Retirement is an immense life transition and there are many positive aspects to look forward to. You may be eagerly anticipating more free time to take up a hobby, traveling somewhere new, spending more time outdoors, or maybe just enjoying things you haven’t had the time for in recent years. While your mind may feel the same as it did when you were in your twenties, your body may have changed,
The meaning of “health” is very subjective. Something that may be considered healthy for one person, can be damaging to another. The internet is swarming with conflicting information on health and wellness. With each of us having unique bodies, minds, needs, and backgrounds, it may feel difficult to decipher what being healthy in retirement really means for you.
To answer the question of how to stay physically functional, mentally sharp and healthy in retirement, I spoke with Courtney Ferreira, a Baltimore-based registered dietitian nutritionist. Her motto is “Live life full of flavor and free from counting.” Courtney believes better health and a happy body cannot be reached by following a set of rules – but comes when we learn to tune into what our body has to say. Courtney helps her clients shed guilt around food and build confidence in their food decision making. Courtney has been featured on Fox45, MPT, CNN, ABC 2, and much more! She also leads local health seminars and provides nutrition counseling at Active Life and Sports Physical Therapy in Perry Hall, MD. Read our full interview below!
As retirement approaches, we are faced with numerous lifestyle changes, such as changing or eliminating a work schedule, downsizing, etc., How can these changes impact overall health?
At any time in our lives, when there is a lot of change, there is a lot of stress. Stress can come from both positive and negative change. It is vital that stress is managed as you approach retirement. Stress is a risk factor for numerous health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s, obesity and much more.
To help manage stress, I suggest taking up a relaxing activity that is enjoyable and suitable for you. Try meditation, yoga and taking walks.
As we approach retirement, we not only have a big lifestyle change, but our daily routine is also changing. You may no longer have to get up at 7:00am every day. Does this mean you will sleep in until 1pm? Would that be healthy? Probably not. If you anticipate the change in your daily routine, you will be able to set goals for yourself. These goals can include going for a 30 minute walk every morning, eating something green at every meal, or not eating out more than three times a week.
What does being “healthy” mean for someone in retirement?
“Health” is a very personal term. What’s healthy for one person, may not be healthy for another. Our bodies, minds, and genes are unique.
The first step to health in retirement is controlling and preventing disease. As you approach retirement, you may have already been diagnosed with a disease. If not, you could have a predisposition for a disease.
Review your family history, current and past habits to see what you may be at risk for. For example, if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, or are at risk for diabetes, your may require a very specific diet to help control insulin levels. A nutritionist can help put together a plan to help you get on the right track.
If you’re lucky enough not have any major risk factors, then staying active and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables should be your first goal. Becoming sedentary is a huge health risk factor as we age.
How do dietary and lifestyle changes impact disease? Can diseases be cured with a healthy lifestyle?
Nutrition and physical activity can often improve an existing condition and even prevent an existing condition from getting worse. However, diet and exercise alone are not necessarily a cure for any disease. Diabetes is a great example because often, lifestyle changes can lead to a decrease in medication. If you have a health concern, it is likely a balanced diet and/or exercise can improve the condition. However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone stop taking their medications. A nutritionist is not a replacement for a doctor but is a supplemental resource for good health care.
What are your thoughts on weight loss in retirement? Is that an achievable goal?
Weight loss may be achievable in retirement; however, a slower metabolism is a part of aging and it may be hard to control. After a certain point, weight gain can be a natural part of aging. Focus your primary health goals in retirement around disease control, staying functional and maintaining daily activities.
Examples of goals could be spending more time with grandchildren, seeing a family member’s wedding, feeling comfortable walking around for “x” number of hours, or walking up a hill without needing to catch your breath.
Can nutritional changes make a noticeable impact on overall health at a later point in life? If someone has led a sedentary lifestyle and has not been making good nutritional choices up to this point, can they make a change now? Is it too late?
The biggest issue I often see with retirees, or those approaching retirement, is the unwillingness to change or believing it’s too late to make a change.
It’s never too late to make a lifestyle change.
As you age, getting off the couch, going for a walk, going up the stairs, etc. can become increasingly difficult. Don’t think it’s too late to start a healthy lifestyle now. With a personalized plan, you can set and achieve attainable goals focused around mobility and your ability to perform functional activities. This is imperative to keep you independent and self-sufficient for as long as possible.
If you are having problems with mobility, pain, stiffness, etc., you can start with an activity that doesn’t cause you pain such as swimming, or aqua aerobics. A physical therapist can also help show you how to increase mobility, strength and balance to improve your functionality.
What about mental health in retirement? How do you keep your mind sharp as you age?
From a dietary perspective, eating anti-inflammatory foods can do wonders on keeping your mind sharp. Examples are tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, and berries.
From a lifestyle perspective, I suggest staying social. Stay in contact with your friends, join a group fitness class, and don’t spend too much time in front of the TV!
What is the first step to making a healthy lifestyle change in retirement?
People feel that they inherently know what is healthy. For many of us, we are correct. We know eating at McDonald’s, sitting on the couch all day, not eating enough vegetables, etc., is unhealthy. However, there is a lot of misinformation out there on what is and isn’t healthy.
A lot of today’s retiree population grew up learning that low-fat diets are healthy, since that was the message when they were younger. However, more recent research shows that low-fat diets may not be as healthy as we previously thought. With many low-fat dieters overeating on carbs, processed foods and sugars, it’s no wonder our nation is suffering from an obesity epidemic.
Seeing a nutritionist is also a great place to start. A nutritionist can help create a dietary plan that reflects your personal goals and existing health concerns. Check with your health insurance plan to see if nutritional counseling is covered. Medicare also covers 100% of counseling if you have been diagnosed with diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
What can someone expect when they meet with a nutritionist?
A nutritionist should start with a full assessment of your health. This includes your medical history, medication, disease, weight history, chronic illness, lifestyle, cooking, eating and grocery shopping habits. A nutritionist will also provide you with relevant and well researched education to help guide your healthy lifestyle change. They will help you set goals and hold you accountable as you work to achieve them.
A nutritionist can also help you work around barriers that could be impeding your success. For example, I often hear clients tell me that their spouse is not on board with a healthy lifestyle change and wants to keep junk food in the house. While you can’t force your spouse to eat the same way you’re eating, a nutritionist can help you give the motivational tools to keep you on track, even in the face of temptations.
To learn more about Courtney, visit her website at www.realfoodcourt.com!
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