjoying most is reading blogs and starting to interact with bloggers and finding “my tribe” to increase the social connections.
The whole cooking every day thing is spot on, plus I can now run whenever I want to without feeling guilty about leaving the family for a couple of hours.
Oh and I’m not drinking on Sunday night any more because I have to go to work on Monday!
Sounds like FIRE has been really positive for you Steve! I know it’s knocked down my stress levels about 1000%
Great article. I have been thinking about this issue also. The fascinating thing about Ikaria is that the men have the same life expectancy as the women. So what’s that about? Is the usual gap entirely behavioural like the massive gap between Russian men and women (vodka and low health literacy). Is it work related – men typically work in more ambition fuelled work places and suffer the stress of being the alpha or beta male? In Ikaria everyone typically had a relaxed rural lifestyle and there was more cooperation between neighbours. The Ikarian diet also is relatively calorie restricted and breakfast would often be herb tea or milk. Which links to the latest interest in fasting. No food between 2000 and 1200. Herb tea wouldn’t really constitute food.
I read some theories about what’s going on there in Ikaria. One of the more interesting ones was the fact that culturally women in Ikaria take on managing the household (including the money), and men work outside the home.
It’s possible the reduced mental stress on men brings up the life expectancy.
I definitely have to say that the low stress, simple way of life is definitely having it’s effects. We’re not quite done with it all yet, but we’ve definitely slowed down and started smelling the roses. They smell nice.
We also have started valuing things differently, and we value our health and our relationships and our peace of mind. We try out best not to get worked up about anything.
As far as the diet stuff goes, we love our bacon, beer and waffles. So, I’m not quite sure if that’s going anywhere, but maybe we’ll just cut down to the weekends 😉
Well, I certainly love eating bacon, but over the years my doctor started recommending I reduce my meat intake to get my cholesterol down.
Oddly enough, this was long before I ever heard of the Blue Zones. Now that I’ve seen Okinawa, it all becomes more clear.
The FIRE’D definitely have an advantage over the rest of us coal miners 🙂 I found it funny that one of the blue zones was in my sister in laws town (Loma Linda), that’s so random.
It’s speculative bad news for me, I hate legumes and love the taste of cow 🙁 I need a FIRE advantage. This planets pretty fun to stay!
Loma Linda is a very interesting case. The rest of the residents of the city are not as long lived, so it’s very clearly related to diet and behavioral differences within the Seventh Day Adventist community, not just the environment.
Cow is yummy, but Legumes are really good too. We just have to learn how to make yummy legume dishes! You should try my surprising side dish or another recipe I love is spicy lentils. Made it for lunch yesterday!
It is easier to manage your diet and exercise when you are FIRE but you can still do it while working. It’s all about managing your time. The only part about being retired I am really looking forward to is: less stress and moving to a warmer climate. We just had our first snow flakes last night!
Nice post! I’ve been working a post on this very subject, mostly taking it from a single-factor angle and it will be out soon.
The caloric-restriction thing worries me. I’ve read tons of studies about it before and it seems to be real. But I’m a veryphysically active person and often do very long workouts or races. I absolutely have to eat a lot or I will wilt up to nothing. I’m already super-skinny! The studies I’ve read seem to indicate that even if I’m burning it right off, a high caloric diet is still not good since my body has to go through the stress of processing all that food and turning it into energy. Basically I’m wearing out my food-energy converter engine faster.
Who knows. I enjoy exercise and I enjoy food. Either way it has to be healthier than sitting on my but watch Netflix and eating donuts!
they sure ate a lot of sweet potatoes in okinawa back then. i have a chef friend on the island. i’ll have to ask her if that’s still the case. we make a pot o’ beans every week (start with dried, they’re cheap and easy). they turn out be pretty versatile, as you can jam them into a tortilla or just have them as a side dish. stewed chick peas can be done many ways too.
we still eat plenty of beef and mayo but this activity and a little exercise hopefully zeros that out some. as my friend owlie’s dad used to say: have a glass of grapefruit juice, ace. it kills the cholesterol.
My primary doc and I end up geeking out over new Blue Zone research every year when I go in for my preventive visit. One thing to note is the distinction between activity and exercise. Moderate activity is key – exercise on its own in some cases has very little benefit. For example, someone who is entirely sedentary (office job, couch/TV all weekend) aside from the 3 hours per week they drive to the gym will derive little long-term benefit compared to someone who has an office job but washes dishes by hand, enjoys house and yard work, and takes a walk every day.
There is no doubt that for our children’s generation they will routinely live to 100, and for our generation well into 90’s with reasonable lifestyle behaviors. As a complement to this article if people want to do calculations on their own life expectancy and impact on financials then I have a post on this topic.
That’s very interesting. My lifestyle is a little healthier after I early retired so that’s one good thing about it. We’ll have to wait and see. I’m not looking forward to getting old, though. There are just too many problems.
