Senior couple on bicycles

In order to make the most out of your retirement years and avoid spending most of your retirement savings on health-related and medical expenses, it’s important to take stock in a healthy lifestyle prior to, as well as during, retirement. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, avoid being sedentary, and consider future health-related costs as a result of your current lifestyle. Points to keep in mind include maintaining a healthy diet, which includes nutrition and exercise, reduce stress, prevent disease and have a good attitude.

For many, retirement is not a time to slow down but a time to explore new adventures and hobbies. However, in order to be able to do this, a health and lifestyle analysis should be considered while developing your retirement plan. Keep in mind that as we get older and our bodies change, we may have to adapt our diet, nutrition and exercise in order to stay healthy once in retirement. Aging comes with good news and bad news. The good news is, people are living longer thanks to better nutrition and more physical activity, as well as advances in medicine and health care.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the world’s population aged 60 years and over has doubled since 1980, which indicates that health conditions have improved, This age group is also forecast to rise from 600 million in 2000 to 2 billion in 2050. The bad news is, according to the Mayo Clinic, as we age, our bones and muscles lose strength, while the heart muscle weakens and our arteries lose elasticity so the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body. This, in addition to a myriad of other conditions, should be taken into account when planning for retirement. Below are some recommendations on what you can do now to enjoy a healthy lifestyle in retirement.

Focus on nutrition and maintain a healthy diet

Fact: Our metabolism slows as we age, which means you need less food to make the energy you need. So, if you continue to eat the same types and amounts of food and don’t include adequate exercise, the probability for weight gain increases. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), if you balance the calories that you eat with the calories burned by exercise, monitor your weight once a week, and keep track of the food you eat, you should be able to maintain a healthy weight. The Guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has more information online about caloric intake vs. activity levels plus appropriate types of food for various lifestyles.

Even though the quality of food may have changed over the years, medical professional still recommend that you pay attention to your nutrition. The NIA points out that you should choose nutrient-dense foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, and poultry, rather than calorie-heavy foods such as baked goods, candy, and chips.

Certain health conditions may require behavioral and nutritional changes. And these changes may lead to a healthier lifestyle and better use of your retirement savings down the road. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the DASH Eating Plan for those living with high blood pressure. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, seafood, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. DASH has less salt and sodium, sweets, added sugars, fats, and red meats than the typical American eats. You should always check with your doctor regarding questions on lifestyle and nutritional changes.

Exercise regularly

The NIA recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week for people aged 65 years or older but the way you structure it is up to you – you can split it up over a few days or try 10-minute sessions several times a day. The NIA suggests you choose exercise that most interests you and you’re most comfortable with as there is a better chance you will stick to the new routine. To help you get started on an exercise routine, check the NIA’s Go4Life site to set goals and get ideas and instructions about exercises that would work best for you.

Check with your doctor if you have questions or are concerned about starting an exercise routine. If you have specific health conditions (such as dizziness, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat or recent surgery), your doctor should be able to suggest certain types of exercise for you.

Reduce stress

Stress has been known to cause high blood pressure, which can then lead to heart disease. Chronic stress and depression have also been shown to increase the risk for cancer as your immune system weakens. Physical signs of stress include headaches, racing heart, difficulty sleeping and aches and pains, while the emotional signs range from anxiety and frequent mood swings to sadness and depression.

Many people cite money and finances as being a main cause of stress in their lives. Many preretirees and retirees worry that their money won’t last throughout their lifetime. That’s why it’s so important to plan for your retirement as early as possible so you can save and accumulate money by investing in different types of stocks and bonds over a long time period.

When you suffer from stress, figure out what’s causing it. Once you identify the cause of your stress, determine the best ways to cope with it. Set realistic goals and don’t expect to be perfect in everything that you do. Manage your time effectively and stay flexible and realistic when planning your schedule.

Exercise has been shown to help ease or alleviate stress. The aerobic exercise causes the release of endorphins that help you feel better and, as a result, create a positive attitude. Find ways to relax, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, yoga or stretching, or listening to calm music. Doing any of these activities for 15 to 30 minutes every day can help ease stress.

Prevent disease

As previously mentioned, a healthy diet and regular exercise are the keys to help you stay healthy in pre and post-retirement and can even prevent or mitigate health issues. The NIA suggests that you avoid any “anti-aging” supplements and/or hormones currently being marketed to older generations as there is no proof of effectiveness and the health risks of short- and long-term use are unknown. Ask your doctor for recommendations about vitamins and daily food choices and how you can maintain healthy habits as you get older.

Preventative measures include annual physical exams with your doctor and follow up by blood tests or other suggested treatments. If you can prevent a medical condition and stay healthy, your health-care costs can be more manageable during retirement.

Be positive

You’re only as old as you think you are. A recent study by the Yale School of Public Health found that positive attitudes can increase longevity by a median of 4.9 years. Another study of industrial workers nearing retirement found that positive expectation of finances, friends, social activity, and level of preparedness significantly helped them have more positive attitudes about retirement (Glamser, 1976). It’s also generally believed that if you have an optimistic self perception about aging and plan to spend your retirement years doing meaningful activities or work, you’re likely to enjoy a better quality of life and be happier.

What to do next

  • Take charge of your health early and make adjustments to your diet and exercise routine if needed. The NIA suggests checking your weight and diet regularly to make sure you are where you should be.
  • Keep exercise a part of your routine.
  • Identify any stress in your life and take steps to alleviate. By taking steps now to prepare your retirement finances, you can minimize your stress levels in the future.
  • Get annual physicals with your doctor to prevent diseases or medical conditions.
  • Adopt a positive outlook. Being financially prepared, spending time with friends and social activities, and finding meaningful activities can lead to a good quality of life in retirement and may help you live longer.