Healthier you in 2024

What matters most to you in retirement? We hear a lot about ‘fear of running out of money’  as the most pressing concern for retirees, but surely that’s debatable? A majority of people would save a family member ahead of a sack of dollars any day, if their ship was sinking. But in order to save someone, we all know we first have to save ourselves. And that means putting our health first, above all other priorities.

Prioritising our own needs can be an interesting challenge, as many of us have been taught to put others first. But we forget that the best way we can serve our nearest and dearest is to stay healthy in the first place! So today we share new ways of thinking about your health and how to make 2024 your healthiest year yet.

The first myth to puncture is that the older you get the more health issues you can expect to encounter. This smacks of giving up on yourself . It’s an assumption that needs to be challenged. To do so, we’ve invited health researcher and author, Professor Cassandra Szoeke, to outline new ways of thinking about the next 12 months, your health needs and priorities.

What makes a healthier you in 2024?

How can you get your year off to a good start – and more importantly, maintain good health habits?

You can’t buy good health

That’s a direct quote from Professor Szoeke.

But, she says, you can work on three major aspects of your health in sensible ways to ensure you are making the most of the body you are given. We were privileged to interview Professor Szoeke last week and here are her insights.

How do you measure your current state of health?

An annual GP check-up is the best starting point. Have a good look at the directions your doctor is suggesting for you. Their role is to guide you on the medical side; to note what needs further investigation or treatment. But you have some work to do on your side, as well. This involves concentrating on the ‘Big Three’:

  • Physical activity
  • Nutrition 
  • Socialisation

Don’t be overwhelmed

If you can only handle one thing at the moment, then start with physical activity. One hour every day. You will read a lot of articles which suggest all sorts of quick solutions, 10 minutes here, 30 minutes there. Don’t be confused by too many options. The findings of the Healthy Ageing research, conducted over a 30-year time span, is that those people who do something they love – dog walking, walking with a friend – and keep it up, show better results than those who do intense, aerobic activity. It’s the keeping it up part that matters most.

Blocking out the noise

When considering your nutritional habits, it’s important to block out the noise about diets which can sound like things we go on and off. Further findings from the Health Ageing research program shows that most of us are eating 90% of the same food. The distinct difference is that those who have high consumption of green leafy vegetables, fruit and vegetables and nuts are healthier. These food groups should occupy 2/3 of your plate. There is a simple clear signal for people who eat poorly. They overconsume added sugar and processed food which is usually associated with confectionary, cakes and takeaway foods. 

Stay engaged

Socialisation is more important than most people recognise, according to the same research. People who are engaged do better. You don’t need to be an extrovert to be engaged and have a purpose. You just need to find a way to contribute that suits your personality and your talents. Professor Szoeke believes that individuals know their own needs when it comes to engagement. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Joining a group may be something extroverts enjoy, but introverts can contribute their skills and efforts in ways that also suit them. She quotes the case of an introverted female accountant who helped a local club with their finances but chose not to join the social activities. Just attending meetings and providing her services on a regular basis made her feel valued. And no one ever forgot her birthday! So finding your own way to contribute is key to ongoing connections.

How to set yourself up for success in 2024?

It takes thousands of years for human bodies to evolve and adapt genetically. We were designed to seek out food and to find the highest levels of sugar, fast. So craving that Mars Bar is entirely normal. Acknowledging that this is not a ‘guilty’ urge is an important step. Next start to implement some physical activities that put exercise between you and gratification. Park further away from the shops to force yourself to walk. Use the stairs, not the lift. Walk to the doctor’s appointment, don’t drive. Enjoy the housework, don’t outsource it. We all need to be a little more creative to get moving, more often.

And keep your brain healthy?

Crosswords in and of themselves are not the answer. We naturally get better at them, the more we do. But only certain brain cells will light up when you do crosswords or puzzles. Contrast this with social engagement, when everything is lighting up at once, through your sight, speech, hearing, thinking and movement. If you want all of your brain to continue to function, then use as much of it as you can!

Professor Cassandra Szoeke is director of the Healthy Ageing program at the University of Melbourne an author of Secrets of Women’s Healthy Ageing: Living Better, Living Longer.

Two other things to support your health needs

The first is an understanding of the concession cards which are available to older Australians. We have covered these cards in some detail over the past year, but here is a short overview of the main cards and who can access them

Pension Concession Card

This card is automatically issued to those who qualify for an Age Pension, as well as some other Government benefits. You do not apply for the card; it is issued when your eligibility is confirmed. It is a valuable card as it can be used to save on medical appointments, pharmaceutical expenses, some energy bills, transport expenses and other needs including eye and ear health requirements. You can read more about health cards here.

Commonwealth Seniors Health Card

This card is offered to self-funded retirees aged above Age Pension age. It can be used in similar ways to the Pension concession Card but must be applied for through Centrelink. There is no assets test for the commonwealth Seniors Health Card, but there are income limits. Retirement Essentials can assist with your application.

During 2023 we have also tried to cover the main vaccination news of interest to older Australians. Here are links to an update on the Shingles vaccination which is now available free of charge to all Australians aged 65 and over. And a link to an article on free health benefits for retirees.