Ways to Make Wellness Work for You in Retirement

There are evidence-based benefits for older adults who engage in some wellness basics, such as exercise, a healthy diet, and reducing stress.

(Image credit: (C) 2016 Thomas M. Barwick INC ((C) 2016 Thomas M. Barwick INC (Photographer) - [None])

If you are trying to stay healthy and active, you’ll find plentiful resources and advice on wellness, a popular and growing $4.2 trillion global industry that encompasses yoga, meditation, mindfulness and more, according to the Global Wellness Institute. There’s even a new Netflix series called “The Goop Lab” with Gwyneth Paltrow, who promotes wellness trends such as acupuncture facials and foam rolling exercises.

Wellness activities are growing in popularity for all ages, with more senior housing centers and communities adding wellness coaches and programs. Separate from fads and trends, there are evidence-based benefits for older adults who engage in some wellness basics, such as exercise, a healthy diet, reducing stress and other kinds of self-care. But it’s important to understand what wellness approaches might really work for you, and to be wary of claims that could be harmful, such as nutritional supplements with dangerous side effects.

You also should understand that for declines in cognitive health and dementia, there is no quick fix or proven remedy, says John Morris, a researcher at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife (opens in new tab) who has designed a wellness assessment tool for older adults. Morris also helps retirement communities track participants’ wellness.

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“We’ve looked for magic pills that could address cognitive decline, and we haven’t found them,” Morris says. “If anybody tells you there’s an intervention that can drastically impact cognitive loss, don’t believe them for a minute.”

On the evidence side of the spectrum, there “very clearly” is proof that physical and cognitive exercises can have an effect by slowing the rate of decline, he says. “If you’re 72, or even 80, and you enter into programs to get physically and cognitively engaged now, you’re probably going to be in better shape five years from now than you would have been if you hadn’t done anything,” Morris says.

Get Moving

Check with your primary physician before starting an exercise program. In general, older adults can engage in jogging, fast walking and weight resistance. Yoga can benefit you through strength and flexibility moves; check with your local senior center for a program geared to older adults. For cognitive health, try electronic games, crossword puzzles, reading books and taking educational courses. “All those things can make a difference,” Morris says. It’s not clear, though, how big a difference they’ll make, and you shouldn’t expect to dramatically turn your life around, he says.

The National Institute on Aging cites a slew of proven health benefits from exercise and lifestyle changes. Getting active and eating well led to a 71% decrease in diabetes among people 60 and older, one study found. Another found that moderate exercise helped reduce stress and sleep issues for older women who are caregivers for a loved one with dementia.

Strength training and other exercises can help improve balance and reduced falls among older people by 33%, according to the NIA. For older adults with knee osteoarthritis, walking and strength building helped to lessen their pain and improved their quality of life. NIA’s Go4Life campaign (opens in new tab) includes exercises, motivational tips, virtual coaches and other free resources.

If you’re interested in meditation, start with simple tutorials from a meditation website such as Headspace (opens in new tab). Meditating has the potential to help reduce stress and improve your mood, and you might find it simply relaxes you.

And take measures to mitigate isolation, which can cause depression. You can seek help from your doctor in getting reengaged with your neighborhood, your local religious community or your previous social network. Look for help from local senior services in your community, too.

Mary Kane
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Retirement Report
Mary Kane is a financial writer and editor who has specialized in covering fringe financial services, such as payday loans and prepaid debit cards. She has written or edited for Reuters, the Washington Post, BillMoyers.com, MSNBC, Scripps Media Center, and more. She also was an Alicia Patterson Fellow, focusing on consumer finance and financial literacy, and a national correspondent for Newhouse Newspapers in Washington, DC. She covered the subprime mortgage crisis for the pathbreaking online site The Washington Independent, and later served as its editor. She is a two-time winner of the Excellence in Financial Journalism Awards sponsored by the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants. She also is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, where she teaches a course on journalism and publishing in the digital age. She came to Kiplinger in March 2017.