Enjoy the current installment of "Weekend Reading For Financial Planners" - this week’s edition kicks off with the news that this week's round of public hearings on the Department of Labor's proposed new fiduciary rule featured fierce opposition from the brokerage and insurance industries – which, while unsurprising given those industries' stance against the DoL's previous fiduciary rule (which ultimately caused it to be struck down in court in 2018), nonetheless highlights the debate over what constitutes a relationship of "trust and confidence" that rises to a fiduciary standard, and whether broker-dealer representatives and insurance agents who hold out as advisors should continue to be regulated 'just' as product salespeople when they aren't actually giving advice.
Also in industry news this week:
- Most businesses that operate in the U.S., including partnerships, LLCs, and corporations, will soon be required to report specific information on their "beneficial owners" to the Treasury Department – which notably includes all state-registered RIA firms, as well as potentially many businesses owned by clients of financial advisors
- Pontera has raised $60 million in venture capital funding, highlighting the growing advisor demand for its technology for directly managing clients' 401(k) plan assets (while raising questions about whether its success will spawn future competition that could temper its growth expectations)
From there, we have several articles on practice management:
- As organizations grow, employees often struggle with issues such as stretched capacity, skill gaps, and burnout, which makes it important for leaders to be attentive to the issues their employees face and to have solutions available to address those issues directly
- Although performance reviews after a challenging year can be a difficult process, managers can help take them in a more positive direction by being clear about the company's future (and the employee's place within it)
- For solo advisors, the decision of whether or not to hire an employee can be a difficult one, but hiring may be at least worth considering to ensure that clients can continue being served either in the event of an unexpected incapacitation or when they ultimately decide to retire
We also have a number of articles on retirement:
- For people over age 70 1/2, making a Qualified Charitable Distribution from an IRA can have significant tax benefits – so much so that they're worth the often-cumbersome process required to make the contribution itself
- Although bonds are currently an attractive option for retirement income given today's higher interest rates, immediate annuities can potentially provide even higher yields, making them worth considering for retirees who are likely to (at least) reach their life expectancy
- Although many people focus on tax brackets when deciding which accounts to withdraw from in retirement, a strategy around managing the "effective marginal tax rate" can add material after-tax value to a client's retirement savings
We wrap up with 3 final articles, all about health and wellness:
- How the true secret to so-called "Blue Zones" with high concentrations of people who live beyond 100 years old might not be diet, climate, or lifestyle, but bad data
- How runners can improve their training and even race times by incorporating short interludes of walking into their run
- How the science of the way our nervous system is involved with digestion can uncover the key to treating and preventing digestive disorders
Enjoy the ‘light’ reading!
DoL Fiduciary Rule Hearing Parses Where An Advisor's "Relationship Of Trust And Confidence" Begins And Ends
(Mark Schoeff | InvestmentNews)
In the decades-long regulatory debate over which types of financial professionals should be held to a fiduciary standard, the question has often come down to who is operating in an "advisor" capacity, with a sufficient "relationship of trust and confidence" with their clients that they should have a fiduciary duty to act in those clients' best interests. The Investment Advisers Act of 1940 set this line between those who are in the business of providing investment advice (and are thus required to be Registered Investment Advisers), who are subject to a fiduciary standard; and those who are solely in the business of product sales (such as broker-dealers and insurance producers), who are not, provided that any advice that they do give is "solely incidental" to the sales of their products.
The SEC's Regulation Best Interest rule, implemented in 2020, nudged the line slightly further by requiring broker-dealer representatives to act in their client's best interest when giving a product recommendation, though it only applied to brokers themselves, only at the time of the recommendation (and not with respect to the entire relationship), and did not apply to the broker-dealer that employed them. However, further efforts to expand the definition of a fiduciary – like the Department of Labor (DoL)'s 2016 Fiduciary Rule that would have made any advice regarding retirement investments (such as an IRA rollover) subject to a fiduciary standard – have encountered heavy pushback from the brokerage and insurance industries, who argue that broker-dealers and insurance agents, being in the business of product sales, have no special relationship of trust and confidence with their clients and shouldn’t be subject to advisor-level fiduciary standards because they are not operating in an advisor capacity (despite often being dually-registered as RIAs and putting "financial advisor" or similar titles on their business cards or websites). That argument eventually prevailed in Federal court, where the DoL's original Fiduciary Rule was vacated in 2018, resulting in its replacement with 2020's Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE-2020) rule that more narrowly governed rollover recommendations when they are part of an ongoing advice relationship.
