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ESM Model: The best risk mitigation advice for individual clients

13 July 2021 Gareth Stokes

The best risk mitigation advice that financial advisers and planners can give their clients is for clients to adopt sensible eating, sleeping and moving (ESM) behaviours. The ESM Model (our label) for living a better, healthier life was shared by a man who needs little introduction to a South African audience, Dr Michael Mol.

His recent 40-minute presentation titled ‘Your move: Life is so much better when you are healthy’ could turn out to be the perfect antidote for those of us poisoned by four-hundred-and-something days under lockdown and pandemic. “Many people are finding a way to thrive during this time; but just as many are finding it difficult …  we hope we can find a way to inspire you today,” said Michael Porter, Head of Business Development at RGA South Africa, introducing the webinar. 

Myth busting common ‘healthy living’ constructs

I must begin this article with a disclaimer. The content that follows is not medical advice; but rather a summary of some common sense health interventions that were shared during the aforementioned presentation. We advise our readers, who should in turn advise their clients, to consult with a medical practitioner before making changes to their diet, exercise or sleeping regimens. In addition, the myths we dispel in the following paragraphs are based on Dr Mol’s talk, which was in turn based on his interpretation of recent scientific studies. It is common knowledge that the conclusions reached by these studies often conflict with prior studies and will, no doubt, be undone by future reports too. 

Dr Mol kicked off his presentation by dispelling four oft-repeated healthy lifestyle myths. The first counter, was that there is no scientific basis for following your dentist’s advice to floss every day. “Dental floss is the most useless invention ever … and science has shown that regular flossing has zero effect on reducing gum disease or cavities,” said Dr Mol. Myth number two was hammered into many of us by our parents, who repeatedly told us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day… Not so, countered the doctor: “Nowadays, science suggests that those who eat breakfast struggle more than those who skip it when it comes to losing weight”. He was equally dismissive of the third myth, being to drink eight glasses of water a day. And fourth and finally, coffee is not as bad for you as you have been led to believe: A recent study of 20000 people concluded that “the more coffee we drink, the less chance we have of dying”. 

Living well in the age of Covid-19

It has been suggested that a long and healthy life is 20% due to genetics and 80% due to lifestyle factors. “Living a long and healthy life is entirely up to you because it requires mostly nurture, with very little nature at play,” said Dr Mol. The recipe, it turns out, is the simple ESM Model we christened in our opening paragraph. Your best life derives from the interconnection of what you eat, how well you sleep and the frequency and impact of your movements or exercise. We will discuss each of these factors in more detail in the following paragraphs. 

Eating. There is so much conflicting information about diet that it can be almost impossible for individuals to identify, let alone live by, a sensible eating plan. One study says that eggs are bad, another says you can go ahead and eat all the eggs you like. Some dieticians swear by cutting out all animal products, others advocate high fat, high protein eating plans as the only way to go… If Dr Mol could summarise healthy diet in one phrase, he would probably go with something like: “Eat more real food; eat less junk and processed food!” 

Sleeping. A fascinating study from the UK, based around the annual daylight saving time adjustment, showed an uncanny correlation between sleep and health outcomes. It revealed a sharp decline or spike in the number of heart attacks and strokes reported in the 24-hours immediately following the change, compared to an average day, and concluded that these deviations were due to the better or worse sleep experience associated with the change in wake-up time. Another study emphasised the negative impact of sleeping less than five hours per night on male testosterone levels. Dr Mol said that men and women should aim for seven hours of quality sleep every night. 

Moving. “Exercise or increased movement is a miracle drug,” said Dr Mol, who spent some time discussing the benefits of exercise in a pandemic context. Exercise boosts immunity, combats disease and reduces stress, among many other positives. Exercise also stands out as the obvious counter to an inactive lifestyle, which has emerged alongside age, comorbidities and organ transplant as a major driver of poor Covid-19 outcomes. The frequency, intensity, nature and duration of exercise will vary from one person to the next; but guidelines advocate for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, with a couple of strength training days thrown in. “The best exercise in the world is the one that you will do,” said Dr Mol. “In other words, there is not one exercise that has benefit over the other, as long as you do it at the right intensity”. 

Eat, sleep and move for improved morbidity and mortality

Blood pressure, diabetes and visceral (belly) fat were singled out as serious morbidity and mortality risks and the audience was encouraged to pay close attention to warning signs that they may be suffering from these conditions. While exercise was acknowledged as a preventative medicine for certain conditions, it did not reduce the need for regular medical check-ups to assess and monitor an individual’s risk in each category. Anxiety and depression also got a mention, with Dr Mol dismissing the stigma around depression and observing that “without mental health, you cannot achieve physical health”. Finally, a word of warning to those among us  who spend eight or nine hours per day sitting in front of a computer monitor. Sitting is the new smoking; do the best you can to spend five minutes of every hour away from your office seat and in motion. 

The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us that financial planners help their clients with much more than investment and risk protection advice. Your role extends to that of a friend and life coach and someone who is capable of showing deep care and empathy during your client’s time of need. There should therefore be nothing untoward in sharing the benefits of today’s ESM Model discussion with your clients. The bottom line is that a better, healthier lifestyle will improve your client’s morbidity and mortality experiences. And that means they will have more time, and better quality time, to enjoy the fruits of their financial planning discipline with those nearest and dearest to them. 

Writer’s thoughts:
Dr Mol’s presentation was not aimed at financial advisers; but was certainly relevant to an industry that is underpinned by morbidity and mortality experiences. One of the most important messages from the talk was that when it comes to life, quality is often more important than quantity… Your clients should aim to enjoy a quality life for as many years as possible. In this context, do you believe a financial adviser is within his or her rights to take clients to task for negative eating, moving and sleeping (ESM) behaviours? Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email us your thoughts [email protected].

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