When you reach a certain advanced age and you glance around at your peers you often conclude that the people who look and act the best are those who, over the years, have consistently eaten sensibly and exercised strenuously. It pays to invest in your good health.

As the famous American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked, "The first wealth is health."

Keeping your body and mind in top condition not only benefits your quality of life, it also enhances your wallet. Most news accounts of rising obesity and poor health habits focus on the suffering and discomfort that people experience. But it may be just as effective to stress how much ill health costs.

Compared with the rest of the population, sick people generally work (and earn) less, spend more on health care and have less energy and time to pursue their goals. In other words, it pays to invest in yourself first by maintaining your health.

A major strategy is to not ignore small problems. Treat health challenges before they become serious, rather than afterwards. This means getting regular physical examinations with your doctor and not ignoring symptoms of what could be larger complications. Joining a gym or sports club may seem costly but usually pays for itself.

Studies show that people who exercise regularly need to spend less than half as many nights in hospitals as people who don't. Physical activity also relieves stress so find something that keeps you moving and clears your mind. Monitor your eating habits. In our so-called "fast food nation" it's easy to become reliant on easy but unhealthy fast food, when rushing to and from work, meeting appointments, chauffeuring the kids and other life commitments. But by cooking your own meals, rather than eating out, you'll be better to your body and also save money.