Amid this backdrop the DoL released a new proposal in October 2023, dubbed the Retirement Security Rule (a.k.a. the Fiduciary Rule 2.0), which would again attempt to reset the line of what constitutes a relationship of trust and confidence between advisors and their clients regarding retirement investments and when a higher standard should apply to recommendations being provided to retirement plan participants. Notably the proposal would apply a fiduciary standard whenever a one-time rollover recommendation is made (not just as part of an ongoing relationship, as covered by PTE-2020), and would also cover recommendations for insurance products such as fixed index annuities (that aren't currently covered by Regulation Best Interest because they’re not securities).
As expected, the DoL's proposed rule has encountered strong opposition from brokerage and insurance industry groups such as the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), and National Association for Fixed Annuities (NAFA), all of whom testified against the proposed regulation in public hearings this week. Echoing their stance against the 2016 DoL Fiduciary Rule, the groups argued that in a transaction-based relationship, consumers understand that they're dealing with a salesperson who is paid on commission, meaning there is no implied relationship of trust and confidence that would justify a fiduciary standard. Which means, as the groups argue, that existing regulations such as Regulation Best Interest and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)'s Annuity Suitability & Best Interest model rule are sufficient to mitigate the worst conflicts of interest, while a more strict fiduciary standard would only serve to limit access to annuities and other financial products for retail consumers.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether the brokerage and insurance industries' arguments hold up against the reality that so many broker-dealer representatives and insurance agents don't represent themselves specifically as transaction-based representatives, but instead use titles like "financial advisor", "financial consultant", and "wealth manager" – titles which the DoL could conceivably argue imply a relationship of trust and confidence in and of themselves (such that by merely marketing themselves as advisors, they will subject themselves to the higher standard that attaches to advisors). And so in the inevitable-seeming litigation that will follow the finalization of the DoL’s Fiduciary 2.0, the key consideration may be whether broker-dealer representatives and insurance producers can really claim to be 'just' product salespeople when they so often advertise as otherwise – or put differently, the outcome of DoL's new rule could come down to whether the brokerage and insurance industries can (again) successfully argue that they should be regulated as salespeople while still being allowed to continue marketing themselves as advisors?
(Sam Bojarski | Citywire RIA)
Traditionally, small and privately-held businesses have had few requirements to disclose information on their owners. An individual (or group of individuals) could generally set up a partnership, LLC, or corporation, and other than naming a registered agent (often an attorney or other third party who agrees to serve as the state's contact person for the entity), they wouldn't otherwise need to identify any other person connected with the entity. The lack of transparency requirements made sense from a privacy perspective, as it allowed individuals to do business without the details of their ownership becoming public information, but on the contrary it also made it fairly easy for individuals to conceal the sources of their assets, or even their existence. For instance, a shell company could be used to launder ill-gotten funds from theft or fraud, or to hide assets from a spouse (and courts) prior to a divorce.
In an effort to crack down on the potential for abuse provided by privately-owned business entities, Congress passed the Corporate Transparency Act as Title LXIV of the National Defense Authorization Act on 2021, which would for the first time require companies doing business in the U.S. to report information about their "beneficial owners" to the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The Treasury Department introduced proposed regulations in 2021 around the types of entities that would be required to report, who would qualify as a beneficial owner, and how and when reporting would be done, and the final regulations were published in September of 2022 with an effective date of January 1, 2024. (FinCEN has also provided much of this information in FAQ format for easier perusal.)
The upshot of the Corporate Transparency Act and its related regulations is that starting in 2024, all existing companies (including LLCs, partnerships, and corporations) that are owned or operated in the U.S. will be required to report information on their beneficial owners – generally anyone who owns at least 25% of the company or otherwise has substantial control over it – before January 1, 2025, unless they meet one of 23 specific qualifications for exemption. New companies formed during 2024 will have 90 days to report their beneficial owner information, while those formed in 2025 or later will have a tighter deadline of 30 days. Companies who miss their reporting deadline are subject to a fine of up to $500 per day that they continue to fail to report.
