The importance of wellness in the golden years.
There’s nothing any of us can do about getting older – it happens to the best of us! But many things can help us stay healthy and active longer so we can fully enjoy the plans we’ve made for retirement.
Statistics Canada measures two different types of life expectancy. There’s the one everyone is familiar with: the number of years someone is expected to live. But there’s also a health-adjusted life expectancy, which is the number of years someone is expected to live in full health. Stats Canada’s latest report shows that regular life expectancy is 79.8 for men and 83.9 for women. However, the health-adjusted life expectancy is 69.0 for men and 70.5 for women.
That gap is what we aim to narrow with healthy choices. Even those already managing conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure and osteoporosis can often slow or prevent progression with appropriate medications, diet and exercise. The fact is, many of these tips are worth considering for people of all ages and any health status.
Choose healthy foods
According to Canada’s food guide, healthy eating is key to aging well, which in turn can enable seniors to maintain their independence and quality of life. The guide suggests aiming for a varied selection of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and proteins every day, supplemented for those age 51 or older with 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D.
Canada’s food guide adds that, if you’re craving more flavour, you can add spices and herbs rather than salt. If you need easier-to-chew food, you can cook vegetables and fruit to soften them. It’s also important to drink water with each meal and snack, especially since the sensation of thirst may weaken with age.
Stay physically active
Physical activity does more than keep your body strong. Active Aging Canada, a not-for-profit organization, says exercise can ward off health problems, improve sleep, boost mental health, reduce stress and maintain balance to decrease the risk of falling.
Active Aging Canada suggests speaking with a doctor or health care provider before starting a strenuous program after a period of inactivity or if you have significant health concerns, are recovering from recent surgery or have a history of falls. However, the organization emphasizes, “You can start being physically active at any age – even if you’ve never been physically active, or if you’ve stopped.”
Keep your mind fit
Exercise for your brain is important, too, and can include everything from jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and sudoku to learning a musical instrument or a language. The Alzheimer Society of Canada suggests challenging your brain by taking up a new hobby, working on a skill that doesn’t come easily to you or playing a strategic game like chess.
The Canadian Mental Health Association also recommends mental fitness strategies that include daydreaming, recalling moments when you experienced positive emotions, interrupting negative thoughts, sharing humour with others and doing special things just for yourself to treat yourself well.
An easy way to stimulate your mind is to get outside in nature. Read more here.
Don’t skip check-ups
Taking your body in for regular maintenance will help you stay healthier longer as well. That means scheduling periodic doctor, dental and eye check-ups, as well as any cancer screenings your doctor recommends. Stay up to date on vaccines, too, because most vaccine-preventable illnesses hit older people harder.
Other health care professionals who can address specific problems and speed up recovery from injuries include massage therapists and physiotherapists. And reach out to mental health professionals such as psychologists if, for example, you need support while you’re adjusting from working life to retirement.
Leverage benefits and insurance
It’s essential to prepare for the unexpected at every age, but certain risks become more likely as we age. Ensuring you have an individual health and dental plan after you stop working can help protect your retirement income from the impact of costly medications, glasses, hearing aids, mobility aids and other supports you may require.
Some life insurance products provide extra motivation to live a healthier life by offering rewards and premium savings. Meanwhile, travel insurance is critical for globe-trotting retirees and snowbirds. It may even be possible to add travel insurance to your health and dental plan.
Speak with your advisor about the financial solutions that can help you live your best life as you age – and enjoy your longest possible health-adjusted life expectancy.
 Tracey Bushnik, Michael Tjepkema and Laurent Martel, “Health-adjusted life expectancy in Canada,” Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-003-X, last updated April 18, 2018, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2018004/article/54950-eng.htm