Last week, we discussed building a purposeful community. This week in Part 3 of the series, we dive into the topic of caring for your physical and mental health.
The foundation of my book, Retirement Stepping Stones, is that everyone deserves to retire with a sense of confidence that extends beyond their financial wellbeing. A critical component of a happy, healthy retirement is just that – ensuring that you’re taking the steps necessary to achieve health and happiness in your day-to-day.
Retirement is a jarring transition for many. Physically, the effects of aging coupled with the schedule change of shifting away from the workplace, retirement can be a challenge to navigate. Retirees may struggle to find habits and rhythms that keep them physically active, especially without a predictable routine or schedule that their job once offered. Of course, mental health also suffers in retirement. Approximately 25% of adults age 65 or older deal with mental health issues. Even more concerning are the suicide rates for retired men, which hits a peak at age 75 or older (according to the CDC).
This isn’t to say depression and so-so physical health are foregone conclusions during retirement – far from it! However, it’s wise to have a plan in place to care for your physical and mental or emotional health prior to taking the retirement leap. This is especially important for a solo retiree who is uniquely dependent on their own actions to stay healthy, and may not have a spouse or partner who is readily available to help them stay motivated or to check in if it seems as though an element of their health is in decline.
Staying Physically Healthy
Your physical health should be your first priority as you head into retirement. As we age, we experience an inevitable physical decline. Our bodies and systems break over time, and it can become harder to get back to a healthy baseline the older we get. This is why it’s so important to enter this season of life with a baseline of physical health already in place. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Prioritize movement. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to move your body. Find a form of exercise or movement that resonates with you and works with your schedule and unique physical needs. This may be walking, hiking, biking, running, yoga, swimming, chasing after your dog at the dog park, or any number of other activities.
- Consider what you eat. Once again, perfection isn’t the goal! You’re nearly or newly retired, and you’ve earned the right to enjoy a cookie every now and again guilt-free. However, ensuring that you’re eating a diet that’s in alignment with what your body needs as you age is important. This may mean increasing your intake of specific foods or vitamins that support your immune system. It might mean looking to supplements to help keep you in tip-top shape if you can’t get the right nutrients from your food.
- Stay hydrated. Hydration is key for any person, but as you age, your body composition is actually comprised of less water. This means you’re at risk for dehydration much more easily than you were even 10-20 years ago. Water is a critical component for all bodily functions, and dehydration for a retiree can be life-threatening if not caught and remedied quickly. Focus on setting a water goal for each day, and eating hydrating foods such as fruits and vegetables.
- Reconsider substances. If you’re a lifelong smoker, now is the time to consider quitting. In fact, some studies indicate that people who quit smoking during the retirement transition are more likely to stay “on the wagon” than those who have tried before retiring. Smoking as you age can have detrimental health impacts, and quitting during your transition to retirement may help you to stay healthier for longer. Stopping or lessening alcohol consumption is another example.
Focusing on Your Mental Health
The fact that you’re here reading this blog post tells me that you’re already on the right path to finding a way to take charge of your mental health during this new season. One of the first steps to focusing on your mental health in retirement is simply to be aware of it. Too often, when we’re busy with life and a career, we put pressing mental health issues on the backburner.
Anxiety, depression, or just generalized dissatisfaction with ourselves or our lives can be easy to ignore in today’s busy world. However, when you retire, there is often nothing but time. Those who are facing a mental health hurdle might wake up on the first Monday of their retirement only to find their previously-buried concerns staring them in the face.
Once you’re aware of what mental health looks like, or what goals you have for yourself, you can start to create a plan of action. I recommend that everyone, regardless of retirement status, speak with a therapist at least once during their lifetime. In some cases, you may find a handful of sessions with a counselor or psychologist is enough to help you navigate a few of the problems you’re working through. In other cases, you may want to establish a consistent relationship with a mental health care provider as you enter retirement to check in consistently and continue on the path of finding balance and contentment during this chapter of your life.
Know that there is no shame in working with a mental health professional. In fact, by getting ahead of any concerns you have during this transition, you’re setting yourself up for long-term success. A professional can help to “equip” you with the tools you need to give yourself and others grace during this transition, navigate how you approach interpersonal relationships, reevaluate how you view yourself and the world around you, and so much more.
Build Your Healthcare Team
Remember: hope is not a strategy. Waiting until you’re faced with a health problem (mental or physical) to seek a professional likely means you’re too late. Instead, get a healthcare team in place ahead of time. This team may include (but certainly isn’t limited to):
- A primary care physician.
- A therapist or counselor.
- Any specialists who meet your unique needs (a dietician, chiropractor, etc.).
- A preferred hospital.
You should also have the following items in place as you enter retirement:
- Key points of contact should you require medical attention.
- Power of attorney or a health care power of attorney set up. This person can make medical decisions for you should you be incapacitated.
- A health care plan – whether you plan to enroll in Medicare, or want to pursue private health insurance, have a strategy prior to retirement for how you plan to cover health care costs.
Our next installment of the solo retiree series will focus on creating a plan for your day-to-day lifestyle. See you soon!