4 Keys to Retirement Readiness

by Greg Daugherty Health Writer

Some people do a lot better than others in making a smooth transition from the world of work to the realm of retirement.

Fortunately, most of us will eventually adjust, as the University of Michigan’s ongoing Health and Retirement Study of some 20,000 Americans shows.

Asked how retirement has turned out for them, 49 percent of recent respondents said “very satisfying,” 41 percent said “moderately satisfying,” and only 10 percent found it to be “not at all satisfying,” according to an April 2016 analysis of the data by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

But those initial months can be rocky, both psychologically and even in terms of physical health. For example, there’s some evidence that the first year of retirement is associated with a higher risk of coronary artery disease, according to a study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine in August 2012.

Of course, part of the reason may be that some people retire when they begin to notice symptoms of the disease, as the researchers noted, so retirement may not be entirely to blame.

4 steps to take

Still, if you’re contemplating retirement in the coming years, now’s a good time to start planning for your transition. Here are some positive steps to consider.

1. Have Plan A and Plan B ready. The greater the sense of control you have over how and when you retire, the more likely you are to be happy in retirement, according to a January 2009 study published in Research on Aging. Even if your job seems relatively secure today, consider what you’d do if retirement sneaked up earlier than expected. Having a fallback plan, even if you never have to use it, could keep you from feeling blindsided.

2. Figure out your finances. Worrying about money is no way to spend your retirement years. So the sooner you figure out how you’ll pay the bills (including fun ones, like travel), the better. Ideally, this means well before you retire; after that, you’re likely to be on a fixed income, with fewer options for earning or saving additional money.

Obvious as this advice may seem, many would-be retirees still haven’t gotten the message, surveys show. For example, in EBRI’s latest annual Retirement Confidence Survey, published in March 2016, 59 percent of retirees said they had prepared for retirement by thinking about how they would occupy their time, but only 44 percent had calculated how much money they’d need, and just 37 percent had figured out what it would take to cover their health expenses.

3. Agree on retirement timing with your spouse, if you have one. Being married seems to confer a variety of physical and mental health benefits, studies show. But retirement can strain the relationship, especially if one spouse retires and the other continues to work or if both retire and find they don’t enjoy the same activities, a study published in the September 2004 edition of The Journals of Gerontology found.

For an added incentive to keep up your significant other’s spirits: People with happy partners tended to be healthier, regardless of how happy they themselves were, according to a January 2017 report in the journal Health Psychology.

4. Get a dog—and walk it. There are lots of reasons you might enjoy having a dog around in retirement, but the real health benefits come from walking one, according to a study published in The Gerontologist in March 2016. Those included a lower body mass index, fewer chronic health conditions, and fewer doctor visits. Walking a dog also gives you a reason to get out of the house and socialize with other people, which have health benefits as well. Plus, your dog will love you even more.

Greg Daugherty
Meet Our Writer
Greg Daugherty

Greg Daugherty is an award-winning writer and editor specializing in retirement topics. He has served as editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest New Choices retirement magazine, executive editor of Consumer Reports, where he wrote a popular column about preparing for retirement, and senior editor at Money. His work has appeared in Money, Smithsonian, Parade, The New York Times, and NextAve.org, among others.