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Make sure this key ingredient is part of your retirement

  • While improving behavior will help at any age, it won't make up for years of unhealthy actions that have led to chronic conditions from diabetes to heart disease.
  • It's important to give your mental and physical health the same dedication and resources as your finances.
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When you read this headline, you probably thought the missing item was your 401(k), IRA or portfolio.

It's the natural response. Many people think only of finances when it comes to retirement planning. But is there more to it? Financial preparation is critical, yet there is another element that needs to be addressed with the same discipline.

The missing element is "health." Even if you're financially responsible, have saved for decades and achieved your savings goals, what good is it if you didn't tend to your health in the same way?

Bad decisions add up

When people reach retirement, they believe they can make up for decades of unhealthy behaviors like sedentary lifestyles or poor eating habits, because they won't be working as much and will have more time.

While improving behavior will help at any age, it won't make up for years of unhealthy actions that have led to chronic conditions from diabetes to heart disease.

Here's why it's important to give your mental and physical health the same dedication and resources as your finances: 3 in 4 Americans age 65 and older have multiple chronic conditions, those that last a year or more and require ongoing medical attention or that limit activities of daily living. (Click on graphics below to enlarge.)

Given how baby boomers are changing retirement, it's important to alter the approach to health. Here's why.

Retirement will change drastically

Baby boomers are not going to let retirement slow them down. Many boomers are working part time, or even pursuing new careers. The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that "roughly three out of five baby boomers plan on continuing employment past the traditional retirement age of 65."

Boomers are also discovering that you're never too old to pursue your dreams. Back in 1996, entrepreneurs 55 and older started just 14 percent of all new businesses in America. Twenty years later, it's 24 percent. Boomers will also need to keep working. That's because "68 percent wish they'd saved more, and only 24 percent are confident that they have enough money to last throughout their retirement," according to a study by the Insured Retirement Institute.

If boomers are going to keep working part time, starting new businesses, and retaining the active professional and personal lifestyles they've become accustomed to, good health is essential.

At Humana, the nation's second-largest Medicare Advantage provider, many of our 3.5 million advantage members are living with multiple chronic conditions. I've seen firsthand how making improvements to physical and behavioral health can help people live retirement on their terms.

Change today to prepare for the future

A person who is well-prepared for retirement knows his or her financial situation at any given time, thanks to the financial industry's successful use of technology. People can make the necessary financial lifestyle changes and sacrifices and know, with the help of these sophisticated tools, exactly what they've saved, what their goals are and when they can retire.

But do you have the same confidence in your body mass index (BMI), or if you're close to being diagnosed as a prediabetic? What good is all that financial planning if you're not healthy enough to enjoy the benefits?

"Changing unhealthy behaviors starts with the individual."

Technology is going to disrupt the health-care experience, and it will enable us to have a highly detailed understanding of our core health numbers through advances in things like wearables, remote monitoring and electronic health records. But opening apps on your phone will only go so far.

Changing unhealthy behaviors starts with the individual. We all need to manage our health with the same vigilance we use for financial planning. We should know our BMI numbers as well as our 401(k) balances.

A great starting point is the Simple 7, a series of seven simple, inexpensive measures from the American Heart Association you can take to improve your health. The Simple 7 covers the fundamental basics, such as how to eat better and lose weight. But they also dive into important measures such as managing blood pressure, reducing blood sugar and controlling cholesterol and the steps that can be taken to getting these important health measures under control.

If we understand and change unhealthy behaviors today, our health won't be holding us back when it comes time for retirement. We can all spend less on health in retirement because we've minimized our chances for multiple chronic conditions.

Now that's a retirement worth planning for.

Bruce D. Broussard is president and chief executive officer, Humana

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