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Improve Yourself

Dennis Friedman

I’LL TURN AGE 72 this year. Since I’ve retired, my wife and I have had some wonderful experiences. Our travel adventures are full of great memories that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Still, as great as those adventures have been, they aren’t nearly as important to our happiness as living a healthy, pain-free life without physical or mental limitations. That’s something that’s hard to beat. It gives you a different outlook. Life seems more cheerful and brighter. Your problems don’t seem so big.

Over the years, I’ve learned how important your health is if you’re going to have a satisfying retirement. Staying fit not only allows you to do the things you want to do, but it can also help reduce one of your biggest expenses in retirement. The average 65-year-old couple who retired in 2022 will spend $315,000 on health care expenses in retirement, calculates Fidelity Investments.

Want to improve your health? Here are 10 simple steps that I try to follow:

1. Take a brisk walk. There are many health benefits that walking offers, including lower blood pressure, cholesterol and body fat. Another plus: It’s inexpensive. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes.

I like to walk after a meal. That not only helps you digest your food, but also it lowers your blood sugar level after eating. I usually take a long walk after breakfast, and then a shorter walk of 15 to 20 minutes after my next biggest meal.

2. Drink filtered coffee. Drinking unfiltered coffee, such as Espresso, Turkish and French press, can raise your cholesterol level 10% to 15%. Since these types of coffee don’t use a filter, they allow a cholesterol-raising chemical called diterpenes, found in coffee beans, to enter your body. We have an Espresso machine, but we only use it on special occasions.

3. Get a good night’s sleep. I usually wake up before 4:30 a.m. I like to get an early start on my day. I still try to get at least the recommended seven hours of good-quality sleep that have been found to be important for brain health.

Two recent studies have found there’s a connection between poor-quality sleep and the increase in toxins, such as amyloid beta protein, that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Another study found that when we sleep, our brain cells shrink, allowing more room for the brain to dispose of these harmful substances. The upshot: Getting seven to eight hours of sleep could reduce the risk of dementia by giving the brain time to flush out these toxins.

4. Learn a new skill. Sanjay Gupta—renowned neurosurgeon, medical reporter and writer—believes learning even a simple skill, such as eating with your non-dominant hand, can enhance your brain health. “The act of experiencing something new—or even doing something that’s typical for you, but in a different way—can all generate these new brain cells,” Gupta says. Doing something different builds cognitive reserve that we can then draw on as we age, allowing us to continue to function well. Want to keep your brain sharper? Try new, challenging experiences.

5. Floss your teeth. For the little money and time spent on flossing, you can keep your teeth and gums healthy, while saving thousands of dollars on dental work. Flossing helps prevent cavities, gum disease, and tooth and bone loss. It also reduces the chance of heart disease. Recent research revealed you have a 20% higher risk of having heart disease if you have gum disease.

One study recommends flossing before brushing. It found flossing first was more successful in removing plaque between the teeth. Flossing loosened up the plaque and other residue, which then allows brushing and rinsing with water to remove more particles.

6. Wear sunscreen. The most common form of cancer in the U.S. is skin cancer. More than 90% is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans lose more than $100 million in annual productivity due to skin cancer.

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both the UVB and UVA rays that cause skin cancer. I like to wear a broad-spectrum, mineral-based sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. But if I spend more time outdoors, I’ll wear one that has an SPF of 60 or above. When participating in outdoor activities, it’s also a good idea to wear a hat and UV sun-protection arm sleeves.

7. Include calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Having sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D is important in preventing osteoporosis. It’s a condition where the bones become weak and brittle. Calcium helps build and maintain your bones, while vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium.

Osteoporosis is called the “silent thief” because you can have it and not know until you break a bone. It’s more common among the elderly, especially women. That’s why it’s recommended for women to get screened at age 65 and men at 70.

If you eat wisely, you can get the nutrition needed to improve your bone health and reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. On our grocery list are foods rich in calcium, such as nonfat milk, yogurt, almonds, kale, broccoli, dried beans and oranges. We also buy eggs and salmon, which are rich in vitamin D.

8. Do weight-bearing exercises. One out of four older Americans falls each year. Falls are not only dangerous for the elderly, but also costly. According to the CDC, “Each year about $50 billion is spent on medical costs related to non-fatal fall injuries and $754 million is spent related to fatal falls.”

One way to prevent falls is to do weight-bearing exercises that can strengthen your bones and improve your balance. Walking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis and pickleball, dancing and weight-training are some of the exercises that will help keep you upright.

9. Drink water. Staying hydrated is especially important as we age. Older adults often take medication that causes a loss in body fluid. In addition, we become less thirsty in our later years, putting us at greater risk of dehydration. Drinking water is crucial. It helps improve brain health, relieve joint pain, prevent kidney stones, control body temperature, remove body waste and prevent infections.

How much water should you drink? The common thought has been 64 ounces (eight cups) per day. But according to new research, that might not be true. That advice didn’t take into consideration all the fluids we get from the food we eat.

Two easy ways to determine if you’re getting enough fluids: how dry your mouth is and the color of your urine. If your urine is a light straw yellow color, it’s a sign that you’re well hydrated.

10. Don’t sit too much. Sitting too long can lead to health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia, cancer, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. How often should you move? Some studies recommend every 30 minutes.

Here are a few tips on how to sit less:

  • Divide your activities into smaller chunks. Instead of taking one long walk, take two or three shorter walks.
  • Stand while doing some activities. For instance, stand while talking on the phone, watching television, and on a train or bus.
  • Raise your laptop, so you can work standing up.
  • Get up and move after a meal. Don’t sit. We tend to get tired and sleepy after eating, which can lead us to sit for even longer.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on Twitter @DMFrie.

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