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rob carrick

We're living longer, but not healthier.

So be cautious with retirement planning that has you working past age 65 to generate more income or keep yourself gainfully occupied. I floated the idea in a recent column that longer lifespans give us the flexibility to, among other things, work longer (read it here). A reply from Dr. Lesley Horton, a clinical instructor in the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia, suggests we need to temper our expectations of working longer.

Dr. Horton says data from Statistics Canada show there's a one in three chance of someone in the 65 to 74 age bracket being disabled, which means not able to work or move about freely. "As a doctor, I see many people who do well into their 60s and are physically capable of working," she wrote. "But I also see a significant number of people who are not doing well by their 60s."

Remember the fantasy of early retirement? Today, delayed retirement is the trend to watch. The online bank ING Direct commissioned a recent survey of older Canadians and found that 30 per cent had returned to the work force after retiring. Almost half of that group said financial factors like inadequate savings or rising costs had cut their retirement short.

Financial and medical themes merge in Dr. Horton's three rules for staying as healthy as possible and thereby retaining the flexibility to work longer:

-Be proactive about your health

-Get disability insurance

-Be aware that disease is unpredictable

The first rule suggests we need to broaden our idea of what it means to invest for retirement. Contribute to registered retirement savings plans and tax-free savings accounts, sure. But don't shy away from investing in a good pair of running or walking shoes or a membership at the YMCA, a community centre or a health club.

Far from indulging yourself with these expenses, you're actually investing in lifelong good health. Dr. Horton urges people to take a look at a YouTube video in which Toronto doctor Mike Evans talks about how 30 minutes of exercise per day is the single best thing you can do for your health.

Dr. Horton's suggestion to get critical illness insurance is based on the fact that people are more likely to become disabled than die prematurely. Accordingly, critical illness insurance is much more expensive than basic term life insurance. Dr. Horton rightly points out that it's most cost-effective to get CI insurance when you're young, but it's a considerable expense at any age and some people simply won't be able to afford it.

The unpredictability of disease argues for diligent retirement saving, even if you do plan to keep working after 65. People with family histories of longevity and good health can still find themselves unable to continue working as planned.

Dr. Horton said the medical issues that prevent people from working include depression and anxiety. "Over time, there has been a significant increase in the number of people with mental health problems," she said. "People are stressed, they're maxxed out."

A physical issue that particularly concerns Dr. Horton is something that medical people call "diabesity," which means diabetes and obesity combined. When you're overweight, you're more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and be vulnerable to related complications such as heart disease and stroke. Dr. Horton blames our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and poor diet for the fact that roughly one-quarter of the population is considered obese.

Investing in a healthier lifestyle protects your ability to work longer, and it may also help contain your personal health care costs when you actually do retire. There are gaps in our health care system that will cost you out-of-pocket as a senior, and we can only expect more of this as governments try to cope financially with rising demand for medical services from the aging baby boomer demographic.

Winter is the season for Canadians to focus on retirement investing, largely because the annual deadline for registered retirement savings plans is the beginning of March (in 2014, it's March 3). This year, aim to build up both your health and your wealth.


Brain gain

Maintaining our health is key if we expect to work past age 65 either out of financial need or because we want to stay busy. Here are some tips to keep your brain healthy from Dr. Carol Greenwood, senior scientist with Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute, and professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto.

Grow your brain, not your waistline: Moderate aerobic exercise three to four times per week not only helps with weight control, but more importantly, boosts your memory. Cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart pumping also protects you from developing high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

Retain your good hobbies, drop the bad: Turn off the TV and engage in activities that make you think and learn new things. This enhances brain activity and may help you maintain your cognitive function throughout life.

Eat fruits and vegetables: There is strong research to suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet – rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals and fish – supports brain functioning and reduces your risk of developing dementia.

Make that doctor's appointment: Many brain enemies, such as hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes, can be well managed once diagnosed.

Rob Carrick

Follow me on Twitter: @rcarrick