*I’m pleased to be working with UnitedHealthcare for a series of articles on items of interest to us as we move into retirement age. These posts are sponsored, but as always, my opinions are my own.
A friend noticed on Facebook that we added six chicks to our family’s menagerie. She was surprised. While most people our age are “slowing down,” we’ve now added raising chickens to our list of activities. And why not? We love to watch their antics. The fresh eggs aren’t bad either, and while they have gotten a bad rap in the past, they are rich in protein, selenium, vitamin D, B12, B6 and minerals such as zinc, copper and iron.
We’re not the only ones keeping active. Baby boomers are seeking meaning and new experiences in their retirement years, according to a recent survey conducted by UnitedHealthcare. While almost all the respondents do plan to retire at some point (only 3% plan to continue working, and I’m one of those), most don’t plan to slow down. Their top goals include traveling, volunteering, moving closer to family and friends and starting a fitness regime.
Over the next few months, I’m going to examine the survey results and dive into ways we can integrate the findings into actionable steps to create a better future in our own lives.
Seventy percent of the respondents in the survey said that physical health was most important [followed by cognitive health (16%), social health (13%) and financial health (6%)], so let’s chat about that first. I believe that many of the physical and cognitive problems we have are due to our daily habits. Many can be altered by just changing what we eat and drink and how we “do life” on a daily basis.
For instance, people with Type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This may be caused by an inherited gene that creates insulin resistance in the brain. But it also may occur because of damage to circulation, reducing blood flow to the brain. That’s tied to the lifestyle factors that often lead to diabetes, namely poor diets and little exercise.
“Taking care of yourself” is one of those terms that we often throw around absent-mindedly without thinking about what it really means. Here are some specifics to think about:
Tips for Maintaining Good Physical Health in Retirement
- Eat Healthy Foods
Cut out the sodas, especially colas, because they are hard on your kidneys.
Cut down on pre-packaged, processed and takeout foods. These foods have large amounts of sodium, which can lead to hypertension and heart disease. They may also have large amounts of sugar, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
Eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods. Keep in mind that each person has different dietary needs. Consult your physician about yours.
- Keep Your Brain Active
Some cognitive decline is a normal part of aging but can be delayed with active learning and mind-challenging activities. Take up a new hobby such as dancing (it’s been shown to help reduce memory loss), learn tai chi, do the daily crossword puzzle, learn a new language or play brain-stimulating games.
And make sure you’re taking advantage of any resources that may be at your fingertips. For example, understanding the importance of cognitive health as people age, insurance companies have started offering brain exercise benefits as part of their insurance packages. UnitedHealthcare’s exclusive mind and body fitness benefit, Renew Active, offers an online brain health program to select Medicare Advantage members.
And while we’re on the topic of fitness benefits, physical exercise increases your thinking skills both directly and indirectly.
As a direct effect, it stimulates physiological changes such as reductions in both insulin resistance and inflammation. Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, states that “even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.”
Indirectly, exercise can help to increase memory and thinking by improving sleep and mood and decreasing stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas can contribute to cognitive decline.
It’s been said that sitting is the new smoking. An article published by the Mayo Clinic reported that an analysis of 13 studies “found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.” Regular exercise may prevent or even provide relief from many common chronic conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, arthritis and more.
The key is to find an activity that you enjoy and do it on a regular basis. Try to incorporate aerobic movements, balance, and muscle-strengthening activities into your routine – consider yoga, dance, tai chi, bike-riding, walking or running.
- Get Enough Sleep
This is something I struggle with, and I think many women over 50 have this problem as well. According to Healthline, lack of sleep can cause depression, irritability, increased risk of falling, increased blood pressure and memory problems, so it’s important to try to optimize your sleep as much as possible. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
How can you improve your chances? Set a regular bedtime. Keep your bedroom dark and cool during the night. Stay away from technology devices (blue screens) and too much television. Avoid caffeine late in the day. A hot bath before bedtime is always good, and nice lavender linen spray might be helpful, as well.
- Reduce Stress
Reducing stress can help us fight depression, increase our ability to ward off and/or recover from infections, and fight fatigue and memory loss. In fact, Mayo Clinic also reports that unaddressed stress can contribute to many health problems, including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Stressors can’t always be avoided, but there are things we can do to better cope with them. Getting enough sleep, exercising, finding support through a friend, counselor or group, and practicing yoga, meditation, deep breathing or just being present are good ways to stave off or combat stress.
- Make Connections in Your Community
Now that the kids are grown and leaving the nest (we hope), we might find ourselves with more time alone. It’s important to continue to learn, grow and create new relationships. Isolation plays a big role in depression in older adults.
In addition, the National Institute on Aging states that people with active social lives may be less likely to develop dementia than those who are more socially isolated.
Spending time socializing has also been associated with a stronger immune system, which means you may have a better chance of warding off colds and flu viruses.
There are lots of groups available in most communities: social groups, planning committees for community events, volunteer opportunities, book clubs, card groups, etc. Also take time to meet up with friends or family members for coffee, lunch or an event. Reach out to new acquaintances. Chances are there are other older adults looking for some companionship, too.
- Take Advantage of Your Medicare Benefits
If you are 65 or older, your Original Medicare, Medi-Gap or Medicare Advantage plan most likely offers treatment and support options that can help you stay healthy as you age.
For example, many Medicare Advantage plans provide dental, hearing and vision benefits. That’s especially important when we start to have challenges in these areas – as many of us do.
And when we find ourselves in a particularly difficult health situation, like coping with a chronic disease or recovering from surgery, getting help from a personal advocate can make all the difference. UnitedHealthcare offers its Navigate4Me program to select Medicare Advantage members who need special attention, giving them a single-point of contact to help them navigate the health system.
Visit UnitedHealthcare for more information on the survey results.