How to create healthy habits in retirement
Creating healthy habits is an important step in living a healthy life, especially as we age. This article provides some helpful tips and tricks to create good habits in retirement to support our physical and mental health.
Why are healthy habits important?
The Australian population is ageing, and statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that we are enjoying a higher life expectancy, so there's a focus on ensuring we take care of ourselves as we age to be able to live life to the fullest for the long-term.
While some parts of our health are genetic, and we are more susceptible to illness, injury and declining mental health as we age, many aspects of the our health and the ageing process are well within our control. Developing healthier habits is a great way to take care of ourselves physically and mentally as we age to enjoy all that life has to offer in our retirement years.
The risk of bad (or no) habits in retirement
For many, retirement is seen as a long-awaited time of freedom to do whatever we want, released from the demands of life in our middle age years, whether we're working full time or raising a family.
So do we really need to worry about developing and maintaining healthy habits in retirement? The short answer is yes.
While the start of retirement may feel like a bit of a 'honeymoon period', as time goes on many retirees are faced with the challenge of maintaining our wellbeing in this period of newfound freedom away from the routines we instilled in our working and family lives.
Without healthy habits in retirement a person's physical and mental health can suffer due to a lack of physical activity, social engagement, and defined purpose and identity. Likewise, unhealthy habits such as a reliance on junk food, too much alcohol or smoking, or being sedentary for long periods of time, can have a detrimental effect on our wellbeing and our ability to enjoy our retirement.
How long does it take to form a new habit?
The catchphrase 'it won't happen overnight, but it will happen' certainly has relevance when it comes to forming new habits.
It's important to recognise there is a difference between routines and habits, with routines involving repeating a series of behaviours frequently and intentionally (such as exercising everyday), while a habit is a behaviour done with little or no thought (such as brushing our teeth twice a day). To turn a routine into a habit we must routinely and regularly perform a particular behaviour so it becomes ingrained in our daily lives and almost feels odd not to do it.
While research differs on just how long it takes to turn a behaviour into a habit, there are a few tips to give yourself the best chance of building and maintaining a healthy habit:
- Start small by setting simple goals and achieve them - this will help you to create good habits
- Plan ahead to accommodate your new habit and be prepared to change your regular routine
- Set yourself reminders and congratulate yourself when you notice you're doing the action
- Keep yourself accountable by sharing your goals with a buddy
- Be prepared for setbacks, but don't give up - remember why you wanted to make the change.
6 ways to boost happiness in retirement
Experts believe that people who plan and incorporate healthy habits into an active life in retirement tend to adjust better and are happier than those who do not have structure or develop habits in this new period of life.
If you're looking for some ideas on healthy lifestyle habits you can create in retirement, you could consider:
1. Do something physically active everyday
Building habits into our lives that keep us physically active is incredibly important for our health and wellbeing in retirement. Being in good physical shape helps us make the most of our retirement and allows us to continue doing the things in life that make us happier, for longer.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare guidelines, adults aged 65 years and over should do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most or all days of the week, be as active as possible when sedentary or doing extended screen-based activities, and incorporate muscle strengthening activities into their exercise and everyday life where possible.
While this may sound like a chore, especially if you're only just starting to think about being active, if you find something you love exercising will be the best part of your day - and it's never too late to try something new.
According to the Australian Government's AusPlay National Sport and Physical Activity Participation Report, recreational walking is the most popular form of non-sport related activities in 2021-2022 for people aged over 55 (as an aside, cycling is the most popular sport-related activity for men over 55, while swimming is the most popular sport for women in this age group).
It's easy to see why walking for health is so popular. It's free, you can do it anywhere and you can make it a social event or take some time out for yourself.
Many retirement villages have scenic walking tracks or are located near beaches and parks where you can go for a stroll.
One way to keep active in your later years is by playing tennis. It's a great way to stay social while maintaining your physical health.
If running around a tennis court sounds daunting, just remember that you can take it at your own pace. Gently volleying the ball over the net to a partner is enough to improve bone density, cardiovascular fitness, balance, coordination and muscle agility.
Another great way to keep fit is through muscle strengthening activities such as weight training, either in a gym or at home.
Strength training is part of the recommended exercise regime for older people and essential when trying to improve muscle and bone health, balance, and strength for everyday activities such as carrying groceries and household chores.
If you're going to start weight training, it's a good idea to consult a professional personal trainer or your doctor first.
