Although most middle-aged people say that after retirement, they hope to be physically active, a great many follow a lifestyle that almost certainly sabotages that goal.

Think about the life you envision after you retire. Now, level with yourself. Will you be physically able to live that life? If you are significantly heavier and less fit than you were five, 10 or even 20 years ago, that downward trend will very likely continue unless you make a determined effort to change it.

If you are less healthy and fit than you should be, put more energy into improving your health than into growing your investment portfolio. It's extremely difficult to feel good about life if your health is poor, no matter how much money you have.

Immediate Ways to Improve Your Health

There's certainly no shortage of health advice. Fish oil! Tryptophan! Melatonin! The truth is, we don't need quick fixes; we already know the key ways to stay healthy, and none of them requires odd chemicals or esoteric vitamins.

Here are a few basic, medically sound strategies for improving your odds of living to retirement age and enjoying it once you get there.

Stop Smoking. As you already well know, smoking often brings on potentially life-shortening and life-degrading health problems, including cancer, emphysema, heart disease and ulcers. Kicking the habit will very likely have a more positive influence on a smoker's retirement years than any other single act.

Control Blood Pressure. After stopping smoking, the most important single thing Americans can do to improve their long-term health is avoid high blood pressure. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, by age 60, 60% of Americans have blood pressure so high that it should be medically treated, and millions more with elevated blood pressure are at substantial increased risk of heart attack and stroke (including the strokes that can cause senility).

Clean Up Your Diet. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and cut back on fatty, salty and calorie-laden foods. Take a look at your dinner plate; if you see more than three ounces of lean meat, you're eating too much fat and too many calories.

Watch Your Weight. One-third of American adults are significantly overweight. As a result, they are at a much higher risk for a number of diseases, including heart attack, cancer and diabetes. And although you may not want to hear it, evidence is fast accumulating that being even slightly overweight (pleasantly plump, if you will) is a major negative health factor. Two recent studies indicate that gaining even 15 or 20 pounds after age 18 significantly increases chances of early death.