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GBIC >> Retirement >> Health
Although you see medical reports everywhere that retirees should be able to lead healthy lives well into their 70's or more, it's that definition of healthy that's the sticker. My father-in-law often get a good report after a medical checkup - "You're doing great for a man of your age!".

Does the doctor expect too little? Or as retirees do we expect too much?

People are living older and older people are getting healthier than ever before, but as anyone over 50 can tell you there the mind and body definitely begins a downward trend in the later years of life. Part of retirement is about managing that health degradation - minimizing what you can and learning to adjust your life style where you can't. Not everyone sees mind and body losses at the same age, but eventually everyone goes through the same thing. The body breaks easier and doesn't heal as fast nor does it recover to as healthy a state as it started. The mind slows down, memory lapses become more common and momentary confusions begin to lengthen.

Sound bad? Not really! Most of the issues that will appear as you grow older cannot be fixed (as yet) by modern science but it is well within your ability to adjust your life style and personal habits to match your capabilities. Nor do you have to simply yield to the loss of mind and body functions - you can fight! There are lots of strategies one can follow which can minimize or delay the symptoms described above! That's the focus of this page.

Exercise Food Medical Care Insurance

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In retirement, exercise is about balancing your body's need for exercise to promote health and the risk of injury that exercise might bring. Most retirees simply cannot attack sports or exercise the way they used to, but the health benefits and contribution to long life of exercise are too great too ignore. The basic strategy should be to exercise as much as possible, but stopping short of creating damage which will prevent your from continuing to exercise, or worse, result in an injury which will prevent physical activity in the future.

The older you get, the more true these three statements become:

  • You break easier
  • You heal slower
  • Once broken, the same part breaks more easily the next time

Of course, the last thing you want to do is to get a "bunker" mentality. You need to exercise and be physically active to promote a healthy body so you cannot avoid risk entirely.

So, what do you do? Well, the easy answer is everything you feel like you can do, and particularly everything you did before. However there are three universally accepted activities:

  • Walk
    Walk as slow or as fast as you want, just make sure you walk regularly. Anything from a half-hour to two hours is fine. Most studies indicate that walking more than that is done for your ego, not for better health. About the only danger walking offers is falling from cracks or bumps in the walkway. More doctors recommend walking than any other activity.

  • Weights
    Bone breakage is a non-trivial issue for just about everyone as they grow older, particularly women. Studies show that regular weight lifting not only provides strength, but increase bone density. Note for women - don't worry about getting big muscles. At this age it's almost impossible to do much more than "tone" your body. You simply don't have enough testosterone content to build huge muscles. For that matter, most men don't either, although they can certainly improve their strength and muscle size, just not to the dimensions they could have done at an earlier age. As great as weight-lifting can be it do offer a danger - falling weights. Weight-lifting with a partner is highly recommended.

  • Swim
    Walking and weight lifting are great, but they act on limited parts of the body. Sprains, or simply aches, often come from overuse of an un-used muscle. Swimming uses more muscles (upper and lower torso, trunk twisting, etc.) than any other exercise. It's a great all-around exercise and has an excellent injury-prevention reputation. It is also great because swimmers hardly ever get injured while swimming.

When it comes to exercise, there are other bits of advice that are commonly given to retirees.

  • Start Slow
    Remember that you have the rest of your life ahead of you. If you've not been part of a regular regime of exercise, be sure to ease into the routine. Taking 3-4 months to reach your one hour walk, or taking 4-6 months to be able to bench press 150 pounds is absolutely the safe way to go. There's no hurry and you don't want to hurt yourself to the point you are set back for much longer.

  • Exercise regularly, but take time off
    Exercising every day may feel good but most studies show that most of the benefit comes from a less frequent schedule. Exercising every other day is adequate for most people. If you exercise more than that it's simply because you like it, not because it's that much better for you.

    Occasionally, you should take a week or two off. Many folks get into a routine and drop out either because of boredom or injury. An occasional time off is recommended to avoid both of these situations.

  • Get a partner
    Ask anyone and they will tell you that the only reason they stuck with an exercise routine is because they had an exercise partner who expected them to be there. When you're by yourself you can skip a day and hurt no one but yourself. But when you have a partner you're far more likely to stick to your exercise schedule.

  • Travel is no excuse
    When retirees travel then tend to travel for longer periods of time and exercise is often the casualty. It's important to maintain your routine during travel, or at least substitute other exercises for your usual ones. Walking can be done anywhere and is particularly fun when you're on travel because it lets you look at the destination more closely than you can in a car. Weight lifting fans can also find easy substitutes, including exercise such as pushup or using common objects in lieu of the usual metal weights.

  • Use the right gear
    The rule here is that bad gear equals injury. Probably the most important gear of all is shoes. You don't have to spend big money to get good shoes - about $85 is the most you'll need to pay. But shoes break down more quickly than folks realize and should be replaced often in order to avoid injury that can result from shoes whose internal support structures have broken down.

