Retirement often leaves new retirees feeling adrift. Health experts say this is a good time to stick to or establish new diet, social and exercise habits to maintain mental and physical health. With Baby Boomers on track to be the largest and sickest generation to retire to date, the simple suggestion to keep moving could be life-saving advice.
The Baby Boomers
From the Cold War to the death of President John F. Kennedy, the Baby Boomer generation has lived through several historical events that helped shape their views.
“As a fellow Baby Boomer, I appreciate how Boomers have helped shape society and events,” said Robert Mirsky, M.D., chief medical officer for Aetna Medicare. “At every point in our lives, we didn’t adapt to the world in which we live; in large measure, the world has adapted to Boomers.”
Baby Boomers view themselves differently, Mirsky said.
“We are more irreverent and see ourselves as more physically active and socially engaged.”
The largest generation is living longer, but not all of them are living healthier.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a steady increase in the percentage of Baby Boomers between the ages of 55 and 64 with certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension. In 2002, almost 40 percent of Baby Boomers had high cholesterol and hypertension. By 2012, the number was closer to 50 percent. High cholesterol and hypertension can lead to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States according to the CDC.
Moving around for health
While older adults should check in with their primary care physician before starting a new exercise routine, it’s important for people to maintain some level of activity, said Edmund Pezalla, M.D., M.P.H., vice president and national medical director of Pharmaceutical Policy and Strategy at Aetna. “If you can run, run. If you can bike, bike. If you can walk, walk. Whatever activity you can handle, it’s important to move your body and engage your mind.”
Mental well-being, spiritual wellness and social connectedness affects our outlook and ability to be resilient in life.
Older adults may be more susceptible to chronic conditions, but those who are physically active are less likely to experience frequent physical distress, according to “The State of Aging and Health in American 2013,” the sixth volume in a series produced by the CDC that offers a snapshot of the health and aging landscape in the U.S.
As part of the report, the CDC also established Healthy People 2020, a set of 10-year objectives for improving the health of Americans. The effort is driven by some unsettling trends, including physical inactivity in older adults. For example, research showed that only 25 states could report that more than one-third of their older residents were getting some form of physical activity every month.
The American College of Sports Medicine said it’s never too late to start getting active and emphasized learning new exercises can boost improvements in mental processes. In another study, older adults who were more physically active had less of a risk of having functional limitations. In other words, if people can keep moving they can reap valuable health benefits.
Healthy body, healthy mind
Joseph Agostini, M.D., Aetna’s national medical director for Medicare, recommends having a holistic point of view on one’s health in retirement.
“The idea of healthy body, healthy mind is particularly important as we age,” Agostini said. “Mental well-being, spiritual wellness and social connectedness affects our outlook and ability to be resilient in life.”
Social connectivity plays a key role in positive health outcomes, Agostini said. “We are learning much more about the importance of engaging in networks of family, friends, and community members for emotional support and promoting lifestyle behaviors.”
In fact, social health can help lower blood pressure, reduce risk of depression and lower stress levels, he said. Social engagement can also lead to a potentially reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Successful aging on your own terms
According to a small study of older adults, self-acceptance, personal growth and actively engaging in life are critical to aging well.
“For Boomers, staying physically active is important,” Mirsky said, “but mental wellness and social connections are also imperative.”
John Moore, DO, FAAFP, Aetna’s medical director for the U.S. Northeast Region, said after retiring, older adults can seek a new occupation or hobby that is fulfilling and involves social engagement with others.
“Keeping busy and physically active while staying socially engaged with others makes retirement fun and keeps you healthy in body and mind,” Moore added. “Exercise and increased activity does not have to be boring or tedious.”
Using golf as an example, Pezalla said the sport keeps older adults active and socializing with groups of people during the game. “If they can, folks need to get outside of their homes and do things and meet people. If they can’t get out, family and friends can help by visiting and bringing energy into the home. Any activity that engages the body and mind has health benefits.”
Older adults who had been relatively inactive experienced cognitive benefits within six to 12 months of increasing their physical activity.
— American College of Sports Medicine