With Canadians living longer and, to a certain degree, beginning to retire earlier, it’s equally important to recognize that financial planning is only one part of a successful retirement plan.

Perhaps an even more vital component is sustaining sufficient health and independence to enjoy what could be a long retirement. As research into aging matures, the main findings that come up again and again are that the keys to graceful aging are remaining physically active, mentally engaged, and socially connected.

“Remaining physically active is probably the single piece of underrated advice that anybody can receive.”

Dr. Susan Kirkland of Dalhousie University is one of the principal investigators in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. This study is one of the first of its kind to engage a large cohort of subjects and study them over multiple decades. The study will observe the inter-relationships between physical and genetic factors as people age as well as mental and social factors. This multifactorial approach has turned out to be tremendously important. “One of the things we’re understanding more and more over time,” says Dr. Kirkland, “is the interrelatedness of systems in the body. The cognitive and the physical are connected.”

It’s not just a matter of mental health promoting physical health and vice versa. Equally important is the realization that the same strategies that are preventative to one ailment are often simultaneously effective against many others. Of all these strategies though, it is the evergreen encouragement to remain active that trumps all others. “Remaining physically active is probably the single piece of underrated advice that anybody can receive,” says Kirkland. “You don’t have to be running marathons, but the more active you are, the better off you are.”


Travel: The solution to aging gracefully

For many people however, remaining active and engaged in retirement is easier said than done. Canadians regularly rate relaxation as one of their primary goals in retirement, and too much relaxation can easily get in the way of an active lifestyle. Perhaps the best way to meet all these needs at once is through travel. According to Ida-Jean McIntyre, Retirement Institute Director for the Canadian Institute of Financial Planning Board, travel also ranks very highly among the goals of Canadian retirees, and embracing this brings many benefits.

“When we travel, we learn about new cultures, are exposed to new languages, and exercise our brains in other ways,” says McIntyre. “The more we engage in these activities, the less likely we are to experience dementia as we grow older.” Increasingly, retirees are even embarking on adventure travel packages, like Machu Picchu and the Galapagos, which take the ideal of remaining active to the next level.

Of course, travel is not free and the needs of travellers in their golden years are different from those in the blush of youth. This brings us back around to financial planning. It is vital that those hoping for an adventurous retirement include not only the cost of travel, but the expense of comprehensive health insurance in their retirement plan.

It may require some additional investment now, but the rewards reaped in later years will be far more than simply financial. They are the rewards of a long and happy life.