The best pre-retirement advice I ever actually put to use is three short words: “Pay yourself first.”

Two decades later, when entering retirement, the advice I found most useful was almost as short: “Live long and prosper.”

Thank you Mr. Chilton and Mr. Spock

I’m probably the only retiree in the world who credits the red-blooded David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber and the green-blooded Star Trek character Mr. Spock for a successful retirement. Together, their seven words of wisdom have really helped me begin to experience what many Canadians today believe is impossible: an early and active retirement enjoyed in good health and reasonable prosperity.

I didn’t make my first RRSP contribution until age 33, the year The Wealthy Barber was published. That’s not a coincidence. We were a family of four with a single income, a single-family home, and not a single penny saved for the kids’ education or for our eventual retirement. My wife and I both read the book. Then we started saving by paying ourselves first.

Over the years, we learned a lot about investing. I chose some smart investments and some really, really stupid ones. With expert advice, our investing got smarter.

My best investment

My smartest investment ever wasn’t a mutual fund, a guaranteed investment certificate, a stock, or an exchange-traded fund. It wasn’t real estate. It wasn’t anything I put in my RRSP or in a tax-free savings account.

My best investment ever was a treadmill. All those other investments were attempts to prosper. But buying a treadmill was a key part of our effort to live long (and be healthy).

How did I calculate the investment value of the treadmill? Well, the investment industry has developed lots of ways to measure success, but I’m rating the value of the treadmill with a different, but still valid approach:

  1. I lost 27 pounds. I’m down to what I weighed in Grade 11.
  2. I lowered my cholesterol to a healthy level, without drugs. More than 20 years ago, my doctor prescribed expensive, cholesterol-lowering drugs. She adjusted my dosage and even changed drugs, but they didn’t lower my cholesterol adequately. The treadmill did, however, and for years I’ve maintained a healthy cholesterol level, drug-free.
  3. My blood pressure is down to a healthy 112 over 69. Ten years ago, my doctor was warning that I’d soon be on medication, because my blood pressure was rising to a worrying level. But here I am in 2012 with healthy blood pressure, again drug-free.
  4. My body mass index (BMI) is down to a healthy 22.8. BMI measures whether your weight-to-height ratio signals a health risk. Mine is now within the “ideal” range, which I find comforting.
  5. I have zero excuses for not working out. With a treadmill at home, I can’t blame the weather, my schedule, overcrowding or the hassle of getting to and from the gym. My wife is the only other person who uses the treadmill, so I never find the machine busy when I go to use it. And in the privacy of our home, I can even exercise without a T-shirt.

My wife and I have always thought of what we paid for the treadmill as an investment in our retirement, our well-being and our health.

What to look for in a treadmill

A treadmill isn’t for everyone. Some find it boring. Others find it hurts their knees. But if you think one might be for you, I’d suggest you:

  • Ask your doctor about the benefits and risks.
  • Get advice from a store that specializes in fitness equipment. Our sales guy asked great questions about things we hadn’t considered.
  • Go for as much quality as your budget allows.
  • Try it in the store. Bring your running shoes. Use the controls while walking or jogging.
  • Set it up in a place where you’ll want to use it.