For advisors, there are 2 key takeaways. First, while SEC-registered RIA firms do qualify for an exception and don't need to report their beneficial owners' information, state-registered RIAs do not get an exception, and must report on their beneficial owners by January 1, 2025. Secondly, given that the beneficial ownership reporting rules have thus far received relatively little publicity in the two-plus years since their enactment, many business owners might be unaware of the upcoming reporting window during 2024, meaning that advisors can provide a valuable service by reminding their business-owner clients about their reporting obligations, providing information on how and where to report when the window opens on January 1, and hopefully saving their clients the legal and financial headache of missing the deadline when it arrives in 2025!
Up until the past decade, it was relatively uncommon for financial advisors to advise on (and bill on) assets that weren't directly managed by the advisor on an RIA custodial platform. Not because they weren't allowed to exercise and bill for discretionary management on other assets, but because in practice it was difficult for an advisor to provide the same level of day-to-day management over a client's "held-away" funds that by definition weren’t held on the same platform as where the advisor fulfilled their primary discretionary investment management services. For instance, trading in a client's 401(k) account might have only been possible by logging in under the client's own user credentials, which if done by the advisor might constitute custody over client funds in the eyes of the SEC. Which was problematic because it might be hard to justify charging the same level of fees across all of a client's accounts if the advisor only truly "managed" some of the funds and merely "advised" on others, in the sense of actually recommending and implementing trades on an ongoing basis.
Into this environment entered FeeX, which was founded in 2012 as a fee comparison tool for 401(k) plan participants, but eventually pivoted to become an advisor-focused solution intended to overcome the practical challenges of managing clients' held-away assets. With FeeX, clients could grant advisors access to manage their 401(k) plan assets directly without the need for the advisor to log in as the client, freeing advisors from the compliance complications around custody of client assets and making it more feasible to serve many more younger clients (a substantial amount of whose investable assets might be held in their employer plans). Along the way, FeeX rebranded itself as Pontera, evoking the imagery of a "bridge" to the client's held-away assets.
The obvious opportunity for additional services and revenue that Pontera unlocked for advisors meant that it could charge a fee on client assets managed via the platform. For example, if Pontera charged 30 bps, an advisor who charged 100bps on assets under management would net a 70 bps fee on held-away assets (so that the client would pay the same 100bps across all of their assets) and still come ahead, since without Pontera the advisor wouldn't be likely getting much of anything for held-away assets. Or stated more simply, Pontera allowed advisors to expand their AUM to accounts that historically they couldn’t manage, immediately unlocking significant opportunities to expand “wallet share” with existing clients as an immediate growth accelerator, which was well worth the fee to use the platform.
The resulting growth and cash flow potential has allowed Pontera to raise $160 million in venture capital funding, including $60 million in its most recent round announced on December 7, much of which has occurred in the challenging environment of 2022 and 2023 for VC funding amid higher interest rates and financial struggles in the broader technology industry. The funds will presumably help Pontera continue to scale as demand for its product continues to grow, as well as to build in more integrations with other AdvisorTech platforms (which it has already done with Envestnet, Morningstar, and Orion, among others).
Ultimately, Pontera's success in fundraising underscores the opportunity that many advisors still see in the "Assets Under Advisement" model, and that despite some industry predictions that the AUM model won’t sustain, in practice it is still expanding to manage even more of a client’s investable assets. In fact, arguably the biggest question going forward is whether Pontera's success will spawn further competition in the held-away asset space, which could put pressure on its fees and force it to take a smaller slice of the pie for the fees it charges to enable advisors to continue growing management of otherwise-held-away assets.
(Jennifer Goldman | Advisor Perspectives)
A significant challenge for growing organizations is not only finding new talent to address the company's needs, but also managing that talent in a way that aligns with the success of the company as a whole. This is why issues like stretched capacities, skill gaps, and burnout are among the most common issues at growing companies, which may then subsequently be plagued with low productivity. And it isn't enough to simply hire more employees to feed into the meat grinder, since high turnover often only exacerbates the above issues.
It's important, then, to identify the specific problems facing the organization's employees, and to employ strategies designed to address them directly. For example, when employees commonly lack the skills or knowledge needed to do their job well, investing in training and development for those employees (e.g. by providing mentorship opportunities or the ability to take courses during work hours) can be more cost-effective than trying to hire new highly-skilled talent (and some states offer grants or other programs for employee training that can help reimburse some of the cost). Or when employees grapple with burnout – one of the most common issues at growing companies, as job roles shift frequently and on short notice – clearly charting out responsibilities gives employees a clearer view of where their roles start and end, and allows managers to more effectively distribute tasks.
