Your money or your health?

Just like fine wine, we’re meant to improve as we age. But worrying over money instead of focusing on our health and longevity seems to be the new norm. As with most aspects associated with Australia’s ageing population, research on health and income is plentiful. But one fact that emerged from the most recent YourLifeChoices survey (January 2017) made us sit up and take notice. For the first year ever, more respondents stated money was their biggest concern in retirement, with health now regarded as a secondary factor.

So let’s stop and think about this for one moment.

Apparently a majority of retirees now believe that ensuring an income for life is more important than how long they are likely to live. All will be fine, just as long as the money keeps coming?

The January survey was the seventh year we have asked this question, so it is both sad and startling that the importance of health is now secondary.

Why?

There are many reasons, the first and most obvious one is that there is no point in being the richest man or woman in the cemetery. But to consider this in a more comprehensive manner, it is important to note that our longevity has been increasing for decades now. So headlines telling us that a baby born today is expected (on average) to live to 105 are accepted as an ongoing trend. But such information has probably lulled most of us into a false sense of security when it comes to our health. And this is a fact that is emphasised by health professionals including Dr Kerryn Phelps and Dr Ross Walker. Australians think that they can now expect to live longer simply because most people are. But this masks the fact that the current generation of baby boomers may be the last generation to live longer than their parents as the increase in so-called ‘lifestyle’ diseases may mean more people will begin to die at a younger age. And even if they do live to the current expected ages (male 83, female 86), increasingly poorer health could see the last years wracked by disability and disadvantage.

Another fact revealed by YourLifeChoices longitudinal research is that choice and independence are the most highly prized qualities for an enjoyable retirement. We are all aware that money can increase both our choice and independence. But good health contributes more to our ability to move, communicate, connect and contribute than money ever can.

So what does this mean in a practical sense for you?

It is a reminder that, regardless of your retirement income, maintaining the best health possible is critical to your current and future happiness and wellbeing. According to Dr Phelps,

“When it comes to chronic or lifestyle diseases, there is no question that in 20 years society will not be able to afford to look after everyone in the same way. For the last 20 years or so, people have grown up with the idea they can do incredible damage to themselves – drink too much, eat too much, carry too much weight – and they think a pill or miracle cure will arrive in the nick of time. But it’s often too late to cure the insides of our arteries.”

As measured by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the leading causes of death for those aged 65-74 are lung cancer, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cerebrovascular disease and colorectal cancer. Of these afflictions, four can be linked to lifestyle choices. Yet most of us have been guilty of thinking that we will tackle our health problems tomorrow, be it lose weight, exercise more, reduce stress or quit drinking or smoking. And this is in vivid contrast with the way we tackle money worries, with a much higher degree of determination and drive.

Which leads us to ask – your money or your life?

Which really matters more?

What do you think? Are you, too, more concerned about your retirement income than your health? Do you cut corners when it comes to medical matters? Is this to save money – or because you think you will get around to it, sooner or later?

Written by Kaye Fallick

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