Over 55? Read this and check how you’re doing
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Feeling the years are flying by and that ‘later life’ is approaching too fast? Our handy ‘MoT’ should quell some of your fears
With less than a decade to go before hitting pensionable age, Steven Russell is dispatched for a ‘pre-MoT check’. Is he future-proofed, from head to toe, or are there things he must do to secure a healthy ‘later life’?
Oi! Cheeky! What’s all this about being 60? I might look as if I’m set to engage the landing gear and begin the approach to my seventh decade, but I’m still four years and 40-something days shy of the big six-oh, thank you very much.
But I take the point.
For we all dream of later life being a period when we can enjoy ourselves – travelling, being active, getting new hobbies and spending more quality time with friends and family (and, in my dreams, being invited to become Keeley Hawes’s personal assistant). But it’s best to arrive in good shape, and it seems to me that our midish-50s are a perfect time to take stock and, if necessary, change our ways.
So I’m working through a list I’ve put together – drawn mostly from great material produced by Age UK (www.ageuk.org.uk and 0800 055 6112) – to give an indication of where I stand: in terms of health, financial planning and awareness of other key issues. Not exhaustive, it’s designed to get me (and hopefully others) thinking about what’s round the corner.
Surely it’s best to start thinking about the future while we still have time and energy to shape it? So the next time you find yourself watching the same Miss Marple episode for the nth time, why not switch off and spend a few minutes checking you’ve got your ducks in line?
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Get enough shut-eye
On average, adults need between seven and nine hours. We need the same amount as we get older, but are less able to stay asleep as we age.
Lack of sleep is associated with poor performance at work and can affect mood, causing problems with relationships. Poor sleep can also affect appetite, making us more likely to crave unhealthy foods and gain weight. (Yep. That’s me.)
Regular poor sleep can bring a higher risk of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. It can also affect mental wellbeing, causing conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Sleep deprivation can lead to accidents and injuries – and affect memory, because sleep cycles give the brain a chance to consolidate memories.
The Age UK website has detailed advice on a good night’s sleep.
My rating: Honestly? Probably not even one star. (Maybe the greatest threat to my well-being now, let alone in years to come. I must do something about it, today, or there might not be a tomorrow…)
A balanced diet
Crucial for good health, energy and preventing illness. An ideal diet should be low in saturated fat, with lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, oily fish, and small amounts of low-fat dairy and lean meat.
My rating: ** and a half. (Top marks for very little alcohol, and good levels of fruit and veg. But biscuits, cakes, sweets and chocolate are my nemeses – mainly, I’m sure, to provide sugar for the brain, so I can keep driving on. I have to beat them)
Yes, my eyes glaze over, too, though I have learned quite a bit since turning 55 and being eligible to do things with my pension pot.
The Age UK site has oodles of information to de-mystify the state pension, annuities (a type of insurance policy bought with pension money and giving a regular income), tracing old pensions, and what we can do with that pot.
My rating: **** (On the ball. I hope!)
Ah, what a cheery thought. But a thought we must have – especially if you find a dunce in the corner. (Like me.)
Making a will: “It often gets forgotten”, says Age UK, and I can vouch for that. I did make one, 20 years ago, but never signed it. Doh.
A will is the only way to make sure our money, property, possessions and investments go to the people we care about. AND IT IS IMPORTANT. Here are just two reasons why.
If we don’t make a will, we die “intestate” and our estate is distributed according to special rules:
If you have a spouse or civil partner and children, your spouse or civil partner will inherit your possessions and at least the first £250,000 of your estate, plus half the rest. Your children will then be entitled to the other half of the balance;
If you and your partner aren’t married or in a civil partnership and you haven’t made a will, they have no automatic right to inherit. This applies even if you’ve lived together a long time or have children together.
My rating: * (Ring the solicitor now about making that will!)
Easily overlooked, but vital. Not drinking enough can cause constipation, dehydration, and increase the risk of a fall.
Aim for 6-8 glasses of fluid every day. Milk, soups, tea and coffee all count. Alcohol? Best avoided.
My rating: **** (Enough fluid; could do with more pure H2O)
Fight the flab
Being very overweight puts us at risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers, including bowel cancer and breast cancer.
If you’ve gradually gained weight over the years, try to lose it slowly but steadily – for example, by losing 1kg (1-2lb) a week rather than crash-dieting.
My rating: * (The scales shout ‘Get off!’)
Government guidelines recommend people aged 65 or over, who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit mobility, do 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week. This could include brisk walking, ballroom dancing or chair-based exercises. Plus strengthening exercises twice a week.
But whatever age we are, we need to be active and stay that way – especially if our jobs are sedentary.
Taking regular exercise is especially important as we get older and our metabolism slows down, making us more likely to put on weight. The only way to lose it is to use up more energy than we take in, and a brisk daily walk, for instance, can burn off some calories. It can also cut the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure in the long term.
Physical exercise also reduces the chance of developing some cancers, including breast, bowel and womb cancer – and type-2 diabetes.
My rating: ** (I’m inconsistent. I have been warned)
Benefits and entitlements
Apparently, up to £3.5bn of pension credit and housing benefit goes unclaimed by older people. So let’s wise-up about things like the winter fuel payment, the free bus pass and other transport concessions, council tax rules and the carer’s allowance – and hope some of them are still available whenever we’re old enough to qualify!
The Age UK website has lots of good information about benefits, and a handy on-screen calculator to check what you’re owed if you can claim now.
There are also tips about tracing lost money and lowering energy and water bills.
My rating (out of five stars): *** Pretty aware (but not complacent)
Invest in our futures
Age UK helps millions of older people each year with expert advice, services and companionship. One day WE might need it. Ensure it’s there in years to come by giving a donation, if you can.
My rating: We won’t score this one, but the cheque’s in the post. Honestly...
Have fun and live in the moment
Because life’s for living – now. (And that can boost our mental health and levels of physical activity.) So, whatever age we are, let’s get the balance right and enjoy ourselves: chatting with friends, signing up for a dance class, going swimming or joining a book group, visiting the cinema and theatre, having picnics. Whatever. Live for the day!
My rating: ** (Work-life balance is a bit pants. Bridget Jones-sized pants)
Moment of truth
19 and a half/45. Bit rubbish – and a clear warning sign. Changes needed. My “later life” preparations start now. After this Mars Bar
Age UK Norfolk
0300 500 1217
Age UK Suffolk
Age UK Essex
01245 346 106