Building Healthy Habits for a Rewarding Retirement

Ken Hargreaves, CFP®, AIF®, AWMA®, CRPC®

What does retirement mean to you? For many, it’s a well-deserved break after decades of hard work – a time to relax, travel, and enjoy life without the daily grind of a 9-to-5 job. But that’s the thing: retirement isn’t just about quitting work. It’s about launching a new phase of life, one that can be just as exciting and fulfilling as your career years, if not more so.

I’ve had the privilege of guiding many clients through their retirement journey, and the lesson I’ve learned time and time again is that the key to a fulfilling retirement isn’t just about financial security – though that’s certainly important) – it’s about having the physical capabilities and mental capacity to keep your days filled with your retirement dreams. To make that happen, we need to keep our minds sharp and our bodies physically fit, and we shouldn’t wait until retirement. 

How Inactivity Harms Your Body and Mind

Modern civilization certainly helps us live easy lives; at home, we have large, flat-screen televisions and comfortable couches with numerous household appliances doing most of the physical work for us, which means a lot of our time is spent sitting. If you have an office job and sit at a computer, you’re also likely sitting. Oh, and when you’re driving to work, you’re also sitting. This sedentary lifestyle is actually causing grave harm to our bodies; one study conducted by Annals of Internal Medicine showcases just how serious this is: prolonged bouts of continuous sitting lead to an early death with increased odds of diabetes, various forms of cancer, heart disease, vascular problems such as blood clots, spinal injuries, and weakened bones.1

Doctors recommend getting up every thirty minutes to get some movement in, whether stretching, walking, or simply standing at your desk. Better yet, reduce sitting to a minimum and make sure to exercise regularly.  Regular strength training will not just make your muscles stronger; it’ll also strengthen your bones, helping to prevent or reduce the impact of osteoporosis and potentially even save your life. 

In fact, in 2021, falls were the leading cause of injury-related death among those 65 and up.2 Many of those deaths likely could have been prevented by stronger bones. Better yet, many of those falls could have been avoided altogether by regular exercise. Oftentimes, falls occur because of problems with balance and dizziness caused by poor blood pressure, both of which can be improved by regular exercise. 

Studies have also shown that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.³ This lack of physical activity can lead to hormone imbalances and mood disorders that can lead to social isolation, further exacerbating mental health issues.

But it’s not just about mood. Inactivity can also accelerate cognitive decline. Sedentary behavior is associated with reduced thickness in the medial temporal lobe, a region of the brain crucial for forming new memories, placing you at greater risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.⁴ 

The evidence is clear: a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a downward spiral of worsening physical and mental health that’s hard to climb out of. Regular physical activity, on the other hand, has been shown to improve cognitive function, boost memory, and even stimulate the growth of new brain cells. It’s like a 401(k) for your brain – the more you invest now, the better off you’ll be in the future.

How a Poor Diet Worsens It

The best exercise regime in the world will not matter much if you don’t pay attention to how you fuel your body. New studies show that some of the biggest threats to our health come in the form of the omnipresent ultra-processed foods, such as potato chips and fast food. Regular consumption of these tasty yet somewhat deadly treats leads to a plethora of illnesses. The statistics speak for themselves.

Higher ultra-processed food intake is associated with:

  • A 50% increased risk of cardiovascular disease-related death
  • A 48% to 53% higher risk of anxiety and common mental disorders
  • A 12% greater risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • A 21% greater risk of death from any cause
  • A 40% to 66% higher risk of heart disease-related death
  • A higher risk of obesity
  • An increased risk of sleep problems
  • A 22% increased risk of depression⁶ 

 A healthy diet, on the other hand, reduces every single risk caused by an unhealthy diet. Numerous studies show that increased consumption of nuts, berries, legumes, beans, leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and lean meats significantly reduces the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even mental disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Does that mean you should swear off chips and settle for carrots every single time? Of course not. As the famous quote goes, ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation.’ What it does mean is that there should be a conscious shift to eating a higher proportion of healthier foods over processed and ultra-processed foods.

