6 Secrets to a Healthy Retirement

Try these strategies to maintain good health throughout retirement.

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If you are planning for retirement, chances are you are mostly thinking about money. Of course, you will need a solid financial base for retirement. But overlook the most important element of a happy retirement, and you run the risk of having a retirement that’s, well, not so happy.

The most important ingredient to a happy retirement is good health. Retirees report that it’s more important than any other factor, including money or age. Most baby boomers are expecting to enjoy an active retirement, filled with travel, engaging hobbies, and new passions. Socking away contributions in your 401(k) each year will help insure a financially secure retirement. Here’s how you can help secure a healthy retirement too.

[See 7 Secrets to a Happy Retirement.]

View the glass as half full. A slew of recent research shows that your attitude has a huge impact on your health: 

  • A study from the University of Kentucky showed increased immune function as participants’ level of optimism increased.
  • People with a positive attitude get sick less often than those with a negative attitude, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Elderly folks with an optimistic view of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with a negative view, according to a Yale study.
  • And a Dutch study found that pessimists over the age of 65 had a higher risk of heart disease than those with a sunnier outlook.
  • Delay physical immobility. It’s inevitable that our bodies are going to slow us down at some point. But why not do what you can now to put that off for as long as possible. Jane Brody shares the advice of Mark Lachs, director of geriatrics at the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System, in a recent New York Times article: “If you begin a daily walking program at age 45... you could delay immobility to 90 and beyond. If you become a couch potato at 45 and remain so, immobility can encroach as early as 60.”

    Even if you are well into your retirement, it’s not too late to get started. Many studies have confirmed the positive impact of strength training exercises on seniors’ balance and ability to accomplish day-to-day activities.

    [See 10 Reasons Retirement Makes You Feel Younger.]

    Adopt a pet. As just about any pet owner will tell you, pets make us happier. It turns out pets make us healthier too. Dog owners have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol than those without canine companions, as well as healthier hearts. Pets may help reduce pain among those suffering from arthritis and other ailments and contribute to a healthier lifestyle by increasing the pet owner’s level of exercise. And owning a cat reduces the risk of heart attack by 30 percent, according to a study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute.

    Cultivate your friendships. Retirees with a strong social network report being happier than those without a network of friends. They may live longer too. A circle of close friends and family increases your odds of survival by 50 percent, according to a Brigham Young University study. In fact, not having such a strong support network is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic and worse for you than being sedentary or obese.

    [See 7 Ways to Meet Someone New in Retirement.]

    Eat a healthy diet. I probably don’t even need to mention the importance of a healthy diet. Most folks know the impact that maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding saturated fat, and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables has on preventing heart disease and stroke. Probably less well known is the relationship between diet and cancers. It’s estimated that 30 percent of cancers in developed countries are impacted by diet.

    Don’t wait too long to retire. The younger you are when you retire, the healthier you’re likely to be, and the more active years you’ll have in retirement. Of course, you can’t retire until you are financially ready. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that working longer is always better. Figure out what retirement age is best for you. Ernie Zelinski, author of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, says: “If you put off retirement too long, upon your retirement you may find out that the best time to pursue your dreams and enjoy life to the fullest was twenty years ago.”

    Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.