Your health

Looking after yourself

Being over 55 means retirement is probably in your sights. It can be an exciting time: a permanent break from work and a chance to open the door to new activities and opportunities. But for some, retirement can come prematurely or unexpectedly because of illness or retrenchment.

Whatever your situation, it's important to look after your health, both physical and mental.

A new way of living

It's normal to find the transition from work to retirement quite challenging. Many people feel lost after they stop work and wonder what to do with all the 'spare' time they now have. After a few months of being footloose and work-free, you might feel a bit listless, even depressed.

If you and your partner are both retired, you might find yourselves spending more time together than ever before - for better or worse. Taking up some separate activities can be a healthy way of giving each other some breathing space.

Get out and about

If you're not quite ready to retire or want to keep yourself occupied after you retire, consider:

  • Trial retirement: Think about taking extended long service leave, unpaid leave or leave at half pay, to see if you like being out of the workforce before you make the final decision. See if you can draw on your superannuation without retiring permanently. Read about transition to retirement.
  • Other work: Take up part-time, casual or volunteer work. This can bring in some extra cash, teach you some new skills and introduce you to new people. 
  • Vocational training and further study: If you're keen to extend yourself, study or training can add structure to your days. The University of the Third Age runs a range of courses for older people, and many universities offer mature-age entry to a wide range of courses. 
  • Starting a small business: Can you develop your hobby or use your skills to supplement your retirement income? While this might be an opportunity to take up a new challenge, if you're new to running a small business you should consider professional financial advice.
  • Taking up a new hobby: Finding a new hobby can be a great way to keep physically and mentally active, and even make some new friends. You can join a local club or even start one of your own. Whether you want to play bowls or chess, go swimming, fishing, learn a new language, or take up a more adventurous hobby, there are countless ways to spend your time enjoying your retirement. 

Take care of yourself

To make the most of your retirement, it's important to do everything you can to stay mentally and physically healthy for as long as possible. Here are some ways you can look after yourself to make the most of your later years:

Smart tip

50% of physical decline associated with old age is due to a lack of physical activity, so staying active is important. 

  • Preventative health checks: Regular health checks are important at all ages, but even more so as we get older. Talk to your doctor about what tests might be appropriate for you, and check if you are eligible for any health-related government benefits.
  • Healthy eating: A balanced diet is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Drink plenty of water, eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and limit your alcohol, salt, saturated fat and sugar. The Australian Government's Eat for Health website has lots of advice on eating well. 
  • Connecting with others: Research shows that older people who have strong relationships often feel more satisfied with life, have delayed progression of dementia, and are more independent. For some suggestions on how you can expand your social network, check out Beyond Blue's Connections matter: Helping older people stay socially active booklet. 
  • Get some exercise: Doing physical activity does not just help you to keep active but it lifts your spirits. Find something you enjoy, like swimming, playing tennis, going for a walk, or doing yoga or tai chi, and reap the benefits. Read the Choose health: Be active booklet for ideas on staying active.


Take advantage of government benefits

These government benefits can help you save on your health expenses when you're older.

  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card: Once you've reached pension age and even if you're a self-funded retiree, you might be eligible for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, which gives you access to cheaper prescriptions and possibly bulk-billed GP consultations.
  • Medicare Safety Net: If you and your family see many doctors and specialists during the year, the Medicare Safety Net will reduce your out-of-pocket expenses once you've spent a certain amount.
  • Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Safety Net Card: The government has created a 'safety net' threshold to help families with the cost of medicines. Once you spend up to the threshold, medicines will be less expensive or free for the rest of the calendar year. Apply for your Medicare PBS Safety Net Card at your pharmacy.
  • Early detection programs and free immunisations: Older Australians can get free vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcal disease; free screenings for bowel cancer; free breast screenings and Pap smears for women; and free prostate cancer tests for people who qualify. Find out about government cancer screenings or visit your doctor for more information.
  • Annual health assessment: Once you turn 75, or 55 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, you are entitled to a free annual health assessment from your doctor (if they do not bulk bill, you may have to pay the gap).
  • Home medication review: This free review helps people living at home and taking more than five medications a day to use their medicines more effectively and avoid unwanted effects. Talk to your GP or pharmacist if you're interested in a review.

Finally, check if you are paying too much for health insurance. If it's been a while since you checked your benefits, you could save money by reassessing whether your current plan matches your needs. Compare registered private health funds on the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman website.

Looking after yourself as you get older is important. Visit your doctor regularly and stay as active as you can. Taking care of your mental and emotional wellbeing is just as important.

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Last updated: 18 Oct 2017