  • Treat pain but relieve soreness
    You'll have to learn the difference between pain and soreness. With soreness you can continue the exercise and use standard pain relief medicine to help you continue your exercise program. Pain, however, comes from damages done to your body and you should stop exercise that can worsen the damage or extend the time it takes to recover from the damage. It's far better to miss a few days of exercise to allow an injury to repair than it is to "tough" your way through it and risk causing damage that can last months, or a lifetime.

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There are two basic elements of an eating strategy that you have to make decision about:
  • How much to eat
    With all the medical studies that have been performed, it's pretty hard now to deny that low body weight is a major factor in increasing longevity. Regardless of whether its the extra weight, or the habits that lead to being overweight, the effect is reduced life expectancy. Go to one of the online insurance quote site and play with the weight factor and you'll see what I mean. My own weight is way high (about 250) and when I went looking for quotes I found that a 60-70 pound weight loss would cut my insurance more than in half.

  • Which foods to eat
    The primary advice is that unless you have a specific problem you're trying to solve then keep your usual eating habits. The earliest food-related issue that retirees will see is weight gain. This site has no sage advice to offer other than the standard "eat less, exercise more". There is one piece of advice that is worth repeating:

    • If you are dieting then you will be hungry most of the time. Get over it. In fact, the presence of hunger is exactly the body signal you want to have because it tells your that your diet is working. Of course, hunger to the point of weakness is a very bad idea, but I don't subscribe to the idea that you're supposed to figure out a way to avoid hunger during a diet. Hunger is simply the sign that your diet is working and you should embrace that feeling.

    The other side of eating is using food or vitamins to attack a specific health issue other than weight. There are a zillion theories about how to eat for promote mental and physical health for every part of the body (or mind). There are scores of testimonials which show that this person or that person benefited, just as there are scores of testimonials which show that other persons have not benefited.

    Since most foods are not harmful, the easiest suggestion is simply to try out any remedies that you hear about and if they don't work, then quit using them. Don't forget to check with your doctor if you're going to make a drastic change in any of your eating habits. Making sure that you don't have an un-detected condition that will be worsened by the new regime is a good idea. Improvements from eating a particular food will normally be seen with 1-2 months, so don't feel like you have to give it more time than that.

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Medical Care

The advice here is extremely simply. Get insurance. If your retire early, get coverage. After Medicare kicks in, then get supplemental insurance. No, this is not medical advice. This is advice for the health of your financial well-being. During retirement you simply cannot afford to have an injury or illness which will draw from your retirement savings. You need that money to live on the rest of your life so you need to protect it with insurance.

Once you have the health of your retirement savings taken care of, then there are two areas in which you need to take regular action.

  • Self-Help
    It's a given retirees have injuries and illnesses which are not typical of younger folks. You should be prepared to read up on illnesses typical of older citizens. Learn ahead of time and be mentally prepared for what actions you might need to take to avoid or treat injuries or illnesses.

    A second, very important, task is to take classes in emergency treatments. This means both you and your spouse should be trained. Learn to recognize the symptoms of serious illnesses. Also learn to provide emergency treatments.

    While dialing 911 may be the most important action you can take in an emergency it can be the first 10 minutes where actions can make the difference between life and death. Knowing what to do until professional help arrives is important.

  • Professional Help
    There are two parts to this. For emergencies, dial "911". It's not rocket science but what is hard for most folks is to know when something is a true emergency or simply something that can be handled during the next visit to the doctor.

    Remember - it's better to be embarrassed at the emergency room (for coming in about a non-life threatening concern) than to suffer life-time physical problems because you delayed treatment.

    The second part is also standard advice - see your doctor regularly. Illnesses don't generally pop up overnight. They take time to build to a life threatening level. If you simply see your doctor regularly (once a year, more if you have a specific concern) then your chances of catching an illness while it is treatable go way, way up!

    Be sure to understand your family history of illnesses and give your doctor a clear picture of what you might be pre-disposed to suffer.

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The goal of insurance for the retiree is two-fold.

  • Access to treatment
    Many retirees don't go to the doctor simply because they don't have enough money, or insurance coverage, to cover the costs over the doctor visit, the medicines, or the hospital procedures which might come from the diagnosis of a problem. Adequate insurance is simply the best way to guarantee access to the treatment your need.

  • Protect your retirement savings
    Unless you are particularly wealthy (read that as $5M+), then you are in a position that a devastating injury can wipe out your life savings and going broke during retirement is not anyone's goal.

    My daughter once told me that she couldn't afford insurance, to which I replied "You can't afford not to have insurance!". Even at today's high insurance rates the average citizen must have insurance to avoid draining their finances in the event of a catastrophic event.