A recent study published by npj Regenerative Medicine found that increased longevity has widened the gap between a person’s total healthspan (the number of years you are healthy) and lifespan by approximately 9 years. That means the average senior could spend the final decade of retirement contending with medical issues that may hinder their ability to get the most Return on Life from their golden years.
Here are three ways that seniors can start to close that healthspan-lifespan gap.
Put out those butts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older Americans make up the majority of smokers, including 9% of seniors over age 65. The CDC also says that cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. Cigarettes hurt nearly every organ in the body, cause 90% of all lung cancer deaths, and have prematurely killed 10 times as many Americans as all wars that the United States has ever fought in.
You may not have known those exact figures, but you already knew that smoking is limiting both your healthspan and your lifespan. Smoking might also be a reason why your friends and family don’t like coming over to your house as much as you hoped they would when you retired.
The American Heart Association has some good resources for helping you quit.
Take up a new sport or exercise routine.
Many retirees get depressed as aging takes some favorite activities off the agenda. This can contribute to feelings of isolation and aimlessness that are common among retirees who are already struggling to adjust to a schedule without work.
However, retiring from pickup basketball doesn’t mean that your days competing, exercising, and having fun are over. If you’ve always been a weekend golfer, add some more tee times to your weekly schedule. Better yet, start taking lessons from your local pro so that you’ll enjoy the game more. Cycling, running, and hiking are all activities that can keep seniors moving for decades.
Retirees have also embraced one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., pickleball. This paddle game uses a smaller court and a softer ball than tennis, which keeps the action fast and fun while reducing wear-and-tear on your joints. Pickleball also has a thriving community of enthusiasts and a low learning curve, so it’s easy to jump into if you want to try a new sport and meet some new people.
Expand your palate.
The explosion of food halls, public markets, independent restaurants, and farmers’ markets across the country gives you a wide range of culinary options to explore. In addition to adding some variety to your weekly meal schedule, many of these establishments provide quick, healthy alternatives to taking another trip through the drive thru. The National Institute on Aging says that seniors should try to add a variety of foods covering all the major food groups to their diets. So load up your bags with fresh fruits and vegetables from that local farm, and try to reduce your intake of added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. And while it’s fine to keep your favorite pizza place on speed dial, consider making that new sushi or vegan restaurant your go-to dinner option when you need a carry-out meal on short notice.
In our Life-Centered Planning process, we often talk about the need to plan for the expected while preparing for the unexpected. Health is one of those things that we often take for granted until something bad happens. Let’s talk about some proactive moves we can make to improve your healthspan now, including reviewing your health care coverage, adjusting your grocery budget, or connecting you to a senior center whose activities will keep you moving, connecting, and growing at any age.