How to have a healthier retirement

Growing older can give you a new lease of life, especially after you retire. But as everyone knows, getting on in years can come with health problems.

And now a study part funded by the British Heart Foundation has uncovered the modifiable risk factors in people in their 50s that could indicate whether or not they will be fit and healthy into retirement and beyond.

Published in the medical journal Lancet Public Health, the study aimed to find out what things have the biggest impact on people’s risk of becoming frail after they reach the age of 69. For the purpose of the study, frailty is defined as having three or more of the following: unexpected and sudden weight loss, exhaustion, muscle weakness, slow walking speed and low activity levels.

According to the researchers, medical conditions such as diabetes, depression and heart disease can affect your risk of becoming frail in older age. However they also discovered the following risk factors linked with the development of frailty, all of which you can do something about by modifying your lifestyle:

  • Your activity level
  • Your body mass index (BMI)
  • Whether or not you smoke

“By targeting how active someone is, encouraging a healthy lifestyle and understanding more about how inflammation is linked to frailty in later life, we could improve the health of our ever-ageing population,” says Professor Eric Brunner, who led the research from University College London.

“Current healthy ageing policy focuses on early prevention, mostly before someone turns 50. But our research shows that it is never too late to look after your health and improve your chances of a healthy and independent later life.

Non-lifestyle risks

The study also found other factors have an impact on how likely you may be to have a healthy retirement. For instance, researchers discovered you’re more likely to become frail if you’re a woman, if your ethnic background is non white, and if you live alone. And if you have a low income you may be three times as likely to become frail in later life as someone who’s better off, the study also suggests.

“Frailty is not just an issue for later life and should not be seen as an inevitable part of getting old,” says Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation. “This research shows that, by taking steps to ensure we are healthy going into middle age, we can avoid getting on the path to a frail old age.

“Not all the factors that the research discovered were lifestyle-related. There are also complicated inflammatory processes going on in the body, beyond our immediate control, that can cause us to become frail in our old age. More research is needed to work out exactly how this happens so we can better understand how to live well, even in to old age.”

Senior British Heart Foundation cardiac nurse Julie Ward also comments on the fact that there are some key things you can do to make sure you’re on track to be healthy in your fifties – and beyond.

“Whatever your age, stopping smoking is the single biggest thing you can do to protect your heart health, but the least frail people in this study were also physically active in their 50s, ate fruit and vegetables at least every day, had a normal weight, low blood pressure, low cholesterol and drank alcohol in moderation,” she says.

“These results should be a wake-up call to people in later mid-life who think it’s too late to make positive changes to their health.”

If you’re in your 50s or older, your local Careway pharmacist can give you lots of advice on staying fit, healthy and young looking, including tips to help boost your activity levels, reduce your BMI and help with stopping smoking.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.