Your body on compound interest

Thanks to The Rock for ably illustrating the effects of compound interest on your body, as well as decades of entertainment. I could watch that man read the phone book.

People who’ve known me for a while will know that I’m a big fan of personal finance-type stuff, and a big believer that if people managed their money better they’d be much happier. I love the concept of compound interest – money building on money in a way that means all your euros and dollars and pounds are making lots of little euros, dollars and pounds together, that then grow up and have little monetary babies themselves, continuing the cycle. (Wikipedia has a better explanation of what compound interest actually is, but mine is more fun.)

What you may not have considered before is how similar investments in health are.

Take strength, for example. If we keep a consistent routine, and adhere to the principle of progressive overload (adding more and more difficulty over time, whether through weight, leverage, number of reps or whatever other method you like), our strength constantly builds upon itself. You can’t lift 100 kg in a squat without first being strong enough to lift 90 kg, and unless you’re a genetic marvel, you’re going to have to work up through that stage where 90 kg is your max before you can get to 100 kg. Your previously-built strength enables you to get stronger (albeit, in contrast to money, more strength does not mean that the next stage will get easier).

Cardiovascular fitness is the same way – to run ten miles we first must be able to run five, then seven, then nine, then nine and a half before we reach that goal of ten miles after huffing, panting torture. And then we get to fifteen miles, and suddenly ten doesn’t feel quite as much like pulling teeth. Without the initial foundation to continually build upon, we would not be able to reach that goal at all.

When investing money, compounding comes into its own only if we’re willing to see things long-term, leaving all our profits in the pot to seed the next wave of profits (or losses – inevitable disclaimer that even if you invest money in a sensible, structured manner the value may go down as well as up – another way that, mostly, health is a different investment – in this case a more reliable, under-your-control one.). If we continually draw off money from our profits to spend on beer or clothes or rare stamps, we don’t get the full benefit of the compound effect.

This correlates with how important consistency is in training. If we take lots of breaks, falling off the wagon frequently and letting our progress fade away between bouts of activity, it’s the same as if we were constantly drawing off the profits from our invested money. If we’re lucky, we’ll stay at the same level, though in my experience if we don’t keep an eye on these things they tend to diminish rather than stay static – this is also true with investing, thanks to inflation. In our case, we have literal waistline inflation to worry about.

It’s worth pointing out that in a strange way, not investing also compounds. Years of wasting money means years less of savings and investment profits, much as the more time we spend sitting on couches means that when we do come to change things, we have a bigger job on our hands to get out of the red and into the black.

A far better strategy is to continually invest in our fitness attributes, ensuring that at worst we stay level and more likely will improve over time, with slow compounding. I think I’ve said this before, and I can’t remember where I read it first, but it’s a great sentiment: people overestimate how much they can improve in a week, but underestimate how much they can improve in a year. This is true for investing, both financially and in health. 1% improvement every day compounds to a pretty crazy 37.8 times better after a year.

This gif also illustrates compounding. Is there anything it can't do?

This gif also illustrates compounding. Is there anything it can’t do?

There’s another way in which investing in our health ties in with financial investing, and it’s a far more material one, for those of you who aren’t moved by the idea that you’ll “feel” better.

Healthcare is not cheap. Sure, you may or may not be lucky enough to live in a country with free hospital treatments (if you’re willing to stomach very long wait times – partly due to not enough people investing in their health!), but there are myriad expenses around the actual treatment itself – taxis and special clothes and higher insurance premiums and strange dietary requirements, to name a few, that likely aren’t covered. I wager that there aren’t many people with the serious complications of a sedentary lifestyle who would rather be in the immense discomfort they are in now, with the equivalent impact on their wallet, than have pushed themselves in activities they enjoyed throughout their life for as little money as they could have chosen to spend on them. Home exercise equipment can be practically free, and spending money on things you love is far more satisfying than having to pay for things you resent. The financial impact will be very real, regardless of whether certain aspects of healthcare are free for you or not. And even if your malady isn’t life-threatening, it can still have a serious impact on your life quality and on your wallet. Take, for example, dental care.

Flossing might be one of the least sexy activities to catch someone doing, right up there with cutting their toenails. And yet, it only takes two minutes a day, once your adult teeth come in, to reap the benefits. We get to hold on to our teeth for longer (no annoying dentures to worry about) and massively reduce our chances of major, painful and expensive procedures like root canals, or having to have our teeth filled and crowned and veneered and covered in adamantium (okay, the last one is unlikely).

DOES Wolverine have adamantium-coated teeth? They never seem to break...

Does Wolverine have adamantium-coated teeth? They never seem to break…

What does flossing have to do with exercise? Nothing, really. But think about it – if we can’t spare two minutes of an evening to floss our teeth before bed for the sake of potentially decades more with intact, healthy teeth, what does that say about our commitment to our bodies and our health in general? Flossing and other things on those lines are like walking an extra five minutes instead of taking the car everywhere – easy choices that make almost zero impact on our day and can easily become completely automatic. The benefits of those little decisions compound over time to create a healthier, longer-living, more comfortable, happier you.

While I am a great fan of financial investment (in whatever form you prefer), I’m an even bigger fan of investing in health. While, to a point, you can always earn more money, you can’t earn another body. You only get one, so it’s worth investing in it and making it as efficient, strong, fit and beautiful as you can, while you can. It’s also, unlike financial investment, totally free, and comes with much less risk!

So what are you waiting for? Invest in your body today!