If you're looking for a low impact form of strength training, swimming is perfect. Being in the water means your joints get a break but you're still engaging your muscles.
There are many benefits associated with swimming, as this low impact exercise improves cardiovascular health, flexibility, social engagement and can lessen the risk of osteoporosis.
And you're not just limited to swimming when it comes to water. If you have access to a pool, you can use it to do exercises such as Zumba, aerobics and stretching.
For more inspiration on ways to keep moving, check out our article on how to stay active in retirement here.
Retirement living at IRT
You can enjoy these activities at an IRT retirement village or with the help of IRT’s home care team. Take advantage of living in a community with the resources to help you stay happy and adopt healthy habits, with likeminded people to keep you motivated, along the way.
IRT has more than 30 retirement villages across NSW, Qld and ACT. Find out more about the possibilities of village life and how one of our independent living communities can suit you and your unique needs.
2. Aim to do 7000 steps a day
A great habit to develop in retirement is aiming to do 7000 steps a day.
A study in the US found that walking just 7000 steps a day can help us to reduce the risk of death by up to 70 percent and significantly reduce our risk of illness. People who took fewer steps had a higher BMI, a higher prevalence of hypertension and diabetes, and lower self-rated health.
Next time you're out and about, consider taking the long way round.
3. Eat well with healthy eating habits
Nutrition plays a key role in helping us to age well, and developing healthy eating habits in retirement is a simple yet effective way to support all aspects of our general wellbeing as we age.
Nutrition impacts all aspects of our health - from maintaining a healthy weight, to your heart and vascular system, to your bones and skin, to your brain health - healthy foods will make you feel good on the inside and out, give you more energy and help you to think more clearly. The alternative is also true - unhealthy eating habits will impact our weight and how we feel physically and mentally.
By prioritising good eating habits through a healthy diet you can support all aspects of your wellbeing in retirement. You should, of course, enjoy your retirement and treat yourself when you wish - just don't let regular treats turn into bad habits!
To learn more about how you can eat well as you get older and why it matters, check out our guide to healthy eating for older adults here.
4. Turn off technology from time to time
In our increasingly digital world, it's easy to get attached to technology whether we're checking the weather on our smart phone, finishing a Sudoku on our tablet, or streaming the latest episode of our favourite show on the television.
There's plenty of evidence that highlights the importance of taking a break from technology, and it's a great habit to build into our everyday activities so we can focus on other aspects of our lives.
Too much screen time has been found to have a number of adverse effects on our physical and mental health, including sleep issues, an increase in risk factors for obesity and cardiovascular disorders, and an increase in stress and anxiety across all age groups. In short, the more time you spend away from a screen, the better.
If you're looking for some tips on how to build healthy habits to balance out your screen time, Healthy Living NSW suggests:
Add some movement - try doing some easy exercises such as jogging on the spot while you watch TV
Listen while being active - why not listen to a podcast or the radio while going for a quick walk or doing jobs around the house
Sit less - break up long periods of sitting by taking regular breaks to have a stretch, go for a short walk, or make a cup of tea
Make the most of your time - there's plenty of things we want to do and try, so why not plan something you've been wanting to do when you'd normally be on technology. You might want to catch up with a friend, get out in the garden, or listen to a new audiobook while going for a walk.
5. Get some fresh air
Fresh air provides a great boost for our health, from relieving stress and anxiety to boosting our immune system to giving us more energy, and regularly enjoying the great outdoors is a habit we can easily introduce and maintain in our everyday lives.
Gardening is a great outdoor hobby, and your movements in the garden can have the same benefits as aerobic and strength building exercises. The American Society for Horticultural Science conducted a study which found that it older people do just 30 minutes of gardening daily, they meet their required daily physical activity goal.
If you live near the coast, the beach is a great place to get some fresh air into the lungs, whether you're going for a walk, swimming, or just sitting and watching the waves.
It's not by chance that the beach is so relaxing. Research has found that the sea air produces negative ions which positively affect serotonin levels, improving your mood and stress levels.
6. Be social
We all need positive relationships in our lives, no matter how old we are. Relationships with friends and family provide us with a better quality of life, as well as create a sense of security and keep feelings of loneliness and isolation at bay.
As we shift to a new way of life in retirement the relationships we have been surrounded by in our family and the workplace may shift, and it's important to develop good habits in maintaining social connections to maintain our sense of belonging.
You might like to volunteer, so you can meet new people and give back to your community, join a local community group or your nearest men's shed, to get moving, engage in social activities and improve your mental health.