The Costs of Being Unhealthy in Retirement

So you may be thinking, what’s it to me, as a financial advisor? After all, I’m not a doctor. My goal is to help clients achieve retirement success, and health is one of the primary factors in doing so, especially at a financial level. Yes, Medicare may cover much of your healthcare costs, but the more unhealthy you are, the more you can expect to pay for treatment not covered by Medicare, such as long-term care at a nursing facility.

Annual US Healthcare Costs by Condition

$1+ trillion
Chronic Diseases
$407.3 billion
Cardiovascular Disease
$180 billion
Cancer (2015)
$237 billion
Diabetes (2017)
$345 billion
Alzheimer's & Dementias

How much could we save as a nation by incorporating healthy habits into our daily lives? And how would that affect you, personally?

According to risk management and benefits firm Milliman, your health can substantially affect your lifetime healthcare spending. Their research shows that healthier retirees can expect to spend approximately 12% less on total healthcare costs using Original Medicare plus Medigap (Plan G) plus Part D over their lifetime, and for those with Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug (MAPD) plans, the savings are even more substantial at 28% less. Conversely, retirees with below-average health can expect to spend about 18% more on healthcare costs with Original Medicare plus supplemental coverage and a striking 45% more with MAPD plans over their lifetime.  

As a fiduciary financial advisor with the best interests of my clients always top of mind, it’s my responsibility to help them keep heathcare costs low, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle is one of those ways to do so. 

Staying Fit in Retirement

Imagine waking up one day deep into retirement. Instead of waking up with aches and pains and moving to the couch for a day’s worth of television, you instead wake up feeling fit and healthy, with a clear, sharp mind. You meet your friends at the local coffee shop before heading to the pickleball court, followed by some chess or a language class. The rest of your day is filled with meaningful activities, and you have a trip abroad planned in the following weeks and multiple visits with friends and family members from afar lined up. 

Your ideal day may drastically differ from that described above, but the point is likely the same; a healthy retirement drastically increases your chances of a fulfilling retirement. Also, being healthy isn’t just about eating right and doing exercise. It can also translate into a wide range of social activities and hobbies that will help prevent the common problem of social isolation as you age. Most importantly, it will give you something to retire to, and not just from. You could even continue to work after retirement, start a new business, or even volunteer. You may as well see it as simply transitioning to a new stage in life – not just ‘finally quitting work.’ 

In Conclusion

With healthcare costs rapidly increasing and chronic medical conditions becoming more prevalent, it’s easy to think we’re a nation in crisis. While this may be true, you don’t have to be part of that crisis. Simple lifestyle changes can significantly alter the course of your retirement and your finances. However, it’s important to remember that healthcare costs will still be a part of your retirement expenses, and these should be thoughtfully incorporated into your overall financial plan.

If you’re ready to take control of your retirement health and finances, we’re here to help. Click the button below to schedule a consultation and start planning for a healthier, more secure future. Let’s make your retirement as fulfilling and enjoyable as possible.

Disclosures

Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment or strategy will be suitable or profitable for a client’s portfolio. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date, but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author/presenter as of the date of publication and are subject to change and do not constitute personalized investment advice.

A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any investment strategy. WealthGen Advisors does not represent, warranty, or imply that the services or methods of analysis employed by the Firm can or will predict future results, successfully identify market tops or bottoms, or insulate clients from losses due to market corrections or declines. Investments are subject to market risks and potential loss of principal invested, and all investment strategies likewise have the potential for profit or loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Please note: While we strive to provide accurate and helpful information, we are not Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). The information in this article is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as tax advice. It is crucial to consult with a CPA or tax professional to discuss you

Author

  • Ken Hargreaves, CFP®, AIF®, AWMA®, CRPC®

    A Florida native, and full-time Sarasota resident, Ken founded WealthGen Advisors, LLC after spending more than fourteen years in the financial advisory industry. Ken holds multiple industry designations, as well as a master's degree in Financial Planning. Prior to founding WealthGen Advisors, Ken spent almost a decade in New York and then Texas as Vice President at The Capital Group, a $2T global investment manager serving institutional clients and pension funds.

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