Ultimately, almost every company encounters these and other employee challenges along its growth journey. But although the challenges of growth can be difficult to avoid, leaders can better prepare for them by learning from other companies that have encountered the same struggles their own path, and by being open and attentive to employee feedback. That way, by understanding what kinds of challenges their employees are facing, and knowing how others have successfully (or unsuccessfully) handled the same types of problems, leaders can have a better chance of heading off the major practical issues that could derail an otherwise promising growth plan.
(Beverly Flaxington | Advisor Perspectives)
The end of the calendar year often brings about a ritual that is dreaded by employees and managers alike: The annual performance review. And while these conversations are rarely enjoyable during the best of times, with their atmosphere of judgment and often-adversarial dynamics around compensation negotiations, they can be even more stressful after a challenging year featuring high turnover, stressful projects, or changes of leadership that might leave employees uncertain about their future roles with the company.
Managers can take steps, however, to help employees feel more secure about their role going into the meeting, so that rather than feeling like they're walking into a sentencing hearing, the employee can feel more open to discuss their own feelings and wants, and hopefully take the conversation in a more positive direction about how they can grow and improve in their roles.
First, by clearly communicating the company mission and strategy before the meeting (and preferably reinforcing it throughout the year), company leaders can help to contextualize changes that may have occurred and reduce uncertainty by showing how those moves fit in in the big picture.
Additionally, giving space for the employee to articulate their own feelings on the situation – e.g. by asking open-ended questions at the start of the meeting before moving on to any discussion of the employee's own performance – gives the employee reassurance that their opinions matter, and can help identify areas where they may prefer to shift their role or area of focus in a way that's beneficial to both the employee and the company
Finally, team members ought to be clear about where they fit within the company now, and how they'll fit in the future as the company inevitably evolves over time. To this end, it's often better to have more frequent conversations throughout the year, since especially in a year with lots of change, the expectations and reality of an employee's role can easily drift out of alignment in less than 12 months.
The key point is that, given the emotional connection and sense of self-worth that people often have in connection with their jobs, it just makes sense for leaders to make the effort to ensure that their employees feel understood and confident about their place within the company. Ultimately, an employee who can clearly imagine their preferred role one or 5 or 10 years down the road will be more excited to discuss what they can do to get to that place!
(Sheryl Rowling | Morningstar)
Advisors who start their own firms often begin by doing everything themselves, from finding and serving clients to putting together financial plans to handling all compliance and operations tasks. Which might work fine in the early going before the advisor has enough clients to stretch the limitations of their time, but as more and more clients come on board, the advisor might find themselves reaching their capacity and wondering if it would be a good idea to hire an additional employee.
Deciding whether or not to hire – and if so, whom to hire – can be a complicated decision with many tradeoffs. For instance, while advisory teams of 2–3 people tend to have higher productivity (and higher income) compared with solo advisors, the short-term effect of hiring is often a significant drop in income for the advisor themselves, which can be a difficult pill to swallow despite the potential for more income in the long run. And although many advisors prefer the independence and flexibility that a solo practice affords, the difficult reality is that a solo advisor usually has zero backup by definition. Which means that, in the short term, any unexpected incapacitation of the advisor would be incredibly disruptive for clients; and even aside from that risk, staying solo leaves the question open in the long run about what will happen to their clients when the advisor inevitably decides to retire.
And so while there's no clear right or wrong answer about whether or when to hire an employee – since many advisors truly are happiest working on their own without the complications of hiring and managing support staff – it ultimately makes sense for most solo advisors to at least consider the idea of hiring, if nothing else for the sake of protecting their clients in case of an unexpected event. And for advisors who do hire, doing so can be an opportunity to begin a true succession plan that creates both equity value for the owner (which they can sell before stepping away), and ensures that clients will continue to be served beyond the original advisor's career.
