Your finances may be in order, but a healthy investment portfolio is not the only element you need to prepare for your golden years. Here are a few critically important steps to aging well that many men overlook.
According to a recent study by Canadian researchers, “Keeping the brain active can keep mental deterioration at bay and even stave off depression.” The study followed 333 retirees over four years, eventually concluding that the more demanding and enjoyable an individual’s hobbies, the less likely he is to “experience a decline in brainpower.”
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A similar study found that even simple hobbies like reading books and magazines, playing games, and crafting can lead to a “30 to 50 percent decrease in the risk of developing memory loss.”
Hobbies can have a profound effect on physical health as well. For example, a Swedish study that followed 4,000 people over age 60 for 12.5 years concluded that active hobbies such as gardening or completing home-improvement projects can decrease risk of heart attack and stroke by 30%.
Retirement is a major psychological adjustment for many people, men in particular. While it’s normal to feel a reduced sense of status and purposefulness immediately after leaving the world of work behind, the stronger your sense of identity outside the office, the easier you’ll find this transition.
Social isolation carries a greatly increased risk of death in middle-to-old age; on the flip side, regular meaningful contact with friends and loved ones has health benefits that range from reducing physical pain and mental stress to lowering blood pressure and sharply curtailing the risk of dementia.
Loneliness prevention is equally important for both men and women, yet women are much more likely to maintain social support networks throughout their lives than the typical man. According to WorldLifeExpectancy.com, UCLA neuroscientist Shelly Taylor says that women tend to cope with stress socially, while men are far more likely to withdraw into “fight or flight mode”—a difference that Taylor says contributes substantially to the fact that women live several years longer, on average, than men.
Even if you socialize regularly as part of a couple, maintaining your own network of friends will become increasingly important as you head into retirement and beyond.
You don’t need to be a master chef, but if you haven’t spent much time in the kitchen during the first half of your life, now’s the time to start. Not only is “eating in” generally less expensive than eating out, but you’ll be able to control your ingredients and portion sizes, both of which are key to maintaining good health.
In a recent 10-year-long study of senior citizens living in Taiwan, researchers found that, in addition to “grocery shopping, taking public transportation, not smoking and being a woman,” participants who cooked five or more nights per week were 47% more likely to be alive at the end of the project.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider learning how to prepare some of the healthiest foods around. Including even one “super food” per meal can go a long way when it comes to maintaining your health. Salmon, kale, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, lentils and quinoa are trendy ingredients that pack an extra nutritional punch.
Strength and endurance are important, but as you age, preventing falls should become a major focus of your fitness routine. According to the CDC, “each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls.” What’s more, “Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries” for this age group, and 20-to-30% of falls result in “moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, and head traumas.”
Yoga, Tai Chi, and similar practices are low-impact exercises that involve slowly moving through a series of positions designed to improve strength, flexibility and balance. However, you don’t have to join a gym to increase your skill level in these areas. The Mayo Clinic recommends a series of balance exercises that are simple enough to do anywhere, for example.
The house that works for you while you’re in your 50s may not be a great option after age 65. You may want to downsize to cut down on maintenance, or you might need to look for a place that has better accessibility–think one-story, with entries and exists that are flush with the ground. Even if your current house contains all the rooms you need to use on a daily basis on one level, consider what modifications you may need to make to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.
Of course, you may also want to think ahead about how assisted living fits into your plan. Many retirement communities allow you to move from independent living (generally with help available for home maintenance tasks) through multiple higher levels of care as needed.
Regardless of how you envision old age unfolding, you’ll have a better chance of maintaining health and happiness if you start to make a concrete plan for it now.