Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.
With retirement, most people worry about having enough money and funding health care, but did you know that your heart health should really be at the top of your list of retirement concerns?
Humans often worry about the wrong things. And there is significant evidence that heart health doesn’t get anywhere near enough attention from retirees — or anyone.
Putting the COVID-19 pandemic aside, research has shown that the media puts far too much attention on causes of death like terrorism and homicide and not nearly enough on the actual No. 1 killer in the U.S.: heart disease.
Information from Our World in Data clearly shows the significant disconnect between what we are worried about and what will actually kill us.
In 2016, over 30% of all deaths were caused by heart disease. However, heart disease made up only 2% of all Google searches and around 2.5% of media coverage.
It really does appear that we are worrying about the wrong things. But that’s not the worst of it.
1. Your Risks of Having a Heart Attack Increase After Retirement
A study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that retirees within a year of transitioning from work were 40% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working. The increase was more pronounced during the first year after retirement and leveled off after that.
The researchers gave several reasons why they saw a dramatic jump in heart attacks after people left work.
2. Retirement Affects Different People in Different Ways
For people who had a stressful job or whose job was emotionally unfulfilling or draining, retirement may come as a relief. But for people that identified themselves closely with their jobs, like university professors or doctors, leaving work can be extremely stressful.
3. Retirement Can Shake up Your Social Life
People who spend decades in the same job, whether they identify with the job or not, will socialize with the people at their jobs more than anyone else. Leaving that environment is like losing your entire social circle at once.
And strong friendships and personal connections can be a necessary aspect of being healthy.
4. Transitioning From Work Can Diminish Your Sense of Purpose
Work engages our minds as well as our bodies. For professionals, leaving work leaves a hole that used to be filled by mental challenges. Work also structures your life with goals and milestones. Once that’s gone, it is possible to feel like your boat has lost its rudder.
5. Yep, Surprise: Retirement Can Be Stressful!
These stressful life changes are why retirement is listed as a top indicator of health breakdown in the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory test. Heart disease in its many forms, from chronic high blood pressure to heart attacks, can be exacerbated by the shock of transitioning from working to retirement. Part of your retirement plan should be saving for health-related expenses, but an equal part should be preventing health problems now.
A good retirement will be one in which you’re active as well as free from money stress. Just like you put aside some money from every paycheck for retirement, you should take steps today to make sure you avoid poor health in the future.
6. Make Your Diet Heart Healthy
This is easier said than done, but there is absolutely nothing you can do (with the exception of our next tip) that will prepare you for a healthy retirement better than establishing good eating habits now.
A lot of common wisdom and official advice has changed over the last 20 years, which means old advice about how much alcohol you should drink and how much sugar is OK may not be what you learned as a young adult.
7. Get Regular Exercise
This isn’t breaking news either, but the key to regular exercise is less the exercise than the “regular.”
Dr. Harvey Simon, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital did a meta-analysis of 22 studies that showed moderate exercise like walking at your normal pace for an hour a day reduces the risk of heart disease considerably.
In one study, just 15 minutes of moderate exercise led to an average increase in life expectancy of three years.
8. Find a Purpose for Your Retirement
The University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study found that “higher purpose in life may play an important role in protecting against myocardial infarction among older American adults with coronary heart disease.”
In English, that says the more purpose you find in daily activities like volunteering, starting (and finishing!) new projects, and cultivating new friendships, the lower your chance of heart attack is.
9. Have a Detailed Written Retirement Plan
Only 30% of Americans have a long-term financial plan that includes savings and investment goals. However, research finds that people who have a formal written retirement plan are more likely to feel confident and less stressed. In fact, they are more than twice as likely to feel very prepared for retirement than those without a written plan.
Less stress equals better health. A well-written retirement plan equals better health and wealth.
The NewRetirement Planner is the best most comprehensive way to plan your retirement online. It is easy to create and maintain a reliable plan for your future security.
10. An Ounce of Prevention
Heart disease is both the leading cause of death in the U.S. and the most preventable. If you have taken the time to think about caring for yourself and your loved ones after you stop working, you should also think about how to protect your health — particularly your heart health — for them as well.
It’s just as easy as putting money in your 401(k) or IRA, and the dividends you get are priceless.