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10 Tips for a Healthy Retirement

Being the healthiest you can be will make for a happier retirement, and save you money

Quiz: Which is the most important ingredient for achieving a happy retirement?

A. A sound financial plan
B. Good health
C. A bright red convertible

Answer: We can eliminate C. While it's certainly nice to have, a bright red convertible is not a must. However, choosing between answers A and B is more difficult. Face it: retirement without good health is not ideal. Together, however, these two ingredients can make your retirement a more joyful and fulfilling stage of life.

Moving into retirement free of long-term or serious illness may not be easy. In fact, it may demand as much knowledge and effort as financial planning. As we age, our risks of heart disease and diabetes increase. Planning for retirement should mean more than socking money away in an IRA. It also needs to include eating sensibly, exercising, taking steps to control illness, and engaging in other activities to help you maintain and improve your health.

Lifestyle plays a major role in many of the conditions that commonly affect our quality of life as we get older. These include heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Stay informed

Obtaining up-to-date health information can help you make the right decisions for living a healthy lifestyle. For example, most people believe that heart disease is a "man's issue." But each year, heart disease kills more women than men. Here are three sites that provide important information for women:

  • Aetna Women's Health – This site is full of health information specifically for women, including information on heart disease. Also, you can take the Framingham Heart Study Risk Assessment to estimate your risk for heart disease.
  • The Women's Health section on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
  • The Heart Truth – A site about heart disease in women. The site is run by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

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A financial incentive to stay healthy

Here's one more reason to be mindful of your health as you inch toward retirement. A healthy lifestyle now can help protect your financial well being when you retire.

Many companies are trimming coverage for future retirees. Some are eliminating this coverage. If you are in one of these situations and you retire before age 65 (when MedicareMedicare
A Federal government program that provides health care insurance to people aged 65 years or older, a... more
coverage begins), you may need to shop for an individual health insurance policy.

When you purchase individual coverage, insurance companies can ask about your medical conditions. They can factor your health status into the price they charge. The healthier you are, the lower your costs will likely be.

Also, the fewer health problems you have, the less burdened you will be with costs. These include co-payments, deductibles and the health care expenses that your health insurance policy doesn't cover. Even once you are on MedicareMedicare
A Federal government program that provides health care insurance to people aged 65 years or older, a... more
, you may need to purchase supplemental coverage. This coverage helps to pay for prescription drugsprescription drugs
Medicine that requires a doctor's permission to buy. These drugs are different from over-the-counter... more
and other services that basic MedicareMedicare
A Federal government program that provides health care insurance to people aged 65 years or older, a... more
doesn't cover.

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The top 10 tips

What are some things you can do to make sure you retire not only feeling financially secure but also feeling healthy? Check out the 10 tips below:

1. Know your cholesterol numbers. A simple blood test can let you know if you have high cholesterol. National guidelines recommend that everyone over age 20 have a blood test to determine cholesterol levels. It should include results for total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. A healthy total cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or lower. For LDL cholesterol, it is 100 mg/dL or lower. For HDL cholesterol, it is 60 mg/dL or higher. For triglycerides, it is 150 mg/dL or lower.

2. Stop smoking. Smoking damages the heart. It raises blood pressure and damages blood vessels. It also promotes the buildup of fatty plaque in arteries and lowers levels of "good" cholesterol. This makes the blood more likely to clot and starves the heart of oxygen. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to help prevent a heart attack.

3. Know your blood sugar numbers. Monitor your blood sugar and maintain it at a normal level. Have a fasting blood sugar level test performed at least once a year. A normal fasting blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dL. Higher levels indicate that you may be headed for diabetes. Risk factors for diabetes include obesity and lack of exercise. If your blood sugar level indicates a problem, work with your doctor to make changes to your lifestyle. People with diabetes are more likely to develop other health risks, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

4. Maintain a healthy weight. Eat high-fiber foods. These include fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. You also can try oatmeal, which has a type of fiber that lowers cholesterol. Other healthy foods are brown rice, barley, peas, beans, chicken, baked fish, whole grain bread, white-meat turkey, low-fat yogurt, and egg whites or egg alternatives. Avoid fad diets. They set you up to regain weight once you resume your previous eating pattern. Most importantly, they can be dangerous because they deprive you of important nutrients.

5. Another number to know. Your body mass index, or BMI, relates your weight to your height. It helps to determine if you are within a healthy weight range. A BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 puts you in the "overweight" category. A BMI of 30.0 or higher puts your in the "obese" category. If you are in one of these categories, you have a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. Visit the Aetna Healthy Body, Healthy Weight website. There, you can calculate your BMI and read information about nutrition for a healthy weight.

6. Ease into exercise. When starting an exercise program, be kind to your body. Don't start the first day with a 30-minute run. Instead, start with 5 minutes of walking. Add 1 minute every day until you reach your 30-minute-per-day goal. Talk to your doctor before you begin an exercise plan.

7. Find a way to relax. Too much stress can make you irritable and depressed. It also can increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. Relaxation eases your body's response to stress. Types of relaxation include meditation, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, listening to relaxing music and picturing pleasant scenes. For best results, do one of these activities for 15 to 20 minutes once or twice a day.

8. Express yourself. Stress builds up if you keep your feelings bottled inside. Talk to your friends and family and ask for support. If you don't have a good support system, work to develop one. That way, you'll have someone to talk to when you're upset. Consider joining a support group. Some people keep a journal to record their thoughts and feelings.

9. Be mindful of how you think. Certain styles of thinking can stress you out. Things like perfectionism, all-or-nothing thinking and negative thinking. Be mindful of how you think. For example, if you're a perfectionist, try to lower your expectations of yourself and others, and learn to accept things you can't change. If you tend to think negatively, try to focus on the good, not the bad. Practice viewing problems as opportunities.

10. Be aware of your blood pressure. An optimal blood pressure level is 120/80 mmHg or less. To prevent or manage high blood pressure, consider some lifestyle changes. Cut down on salt. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake. Quit smoking. Watch your cholesterol levels. Be physically active every day. Lose weight if you need to. Reduce stress.

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