(Laura Saunders | The Wall Street Journal)
The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act eliminated many of the tax benefits of donating to charity. The new law's doubling of the standard deduction, along with its $10,000 limit on the deductibility of state and local tax payments, meant that many people who had previously itemized their deductions (including charitable contributions) now took the standard deduction, and for the most part could no longer deduct charitable contributions (save for a handful of strategies like charitable lumping, donating appreciated securities, and contributing to Donor Advised Funds that could result in a large enough charitable contribution preserve at least some deductibility).
But individuals over age 70 1/2 with money in traditional IRAs that they're unlikely to spend over their lifetime have another option for making deductible charitable contributions: The Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), which involves sending money directly from an IRA to a qualified charitable organization, the value of which is excluded from the donor's Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). QCDs can be especially valuable for retirees who have sufficient non-IRA savings to live off of but are forced to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from their IRAs, since the QCD effectively reduces the amount of the RMD that needs to be reported as income – and because the QCD counts as an 'above-the-line' deduction that reduces AGI, it can have added tax benefits such as reducing the taxable amount of the donor's Social Security income or the amount of investment income subject to the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax.
The only real downside to QCDs is that they can be cumbersome to execute. Unlike writing a check and mailing it to a charity, the donor must direct the custodian of their IRA funds to send the contribution directly to the recipient. The donor also typically needs to contact the charity as well, to inform them that the donation is coming and where to send the acknowledgement (which is needed for recordkeeping purposes), since the check from the IRA custodian often doesn't include any contact information for the donor themselves. And at this time of year, as people rush to withdraw their RMDs and QCDs before December 31, overburdened custodians often have significant processing times for new requests, meaning that if the QCD isn't requested well before year end, it may not go out in time to count towards the current tax year (nudge, nudge).
Ultimately, however, despite the hassle of fully executing a QCD, the significant potential tax savings can make it worthwhile in the end (at least for clients who were already planning to make a charitable donation to begin with). Because in reality, the planning required for most people to preserve the deductibility of a traditional charitable contribution (e.g., opening and administering a Donor Advised Fund, or deciding which appreciated securities to donate and how much) isn't any easier than making a QCD, at least until the pre-TCJA standard deduction resumes after 2025!
(Rajiv Rebello | Advisor Perspectives)
As a person reaches retirement, their investing focus generally shifts from accumulating savings to generating income that they can use to live off of for their remaining years. One traditional way of doing this has been to re-allocate from stocks into bonds, which provide steady and recurring interest payments. In today's higher interest rate environment, the yields on Treasury bonds are far higher (at around 4%–5%) than they have been over the past decade, so it could make sense to set up a bond ladder with a mix of short- and long-term bonds, generating 4%-5% in interest income each year (and effectively generating more in total income as principal in the bonds is repaid once each bond matures).
Another strategy to consider, however, would be to take the amount that would be used to create a bond ladder and instead fund a Guaranteed Lifetime Income Annuity (GLIA), an immediate annuity that, as its name implies, provides guaranteed regular payments over the annuitant's lifetime. Because while annuity companies also invest in bonds that are used to fund the payments made to annuitants, they're able to invest more of their portfolio in longer-term bonds than individual investors can (which typically produce higher yields than short-term bonds, the current yield curve inversion notwithstanding). In addition and even more substantively, the pooled risk of many different annuitants allows the company to pay mortality credits that boost the annuity's payout even further above what bonds alone can yield. As a result, the current annual income yield on a GLIA is around 8.8% (excluding the part of the payment representing return of premium), compared to yield of 6.2% on long-term investment-grade credit.
The caveat, of course, is that if a retiree dies before their life expectancy, a bond portfolio would be passed down to their heirs, while any remaining annuity premium would be forfeited (which is what allows annuity companies to pay mortality credits in the first place). Which is ultimately the flip side of the risk of a bond ladder, which is that the retiree will live longer than their life expectancy and exhaust their retirement savings (while a lifetime annuity continues its payments, further increasing its long-term internal rate of return past the point the bond ladder would have wound down to zero). And notably, some annuities can be purchased with a return-of-principal guarantee that ensures at least the remaining principal is returned if the annuitant dies early, which reduces the annuity's yield but can still average out favorably to bonds over the long term.
