According to this year’s Sun Life Canadian Health Index, a whopping seven-in-10 Canadians do not retire as planned or expected, and the number-one reason is their health.

Yikes! I’ve been saving and investing since I was 21, and another 10 years of working is part of my retirement game plan. But what if I get sick, have a major illness or accident or develop a chronic condition that limits my ability to work and save? I’m single and there’s no one to help out financially — it’s all on me. I do not want to spend my hard-won retirement nest-egg on home care and modifications to help with mobility, or on a long-term care facility. I want to be sculpting and canoe-tripping into my 70s and 80s or longer, if I can manage it.

Earlier this year, my cousin told me that she’d been on a journey towards greater health. She had been motivated by having had to move her mother, who has been overweight for as long as I can remember, into a nursing home furnished with lifting equipment, as she had become immobile and could no longer be cared for at home. That got me thinking that I, too, was heading in a very unhealthy direction if I didn’t smarten up. I come from a long-lived family, so the potential was there for many years of a horribly boring and limited lifestyle unless I took myself in hand.

Motivated by my aunt’s situation and by the availability of my employer’s employee wellness program, when my tax refund came in I decided that instead of tossing it into my RRSP as usual, I’d invest in my retirement in a different way, by investing in my health. So I joined a gym and bought a batch of sessions with a personal trainer.

Fast forward six months. I’ve lost 30 pounds, slowly and carefully and with considerable effort. When I started I couldn’t do one squat without knee pain. Now I can do multiple sets with weights that exceed my old starting weight — I’m definitely stronger! I’m also fitting into suits and outfits that had languished in the back of my closet for more years than I care to admit.

When I tell my trainer how happy I am with the results of our work together, he gets this warning look on his face and says, “You know, you’ll have to keep doing this the rest of your life, to stay this way.”

“This feels good,” I tell him. “I like this and I want to keep at it because I keep feeling better and better.”

My trainer smiles and makes me do another set with increased weights.