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Ready for retirement? A Lifestyle Medicine approach to optimising this time of life


Many people have romantic notions about retirement. They may have the perception they’ll be embarking on a permanent weekend or suddenly have time to do the things they’ve always wanted to and ‘saved up’ for. Yet many people have immense difficulty negotiating this abrupt transformation to their daily routine and sense of purpose. Being aware of the issues that may arise, and methods to combat these challenges, is important for physical and mental wellbeing. You can think of three main principles to follow when you begin embarking on planning for retirement: be informed, prepare in good time, and discuss plans with your loved ones1.


Young people spend a decade or so preparing to enter the workforce, and many education institutions even offer ‘gateway’-type programmes to support individuals in their transition to the working world. Yet at the other end of the working lifespan, emphasis is only typically only placed on financial survival. Generally speaking, no tools or other forms of preparation are granted when one is exiting the workforce2.


To make preparation for retirement as simple and smooth as possible, the following categories in combination with the above-mentioned critical principles (be informed, prepare in good time, and discuss plans with your loved ones) can be used as a guideline:

  • physical health
  • mental health
  • home
  • family
  • safety, and
  • finances

For many of us, the retirement phase of life may be almost a third of our lifespan. While Lifestyle Medicine focuses on preventing, treating and reversing lifestyle-related diseases through nutrition, physical activity, sleep, mental wellbeing, and the avoidance of risky substances3, we recognize optimising these areas can also enhance the retirement experience. Below, I’ll give an overview of Lifestyle Medicine interventions that can support the areas to consider when retiring as discussed above.


Physical health

Physical health can be harder to maintain in our latter years of life. Muscle loss, sensory deficits, and reduced immune function are all issues that can trigger poor health. We can see just from the cost of our health insurance premiums these companies recognise the increased risk that comes with older age as premiums become less affordable in the retirement years.


However, proactive health care can go a long way in identifying issues early. Some tools you can use to identify issues early:

  • annual health checks for cardiovascular risk and cancer screening for prostate, breast, cervix, skin and bowel cancer
  • vaccinations for COVID-19, Tetanus, Influenza, Shingles and Pneumococcus
  • regular reviews of correction aids, such as hearing or vision aids, to mitigate the risks of any potential changes
  • yearly dental exams to maintain oral health and mastication, which will support adequate nutritional intake

Of course, nutrition and physical exercise are two key components of lifestyle medicine that are relevant at any stage of life to maintain muscle mass and physical capabilities. An emphasis on whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, is important for adequate fibre, antioxidant, and protein intake.


The anti-inflammatory benefits of a healthy eating patterns based on minimally processed foods will also contribute to the ability to maintain physical mobility long-term and reduce the risk of arthritis. A bonus – addressing the use of alcohol and tobacco will help avoid extra health and fiscal costs. With the spare time one might have in retirement years, I love the idea of using this extra time to take cooking classes or see a dietitian or nutritionist.


Physical activity in four key areas should be maintained in the retirement stage of life. These include:

  • cardiovascular fitness (typically by aerobic exercise)
  • muscle strength
  • balance, and
  • range of motion in the joints.

By ensuring these key areas are developed, we can improve stability and decrease the risk of potential falls. Importantly, good foot care and supportive footwear helps overcome the loss of tendon/ligament strength with age5. Seniors attending fitness and exercise classes are more commonplace now and attendance is encouraged.

Mental health

One of the greatest challenges to retirement is the change in psychosocial status. For many, personal identity and sense of purpose comes from the paid work they engage in. This loss can throw us for a bit of a whirlwind and make us feel somewhat helpless. Lifestyle Medicine interventions can help meet these challenges. Preparation for retirement should entail discussing new personal development areas, new direction, new community involvement, and new relationships1.


As many people bereave lifelong partners in old age, loneliness and its impacts may be a concern. Additionally, exiting the workforce can mean a loss in social connection through colleagues. Social contacts should ideally include people of a range of ages.

Ways to build more connections include:

  • exploring new hobbies to build social networks
  • volunteer work, and
  • engaging in group exercise

Another consideration is that we may be more susceptible to developing dementia due to an ageing brain. Physical activity and an anti-oxidant rich diet are evidence-based lifestyle practices that counteract cognitive decline6. Socialisation and cognitive challenges are also proven strategies6.

Family and home

Relationships will undoubtedly change in retirement years, as mentioned above. “Empty nests” are common as children are no longer living at home, and thought should be given to one’s geographical proximity to family.


Beyond the social aspects, there are logistical considerations around the home to consider. Additionally, and of course depending on climate, it’s important to ensure adequate heating, cooling, and insulation is available at the home. At some stage, the family home may not be most suitable to meet the potential increased physical and mental challenges an ageing person may face. Retirement neighbourhoods may provide extra security, social connection, and less home maintenance demands. Developing plans around this early on will only benefit the transition into these stages of life.


It is important to consider personal safety as we enter the retirement years. Safety in one’s home and transportation, as well as physical safety (i.e. staying free from falls), is vital to overall health. When considering transportation, it’s important to acknowledge driving a private vehicle is a privilege and is not to be taken with light responsibility. As we age, our reaction time slows and our night vision declines. Long-distance driving may be increasingly tiring. Our long-term outlook should consider if and when public transportation may be required.


Home security is essential, especially as our hearing and vision may decline in retirement. Setting up a secure system to ensure safety in our home is essential.


Financial and business experts advise that, just as a decade or so preparation is suggested for those entering the workforce, preparation should begin at least a decade or so prior the anticipated retirement date2. Professional financial advice will provide direction in managing the change in income and expenses that will occur. Additionally, getting ahead of finances is helpful in not burdening family with decisions later on. Taking care of the financial aspects of the retirement process can take a mental load off you, your family, and friends. Someone who is preparing for the financial aspects of retirement years may consider updating their will, enduring power of attorney, and even funeral and burial wishes.

Final considerations

One final consideration: is retirement necessary? By New Zealand law, for example, employees are not obliged to retire by a certain age, nor can employers mandate retirement. There are labour shortages in many industries, and supporting older workers to remain in the workforce at a full or part-time capacity can be beneficial for all parties, both financially and psychosocially7.

If you are preparing for retirement, the above information, all of which support Lifestyle Medicine’s approach to overall health and wellbeing, can be used as a guide to support you in the transition.

  1. Selby, P., Live Better, Live Longer. A Practical Guide to Successful Aging.
  2. Rosenberg, B., Rosenberg, J., 65 Not Out. Reinventing Retirement.
  3. Lianov, L., Johnson M.: Physician Competencies For Prescribing Lifestyle Medicine. JAMA 2010. 304(2): P 202-3
  4. Winter, B., Hearing Loss and Our Health: Dementia and Cognitive Health; Falling.
  5. Scott G, Menz HB, Newcombe L. Age-related differences in foot structure and function. Gait Posture. 2007;26(1):68-75. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2006.07.009
  6. Polidori, M,. Nelles G., Pietnka L., Prevention of Dementia: Focus on Lifestyle. International J or Alzheimers Disease. 2010.
  7. Crawford, J., Graveling, J., Cowie, H et al The health safety and health promotion needs of older workers Occupational Medicine 2010;60:184–192 doi:10.1093/occmed/kqq028

This article has been written for the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM) by the documented original author. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the ASLM or its Board.

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