Add good health to your retirement plan

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Studies suggest that leaving the working world behind can trigger major health shifts for some retirees—boosting the risk of heart disease and other medical conditions by a whopping 40 percent or more. But (thankfully) that’s not the whole story. Other retirees experience a burst of physical and mental energy, say European scientists who kept tabs on 14,104 women and men in the years before and after retirement. 

What might make the difference: People who plan their retirement are less likely to feel depressed or have difficulty adjusting to this new stage, according to research.

Steps to consider when mapping out your healthy second act: 

  • Re-create your social network. You’ll miss the easy camaraderie around the office water cooler. So plan to replace it by spending more time with family, friends, and neighbors. Build social connections by getting more involved with your house of worship, clubs, or community activities. Social isolation can raise your risk of depression and other health conditions, researchers point out. But staying socially connected cut the risk of cognitive decline by an average of 70 percent, according to a 2011 study from Rush Alzheimer’s Center in Chicago.
  • Get active now. Plenty of people are more active in retirement—there’s just more time for everything from walking and aerobics classes to golf and gardening. Want to be one of these people? Start now. Research has found that those who already have an exercise or activity routine are more likely to stick with it when they retire. 
  • Commit to great self-care. Leaving work boosted the odds that retirees would stop taking diabetes and blood pressure medications, according to a Finnish study. For help with compliance, try daily medication organizers or alarms (available at your pharmacy), or ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a medication reminder app for your smartphone.
  • Look forward to staying busy. Finding a part-time job or volunteering for a cause you believe in could give your health a big boost. Older adults who did volunteer work for about four hours per week cut their risk of high blood pressure by 40 percent in one 2013 Carnegie Mellon University study. Other research shows that sharing your talents and time could also lower your risk of depression and even extend your life.