Lifestyle improvements not only bolster the health and life expectancy prospects of younger adults, but also have a material impact on post-retirement life, according to research conducted by Vitality for the Society of Actuaries (SOA) Research Institute. The research, “Maximizing Health Span: A Literature Review on the Impact of a Healthy Lifestyle on Retirement,” explores the key health interventions that not only facilitate a longer life, but one imbued with good health.
While people are living longer on average, the number of healthy years has lagged, resulting in a “health span gap.” This research highlights the pivotal role that well-established interventions play in bridging this gap, encompassing prevention activities (including, but not limited to, vaccines and screenings), condition management, physical activity, and nutrition. The literature review also delves into the frontiers of healthy aging research from facilitating aging in place to the increasing utility of technology in prevention and health promotion.
“For many, retirement is no longer viewed as the closing of a primary chapter, but an integral second half of life, ripe with opportunity, provided individuals can sustain their health and finances,” said Daniel Kotzen, Director, Product & Analytics, for Vitality Group, a global health and wellness company committed to making people healthier. “Incorporating robust interventions for modifiable risk factors benefits not only individuals, but also employers, health plans and society as a whole by reducing healthcare costs and care needs in retirement.”
Themes related to healthy aging identified in the analysis include:
- The five risk factors with the largest impacts on health and longevity based on the report are tobacco use, high body-mass index, high fasting plasma glucose, dietary risks, and high blood pressure. Importantly, these dimensions are modifiable or controllable via condition management and a generally healthy lifestyle. These risk factors are not only essential drivers of poor health for individuals, but account for 35% of U.S. healthcare spend among those aged 65 and older. Interventions that modify these behaviors not only stand to benefit the individual’s health, but also serve to minimize the cost burden of health in retirement.
- Beyond those risk factors, there is also well-established evidence around the positive influence of preventive screening that allows for early intervention and immunizations, which have truly emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Encouragingly, aging science is an area of active inquiry and opportunities centered around social engagement, cognitive health, and others are garnering increasing attention with a view towards not only increasing healthy life expectancy, but also a greater sense of purpose and independence in later years.
- A multifaceted approach is required to achieve healthy aging – including recognizing and reducing health inequity, and the important role played by employers and governments in ensuring that older adults can thrive in their communities.
The study highlights the central role that modifiable risk factors have on health outcomes, not only pre-retirement, but well beyond age 65. With an aging U.S. population, there is an urgent need for accessible and effective interventions that extend well beyond the individual. It means removing barriers to access to health promoting activities; the robust utilization of technology to facilitate healthy behaviors and to ensure that people can age in place if they so choose; creating workplaces that champion and value the important contributions of older adults who are working post a traditional retirement age; and creating healthy and safe community environments to empower healthy aging more broadly. By adopting such a multi-faceted approach, individuals, employers, and insurers all stand to share in the value of people living longer, healthier, and – ideally – more purpose-filled lives.