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The Health Span vs. Life Span Dilemma: Ensuring Quality of Life in Later Years for Women Thumbnail

The Health Span vs. Life Span Dilemma: Ensuring Quality of Life in Later Years for Women

When discussing the unique financial challenges that many senior women face, it's important to make clear distinctions between useless stereotypes and scientific facts.

As I've written about and discussed frequently on my podcast, there's just no truth to outdated cliches about women needing more help than men when it comes to managing money. And while it may have been more common in decades past for married couples to leave the family's finances to the breadwinning man, that old-fashioned dynamic is rare today.

But, according to longevity expert Maddy Dychtwald, it's a fact that women, on average, live six years longer than men. Whatever your marital status is, and however big your nest egg is, women have to be very intentional about how they plan to cover their needs during those extra years.

My Keen on Retirement co-host, Steve Sanduski, recently talked to Dychtwald about her new book, Ageless Aging: A Woman’s Guide to Increasing Healthspan, Brainspan, and Lifespan. Their conversation was full of insightful and actionable advice for women who are aiming to live well long into retirement.

The Healthspan Dilemma

A recent study by Dychtwald's company, Age Wave, found that a typical 65-year-old who is just starting or contemplating retirement should expect to live well into his or her 80s. But that promising trend in lifespan doesn't always match up with "healthspan," meaning a person's years of healthy living.

"On average, women have really kind of won the longevity lottery," Dychtwald says. "We live on average, six years longer than men. That gives women a lot of opportunities, but also there is a dark side to that. Even if you correct for the fact that women live longer than men, women still get sicker than men in the last years of their lives. That's a scary scenario because women's healthspans don't match their lifespans. And it's about 12 to 14 years of cascading poor health."

Deteriorating health can have significant impacts on the final years of a woman's retirement. Lingering health problems can make it harder for you to live independently and enjoy your favorite activities. Relationships with your spouse, adult children, or other caregivers could strain. And, if you haven't planned ahead for things like long-term care or in-home nursing, you might face some excruciating decisions about how and where you're cared for – especially if you had to dig deep into your nest egg to care for your husband at the end of his life.

Clearing the Intention – Action Gap

Time is one resource we all want more of, especially as we get older. But Dychtwald believes that the real goal of aging should be to live longer and healthier. And there's a growing body of research concluding that DNA is not, in fact, destiny.

"Up to 90% of our health and wellbeing is within our control", Dychtwald says. "I spoke to more than 100 experts for my book. What I began to see is that it wasn't just about exercise and sleep and food, although those things are very important. There is an entire holistic recipe for living better, longer, that women need to own. They need to take steps to better match their healthspans to their lifespans. These things all work together. They're not in silos."

Just like none of the "miracle" financial products you see on cable TV are going to guarantee a secure retirement, there's no one magical pill or supplement that's going to give you 10 more years of healthy living. And while cutting back on fast food and cooking healthy meals is good for you, pairing that life change with better sleeping habits and daily exercise will be much more impactful.

Of course, you know that—we all do! And yet, our best health care goals, intentions, and resolutions tend to land in the waste basket. Dychtwald calls this the "Intention—Action Gap" and suggests that the best way to clear it is to start small.

"Recognize that no matter how old you are -- you could be 40, you could be 80 -- you can always take steps to improve your health and wellbeing," Dychtwald says. "A doctor from the Mayo Clinic told me, 'Find an entry point.' For me, that was always exercise. And according to studies, exercise is kind of a silver bullet. In a short amount of time, exercise can affect your physical health, your brain health, and your cognitive capabilities. It only has to be for around 30 minutes every day. And if you can exercise in nature or do it with a friend, you're starting to pull more levers than just the exercise piece."

Perhaps the most important of those levers is purpose. According to Dychtwald, 87% of women believe that having a sense of purpose is an important part of a successful retirement. Much like improving your health, taking small steps to improve how you're spending your time and whom you're spending it with can make a big difference.

"For me personally, having purpose takes a lot of different forms," Dychtwald says. "I have 'purpose,' with a small P, that's like walking my dog in the morning, going for a jog. These things make me feel like I'm ‘on purpose.’ But then writing this book was my 'Purpose' with a big P. And for some people, Purpose is staying at work or volunteering their time. There's a lot of things we can do. The idea that purpose has to be this big thing can be paralyzing to people. They need to start with small things that can just make their life feel more purposeful and more joyful."

Invest in your Health and Longevity

While Dychtwald and the experts she interviewed are prescribing simple ways we all can improve our lives, it's important to remember that the best, most affordable medicine is always preventative. New retirees should take advantage of their free "Welcome to Medicare" visit to establish a baseline for their physical and mental health. Maintaining a regular schedule of checkups throughout the year, and reviewing Medicare coverage every fall, are also essential to maintaining your personal and financial well-being.

Dychtwald also recommends that folks dealing with chronic medical conditions, or who are at risk for developing them as they age, make more intentional investments in themselves right now. Medically, that means talking to your doctor about more aggressive steps towards a better exercise and diet routine. Financially, women who worry that they might need to pay for things like in-home nursing for themselves or their spouses might work with their advisor to explore long-term care insurance or create a health savings "bucket."

“I want you to think that you are in charge of your own health and wellbeing," Dychtwald says, "and that it's within your control, and that there are action steps that you can take to really improve your quality of life as well as your quantity of life. What I want you to feel is more in charge. I want you to feel more energetic, more vital, more full of life, and more positive about your own aging process."

At Keen Wealth, we want folks to feel that same sense of empowerment over every aspect of their financial planning. Make an appointment and let’s discuss how your money can support your health, your longevity, and the whole of your life. 

About Bill

Bill Keen is a financial advisor with over 30 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he focuses on providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.

KWMG, LLC’s dba Keen Wealth Advisors (“company”) is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor located in Overland Park, KS. The company and its representatives may only conduct business in those states where registered or where excluded/exempt or from licensure. For registration information please contact the SEC or the state securities regulators for the states where the company is notice filed. A copy of the company ADV is available upon request. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where the company and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by the company unless a client service agreement is in place. This information is not intended to be investment advice or construed as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular investment or investment strategy and is for illustrative purposes only. Clients and prospective clients must consider all relevant risk factors involved with each strategy, including costs or fees, and their own personal financial situations before trading.

The views outlined in the book, Keen on Retirement Engineering the Second Half of Your Life, are those of the author and should not be construed as individualized or personalized investment advice. Any economic and/or performance information cited is historical and not indicative of future results. Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted.

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