Personal Finance

Unhealthy habits could destroy your retirement

Key Points
  • That active retirement you've planned could be derailed by your health.
  • Fidelity estimates that an "average" 65-year-old couple retiring in 2016 would need $260,000 to cover health care in retirement.

Not all investments for retirement are financial.

Most workers expect to have an active retirement full of travel, hobbies — and even some more work, in the form of an encore career or starting a business, according to the Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2017. Yet few are taking steps to stay healthy in order to achieve those goals.

The survey polled 14,400 workers and 1,600 retired individuals in 15 countries, during February.

How living longer changes your retirement planning
How living longer changes your retirement planning

"We focus so much on the financial aspects of planning for retirement, but we do relatively little to prepare ourselves from a health perspective," said Catherine Collinson, executive director of the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement.

"People have the potential to live longer than in any time in history," she said. "But it's not something that happens automatically."

Globally, half of workers exercise regularly, the study found, while 57 percent said they eat healthily. (See chart below for a breakdown.)

Nearly half of workers engage in two or fewer of the six healthy behaviors researchers asked about, including 8 percent who say they do none of those things. Only 5 percent of workers engage in all six healthy behaviors.

"Most people cite concern for their health in old age, and it's like they haven't connected the dots that these are things we need to be working on right now — today, and each and every day," Collinson said.

Poor health ahead of and into retirement could hurt you financially in several ways.

One risk is that you might incur higher health care costs in retirement. Fidelity estimates that an "average" 65-year-old couple retiring in 2016 would need $260,000 to cover health care in retirement, and cautions that factors like health and longevity could shift those needs.

People need to plan for who they are, not who they want to be.
Carolyn McClanahan
director of financial planning, Life Planning Partners

You might also face income shortfalls if health issues force you out of the workforce. Among U.S. retirees in the Aegon survey, 61 percent said they retired sooner than planned — and 31 percent did so due to poor health. An early exit could mean missed opportunities for savings (and to take advantage of catch-up contributions), a need to stretch retirement savings over a longer time frame, and fewer chances to work in retirement (if that was part of the plan).

Incorporating healthier habits into your lifestyle is obviously a big part of a solution, Collinson said. Take advantage of health screenings and preventive care available under your health plan, and any employer-sponsored perks for health improvement.

"Don't get overwhelmed before you get started," she said. "Taking baby steps can add up over time."

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Run your details through a life expectancy calculator like or the True Vitality Test at, said certified financial planner Carolyn McClanahan, director of financial planning for Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida. That can help you get a quick sense of how your current habits could affect your longevity, and target habits for improvement.

"People need to plan for who they are, not who they want to be," she said.

Revisit your financial plan to make sure you're prepared if your health outlook is less rosy, Collinson said. You may need to revise your financial goals, adjust savings habits or weigh extra precautions like a long-term care policy.