Wouldn’t it be great if clients could avoid ever needing the disability planning you are so appropriately creating to protect them? Or at least postpone it?
They can, and it has nothing to do with law. It’s that loaded 7-letter word: FITNESS.
In their senior years, clients can be plagued by chronic illness. It’s a major cause of disability. It’s a retirement dream-killer. Travel. Golf. A retirement home in the country, far from a medical center. It sidelines daily passions. Walks. Painting. Knitting. Crossword puzzles. Playing on the floor with grandchildren.
One way clients can help themselves live “disability-free” or “disability-reduced” lives in their senior years is exercise in midlife. Evidence now suggests that being physically fit in midlife (over 50) may do many important things for us not just in the present, but down the road as seniors. It seems to:
(1) prevent some seniors from ever developing chronic conditions;
(2) let other seniors live longer while healthy before developing chronic illness (in other words, it postpones the onset of illness).
And it’s even more than that. It also seems that midlife fitness may actually
(3) shrink the number of years seniors spend coping with chronic illness altogether. In other words, we don’t just live more healthy years followed by the same number of years with chronic disease. It may help us live better, longer (more healthy years and fewer sick ones).
I find this last point particularly interesting. Many people talk of their goal to live life as long as possible as a healthy, independent, sentient person, then to die as quickly as possible, with little or no “decline.” This is the proverbial going to bed healthy and dying in one’s sleep of old age. While it’s still the case that our genes also contribute to our personal scenario – our behaviors don’t give us complete control — research does suggest that cardiorespiratory fitness in middle age can make a difference.
So why might you care about this info, beyond its potential usefulness in your personal life? I offer, as I have on other occasions, that part of building client relationships is showing clients that you are looking at them holistically, as full human beings, not just as the owner of assets to be distributed. Demonstrating that you are paying attention to their life’s dreams and goals and not just to those surrounding their deaths, or the legal implications of their disability. It forges an emotional connection.
So what might you advise clients to do? Start exercising if they haven’t. Consider consulting their physician or a physical therapist trained in diagnosis before getting started, especially if they have any known medical issues or complaints. If they already have a regular exercise routine, the study suggests that ratcheting up the intensity of your workout can help even more. The easiest way to explain it: if they usually go for a walk, try going for a jog instead. Stay on the treadmill a little longer. Put in a little more effort now and reap the benefits later on.
So what to do with this info in your practice? Take these ideas and write a blog post or a newsletter column. Add the fitness/exercise idea as a parenthetical into your community presentations. Host a client education session about disability and disability prevention, including fitness/exercise. Offer your clients some local resources specializing in fitness for midlifers and seniors. Invite an expert in midlife and senior fitness to write a piece for your newsletter or blog. Here’s an article that might lead you to local resources on fitness centers specializing in midlife fitness in your area: Next Avenue: New Programs Tailored to People Over 50.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 200,000+ enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. A board member for the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly and a member of the International Society of Advance Care Planning and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, she is active in health education and public engagement related to advance care planning and advance directives and serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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