Ultimately, then, it's first and foremost important for retirees to understand the risks and tradeoffs of using bonds (or a stock/bond portfolio) for retirement income versus funding an annuity. On the one hand, for a healthy retiree with a desire for a stable income, an immediate annuity such as a GLIA could be an attractive option versus a bond ladder, given the insurance company's ability to more efficiently allocate their portfolio over a large group of retirees and provide mortality credits. On the other hand, however, for a retiree who plans to be more dynamic in their spending (and can handle occasional spending cuts if market conditions dictate), different portfolio withdrawal strategies, such as a risk-based guardrail approach, can help mitigate the risk of depleting funds while retaining the upside (and legacy possibility) of remaining in the stock (and bond) market.
(Wade Pfau and Joe Elsasser | Advisor Perspectives)
When a retiree has assets with a range of different tax treatments – traditional (pre-tax) IRAs, Roth IRAs, and taxable investments, for example – one of the main planning challenges (on top of how much to sustainably withdraw to begin with) is how to withdraw the assets in the most tax-efficient way possible. Which can make a difference in the overall viability of a retirement plan, since the tax rate paid on any dollar of retirement income can vary wildly depending on what other income the retiree has at that time.
But while people often focus on the tax bracket that an individual is in when creating a tax-focused drawdown strategy on the reasoning that the tax bracket dictates what the marginal tax rate will be on the next dollar of taxable income, the reality is that adding a dollar of income (in the form of withdrawing from a traditional IRA or incurring capital gains in a taxable account) doesn't always equate to adding a dollar of taxable income. In some cases, adding income might increase the amount of Social Security income that is taxable (i.e., the dreaded "tax torpedo" of increasing Social Security taxation). In others, adding ordinary income (as from a traditional IRA withdrawal) might increase the amount of capital gains income that is taxed at 15% or 20%. In still others, the additional income might trigger an Income Related Medicare Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) increase on Medicare premiums. In all of these cases, an extra dollar of income would effectively be taxed at a higher rate than the individual's Federal tax bracket, by virtue of triggering other tax increases simultaneously.
It's necessary, then, to consider the "true" marginal rate of each source of retirement income (or as the article's authors refer to it, the "Effective Marginal Rate") to devise a truly tax-optimized withdrawal strategy. Advisors can go so far as to literally map out each additional dollar of income starting from the baseline (e.g., Social Security payments plus unavoidable income like dividends from taxable investments) and extending up to the top marginal rate, because notably, the true marginal rate can both increase and decrease as income rises due to the various triggers and machinations in the tax system. Ironically, then, it can be preferable to endure some income being taxed at a high rate in order to have as much income as possible taxed at the lowest rates!
Ultimately, when compared with the "conventional wisdom" strategy of liquidating taxable accounts first, then traditional IRAs, then Roth IRAs, a tax-optimized strategy of managing true or effective marginal rates can make a material difference in a retiree's after-tax income, with the authors calculating an annual "tax alpha" of 0.41% for a tax-optimized portfolio compared to the "conventional wisdom" model. Given that that amount alone makes up nearly half of the typical advisor's annual fee, managing withdrawals around optimal marginal rates is well worth considering as a way to add demonstrable value for clients.
(Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz | Slate)
In recent years, a cottage industry has sprung up around the phenomenon of "Blue Zones" – parts of the world where the prevalence of people aged over 100, 110, or more is far higher than average. As the thinking goes, there must be something unique to these areas that has led to such extreme longevity in their populations, and so people have sought to study Blue Zones (in locations ranging from California to Japan to Greece to Costa Rica) to find clues that might explain why so many in these areas have lived so long. Studies have subsequently cited everything from the local diet to the climate to the predominant value system in the area as reasons why their populations have been exceptionally healthy and long-lived. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs have gone on to monetize the concept with Blue Zone books, documentaries, and even meal planners purporting to help people "eat in a way that gives them the best chance to live to 100".
But while it's natural to look for common factors (such as the diet and habits of Blue Zone occupants) to tie together to support a hypothesis, the danger is that it's often just as common to overlook common factors that might not be as useful for proving the point. And for each of the factors that one can pick out to support the idea of an Blue Zone lifestyle that optimizes for longevity, there are other data points – such as rates of poverty, disease, and crime that are higher than average in some Blue Zone areas – that would make it seem unlikely for so-called Blue Zones to have such a high concentration of centenarians.
And so one explanation for Blue Zones that seems increasingly likely is that, rather than possessing a set of common lifestyle or environmental factors that lead people to live ultra-long and healthy lies, what these areas really have in common is that they all had very spotty recordkeeping of things like birth certificates in the early 20th century – meaning that rather than having a high concentration of 100+ year old people, there's really just a high number of people in those areas who purport to be that old because there are no reliable birth records around for them to confirm their actual birth date!
