Prioritising health and wellbeing in retirement

Fully embracing the opportunities of retirement means maintaining good mental and physical health.

The link between well-being and the ability to enjoy retirement is straightforward: better health enables you to travel, pursue hobbies, and share time with family and friends.

To maintain health, experts emphasise the importance of proactive health behaviours that include a balanced diet, regular exercise, and routine health screenings.

While the importance of proactive health habits often becomes more apparent following health challenges,1 it is important to remember that illness can be unpredictable and affect anyone, even those in good health.

Adopting a preventative health approach not only supports long-term well-being but can also make dealing with any health issues that arise more manageable.

Taking care of your physical and mental well-being in this way can lead to better health outcomes and can prevent or delay the onset of chronic conditions, maximising enjoyment and independence as you age.

Related content

Thinking about retirement, but not sure where to start? Get tips and information in our Planning for Retirement guide, to help you get started today.


Physical health in retirement

Staying healthy is not just about longevity – it is about being best able to capture the highest quality of life each day through deliberate, proactive strategies.

This starts with eating right, exercising regularly and ensuring health screenings are current.

Here are some steps you can take to maintain good physical health:

Balanced nutrition: Health starts with eating what your body needs. Studies show only one in 13 Australian adults eat enough fruit and vegetables and one-third of our energy intake comes from food we do not need.2  Older adults may need fewer kilojoules but still require plenty of nutrients and should focus on incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into their meals while limiting sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

Daily physical activity:
As you get older, it is important to do some form of physical activity every day. It does not have to be structured exercise – and even a small increase in daily physical activity can improve your health and wellbeing. Being active can reduce the risk of heart issues, help maintain weight, and improve mental health. For people aged 65 and over, experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day.3

Injury prevention: Falls are the leading cause of injury hospitalisation and death.4 As we age, falls become more likely due to natural changes like poorer eyesight, worse balance, and slower reaction times.5 The good news is that many falls are preventable and resulting injuries can be minimised. Staying active, having regular check-ups, taking care of any health problems, choosing appropriate footwear, and removing trip hazards in your home can help.

Health screenings and chronic disease management: Health screenings can detect treatable health concerns early. Your doctor can advise what screenings are appropriate for you – but most people of retirement age should be keeping an eye on blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density, and diabetes risk. Screening is also recommended for bowel, skin, breast, and cervical cancer.6 Actively managing chronic conditions like asthma, arthritis, and back pain can also improve quality of life.7

Eye, teeth, and hearing care:
Regular check-ups can catch and treat changes in eyesight, hearing, and dental health before they start to affect your quality of life.

Immunisations: Anyone aged over 50 is at increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.8 It is never too late to vaccinate and keeping up to date with vaccines can keep you well and active. Speak to your doctor about getting vaccinated for diseases like influenza, shingles, pneumococcal disease and COVID.

Mental health in retirement

Getting older brings challenges that can include loss of independence, financial stress, changed living arrangements, and illness. These can affect your mental health.

Comfortingly, the prevalence of mental illness in the Australian population decreases with age, partly because three-quarters of mental disorders start by the time people are in their mid-20s.9

However, mental health is a core part of wellbeing and is important for facing day-to-day life and maintaining healthy relationships.10

Signs of deteriorating mental health may include persistent feelings like sadness or worry that prevent you from getting the most out of life, along with physical symptoms like dizziness, aches and pains, weight loss, and difficulty sleeping.11

If you ever feel your mental health is not as good as it could be, it is worth seeking support. Mental health professionals can provide a range of effective strategies and treatments.

Many of the same tactics to look after your physical health will also help you stay mentally fit. Here are some additional steps you can take to maintain good mental health:

Stay socially connected: Social interactions play a key role in your mental health. Staying connected with family, friends, and community not only combats loneliness but also provides emotional support, which can be particularly important when dealing with loss or changes in life circumstances.

Stay active: Exercising regularly and engaging in meaningful activities that give a sense of accomplishment, joy, or satisfaction are important for mental health.

Sleep well: Good quality sleep including going to bed and waking at regular times is shown to be important to mental health.

Navigating healthcare costs in retirement

Medical expenses can add up, even in Australia’s public healthcare system. Medicare helps with the cost of seeing a doctor or specialist, paying for medicines, tests and scans, eye tests, and going to hospital.12  The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme subsidises the cost of many medicines.

It is worthwhile for retirees to maintain an emergency fund that can be accessed quickly to deal with unexpected healthcare costs. A high interest savings account separate from your day-to-day expenses can be a good way to be prepared for medical expenses without having to sell assets or draw down extra from your income streams.

As you age, you may also become eligible for further government support including the Pensioner Concession Card or the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card which further reduce the cost of healthcare.13

Additional ways to save include speaking to your doctor about combination medicines, generic medicines, and using discount chemist chains.14

Private health insurance can also play an important role, paying some or all of the cost of hospital visits and health services not covered by Medicare like dental and eye care, in return for an insurance premium that can attract government rebates.15

If you have started considering what retirement might mean for you or if you are working on a plan for a great future, we can help you to understand what you need to think about.
Retirement marks a pivotal shift in your financial management – from focusing on earning and saving money to utilising your savings to support your income needs.
It can be all too easy to avoid estate planning. No one likes to think about death, complicated family relationships can make planning tricky, and it can be distressing to contemplate a time when others control all you have worked for.

Things you should know

The article was prepared by BT. BT is a part of Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141, AFSL and Australian Credit Licence 233714. This information is current as at 1 July 2024. This article provides an overview or summary only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such.

This information does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs and so you should consider its appropriateness, having regard to these factors before acting on it. This information may contain material provided by third parties derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, no company in the Westpac Group accepts any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, or endorses any such material. Except where contrary to law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this material. Any tax considerations outlined in this publication are general statements, based on an interpretation of the current tax law, and do not constitute tax advice.  The tax implications of super investments can impact individual situations differently and you should seek specific tax advice from a registered tax agent or registered tax (financial) adviser.