Very positive article! I’ve actually considered this idea briefly on my own. Since going FIRE in 2012, I have been healthier, happier, better rested/slept, lost weight, increased strength (lean body mass), and as I’ve mentioned on my blog a few times, my bowel movements are smoother and more vigorous. Surely there are longevity benefits associated with this newfound healthiness.
Also, I am human or cephalopod and have checked the appropriate box.
There is no doubt in my mind that retiring early has the potential to increase one’s longevity. Work related stress and generally the lifestyle of always being connected to work is a huge reason for me wanting to escape (like a certain cephalopod).
Even if retiring early doesn’t increase your longevity, it most certainly has great potential to increase the quality of the limited number of years we have left on this marble.
Thanks for the write-up Mr. Tako.
I just told my doctor I exercise 3 times a day and eat plant based diet. He looked at me with surprise and goes: Oh right, you are one of those guys who retired early.
It’s true, since I achieved FIRE, my health has become so much better. I feel as if I can live till 100.
Nice post, btw.
“The limited size and space on islands like Okinawa or Hawaii makes beef incredibly expensive, but fresh fruit is relatively cheap and abundant.”
Interesting! I had no idea. All the cities we went to in Japan had really expensive fruit. Good to know!
I think you’re right that early retirement has the potential to increase lifespan. I’ve already noticed so many positives in my health (like how I used to need a ton of physiotherapy for my wrist and back, but now they’re 100% recovered and no need for doctor’s appointments at all!). Wanderer’s doctor even called him “obnoxiously healthy” 😛 And you’re right, the FIRE community will be very helpful in finding your tribes and improving your happiness in retirement.
Good stuff! I actually wrote about this same topic last year around this time. Dan B. is a Minneapolis resident, and I’m hoping to score an interview when I hit the big time. LOL.
I think my conclusion when I wrote my piece last year was that FIRE is good for longevity, so long as you keep busy working – working on something meaningful and that keeps you off your ass. Great write up, Mr. Tako!
OMG I LOVE THIS POST!!! That’s the book/ research I meant when I was talking about Okinawa- the Blue Zone diet. Integration into community is so important/ purpose is so important for a longer lifespan, I remember reading that Okinawa grandparents are involved in raising grandchildren etc.
I didn’t know that Hawaii had the longest life expectancy- more reason to move there!
A lot of vegetarian or pescetarian people I know tend to have very long lives (over 100, late 90’s) with very good quality of life too. Quality of life is important in addition to longevity- having a stroke, being unable to speak and being 95 is not the same as being able to walk independently and get out once a week being 95 🙂
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Beautiful post, thanks so much for sharing!! I agree wholeheartedly about staying healthy by exercising, eating and living a stress-free life. I’m close to the FIRE stage and have been adding the vegi’s, fruits, nuts, seeds, tumeric and other cool stuff to my protein shakes. I’m really interested in learning about the FIRE tribe. I’m sure there are many of us who inspire to live a healthy, free life and share it with others who share a common interest. Look forward to meeting you all!
if true, this argues in favor of an equities-heavy portfolio. longevity + early-retirement means your stash has to last longer than a normal retire late/die young savings plan. given the longer timeline, you’ll need the growth equities can provide and flexibility to avoid touching principal after a market sell-off. i don’t quite know how to balance with bonds, but rental real estate looks like a good idea.
Back to Ikaria again. The lack of a difference between male and female longevity may be in fact increased female mortality hidden in the statistics. For example the more developing your country the higher the maternal mortality. India has little difference between male and female longevity as maternal mortality is so high. So to extrapolate to the western world one would have to look at Loma Linda and see what the difference between the sexes is. It seems testosterone is to blame in some way as eunuchs and neuters of all animals live longer but only if it happens before puberty. Something to consider lol. But it’s not clear what the mechanism is. Is testosterone intrinsically bad for cardiovascular health in contrast to oestrogen which is an antioxidant. Or does testosterone make you choose behaviours that are bad for CVS health. Fascinating.
As far as modifiable factors we eat a lot more leafy greens. Ikarians have 300 different varieties of leafy greens. We would struggle to come up with 10 at the supermarket. I can find 15 in my garden now so it’s a start. And I have just sourced an Okinawan sweet potato (purple on the inside). Some have also said that olive oil may not even be that healthy but it is a marker for a high leafy green diet as it makes these vegetables more palatable.
Just to comment on Hawaii lifespan, consider the fact that Hawaii has a high percentage of Asians, a group that typically has longer lifespans overall.
Great post. I loved the Blue Zones. James Altucher has a really good podcast interviewing the author=Dan Buettner. I found that for my aging parents, physical activity is a top priority for maintaining quality of life. After retiring and moving to FL they took up pickleball. Apart from being low-impact, there is a great social aspect- they’ve got a whole new circle of friends now- and that is another critical part
about aging, keeping socially active and engaged to ward off lonliness which has lots of negative effects.