Ultimately, whether or not Blue Zones are really a thing, the example serves as a worthwhile reminder of how naturally the human brain seeks out evidence it can use to prove a point, while just as naturally downplaying any evidence that might disprove that point – essentially, the textbook definition of confirmation bias. And although it's always tempting to look for the "one weird trick" to live a better and healthier life, the reality (that what actually leads to a healthier life involves a balanced diet, rest, and regular exercise) is often much more boring.
(Tanner Garrity | Inside Hook)
The popular conception of running is that it's the ultimate endurance sport. Both casual and competitive runners work to stretch themselves out to greater and greater distances, progressing from 5k to 10k to 26.2 miles and beyond, and for most runners, the singular goal – and the whole point, really – is to run those distances continuously. For a runner achieving a new distance milestone, "I didn't have to walk" is a point of pride and an accomplishment worth celebrating. And while there's not any real reason to be ashamed of stopping to walk, those of us who remember what it was like to not be able to run a full mile in grade school gym class know the shameful, embarrassing feelings it brings up. If you were a real runner, you wouldn't be walking right now.
But as it turns out, the notion that runners should never walk – whether it's during a race, a training run, or a casual jog – is mostly driven by our own egos. Because as many experienced and even professional runners have come to realize, taking walk-breaks during a run can be an important part of training and even during a race itself. The brief recovery period that a few minutes – or even just 60 seconds – of walking affords can help reduce the risk of injury, increase endurance on longer runs, and even improve the average pace of the run by allowing the runner to go faster when they're actually running. But in the end, what brief walking breaks really help ensure is that the race is completed: Whatever ping of shame that pausing to walk might elicit is easily overcome by the wave of euphoria upon crossing the finish line.
Ultimately, there are a few takeaways for runners and non-runners alike. For casual runners, there's nothing to be ashamed of in setting your own routine – a run that's punctuated by small walking intervals is better than simply staying inside because you don't feel like you can go the whole distance. For more serious runners, it's worth considering incorporating walking into training, since there's at least some evidence that it can help a runner break into longer distances than they may have been capable of before. But for everyone regardless of their interest in running, it's a worthwhile reminder of how often we endure physical or mental pain, simply because the voice in our own head tells us that there's no honorable way to stop. But if we actually give ourselves permission to stop and walk a few steps, it can make getting through the proverbial race of life much more bearable.
(Yasemin Saplakoglu | Quanta Magazine)
As humans, a significant chunk of our wellbeing depends on how our bodies digest food. Disorders such as acid reflux, ulcers, stomach bugs, and many that are more unpleasant to mention can shut people down for days at a time, and a growing area of scientific research focuses on the gut to better understand its workings and develop new interventions for when a person's gut isn't functioning as it should.
One area of research focuses on the system of nerve cells that coordinate the digestive system to move food through, break it down in the stomach, extract nutrients in the intestines, and ultimately expel it as waste. This network of nerves is so complex that it's nicknamed "the second brain", sensing food and coordinating the roles of different tissues as it moves down the line. Specific types of nerve cells, known as glia, can respond to injuries or inflammation in gut tissue and help it heal itself to ensure that unwanted germs and toxins can't enter. And while nerve cells within the digestive system are responsible for the painful feelings we have due to illness or indigestion, their role in triggering the immune system also makes them potential targets for treatments that can help ameliorate the effects of digestive disease.
Ultimately, science is only scratched the surface in studying the intricate workings of the gut and the nervous system that controls it, and while studying it is difficult due to the harsh conditions of the stomach and its surroundings, the prevalence of digestive disorders such as inflammation, Crohn's disease, and IBD make it a topic of high interest to science going forward. Nothing in our bodies truly acts alone, especially in the complex digestive system, but nerve cells like glia are at the center of so many different phenomena that studying them can potentially shed light on many ways to improve the well-being of our guts in the years ahead.
We hope you enjoyed the reading! Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts, or make a suggestion of any articles you think we should highlight in a future column!
In the meantime, if you're interested in more news and information regarding advisor technology, we'd highly recommend checking out Craig Iskowitz's "Wealth Management Today" blog.