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Healthy Aging

Healthy Mind

Protect Against a Retirement Risk

Lots of people dream of retiring … until it becomes a reality and the days seem too quiet and long. Here’s what a Johns Hopkins expert says you need to know to plan for happiness and health.

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Check In With Yourself

“Find a way to live authentically, not simply conforming to what other people expect you to do,” advises Arbaje. “Ask yourself, ‘What do I need to continue to grow?’” Checking in simply requires some quiet “me” time—anything that brings a sense of stillness, such as meditation, walking in nature, journal writing and chatting with a trusted friend. 

Retirement times have changed: Much of the boomer generation won’t retire until after age 62 and may then spend 20 years or more in retirement. But with better health care today, aren’t you set for a healthy, peaceful retirement as long as your finances are in order?

Not necessarily, warns Johns Hopkins geriatric medicine physician Alicia Arbaje, M.D., M.P.H. The key to retirement health and happiness is to think ahead, not just about money, but about your relationships and your sense of fulfillment beyond a career. “People want to leave a legacy for the next generation, and work is considered the main thing that defines us,” says Arbaje. “People need to find new ways to feel like they are giving back.”  

In fact, research has shown that leaving the working world behind can boost the risk for heart disease and other medical conditions by 40 percent in some retirees. Experts believe a lack of purpose and social connection in retirement could be a trigger for physical and mental health issues. The good news: People who plan their retirement are less likely to feel depressed or have difficulty adjusting to this new stage of life. Here’s what to include in a healthy plan.

Rediscover work.

Just because you no longer work in the same steady way doesn’t mean you can’t find a fulfilling role that provides a sense of purpose, says Arbaje. A study review by the Corporation for National & Community Service found that older adults who volunteered at least 100 hours per year were two thirds less likely to have poor health and a third less likely to die compared with non-volunteers. Other options: Offer your services as a steady babysitter for your grandkids, pick up an enjoyable part-time position or start a nonprofit foundation.

Redefine your relationship.

Compared with previous generations, more married boomer women have spent their lifetime in the work force and will be joining their husbands in the retirement journey. Whether you are retiring and your spouse is already home, or both of you are retiring, your relationship is going to be altered. “It’s not always clear what the expectations will be in terms of dividing up tasks, or your roles in the home,” says Arbaje. But you also want to talk about big-picture plans—what are the goals and dreams that both of you want to take on together? “You might want to ask your spouse, ‘What do you wish we could have been doing all this time that we were working?’” suggests Arbaje. Then start planning!  

Reclaim your health.

A hectic work schedule can unfortunately cause health to be put on the back burner. Use newfound time to make sure you are up to date with any tests or checkups. “In fact, your health care provider might want to schedule some ‘preventive maintenance’ before your insurance coverage changes,” says Arbaje. “Just as you would inform your financial planner of your retirement date, you should also inform your doctor.”

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