The Future of Retirement
Healthy New Beginnings
The subject of retirement is often discussed among people of working age, and numerous concerns are raised as a result. HSBC Group’s annual survey report, the Future of Retirement (FoR) series has long been a source of information, and this year, it is no different.
The 12th study in this series tackles health in the context of impending retirement. Opinions from a total of 1,015 retirees and pre-retirees are compared against one another, while healthcare habits and gender preferences are also taken into account. This article seeks to present the key findings of the study while providing potential solutions to the healthcare issues that are raised.
The rising cost of healthcare
Healthcare is one of the essential tenets of a stable society. However, there is evidence that the cost of healthcare has been steadily rising in the last few years, and will continue to do so1. According to a research study, total healthcare costs in Malaysia are projected to rise by 8.8% yearly, which will result in higher out of pocket spending by individuals. In addition, it is noted that the growth of medical costs has outpaced inflation. Robust economic growth especially in emerging Asian countries will also bring increased demand to the health and medical industry1.
It is unsurprising that these costs have triggered some anxiety within the populations surveyed in the FoR study as well. Let’s take a look at some of the doubts and concerns that the respondents have.
Doubt 1: Unpredictability
When pre-retirees were asked how much they think they’ll spend on healthcare after retirement, 45% of them responded that they don’t know. Almost half of working age people are unable to predict how much they are likely to spend on medical costs once they retire. When gender differences are examined, a higher proportion of women (51%) are unable to predict their healthcare expenditure in retirement as compared to men (40%).
Doubt 2: Health costs will increase with age
Another reason why health costs are projected to increase during retirement is simple – aging. Generally, most retirees tend to be around 55 and above, and the older we get, the more likely we are to have health problems2. As a result, the increase of health costs and the act of retirement are positively correlated to one another. The FoR study compared the health costs of 25-34 year olds and 65 year olds and found that only 20% of the people in the former age group spent money on prescriptions and medication, along with 9% on doctors or dieticians. Amongst the people aged 65 and over, these costs rose to 38% and 30% respectively. It is also important to note that prescriptions and medicines are the largest financial cost for 11% of people aged 65+.
Doubt 3: Quality of life after retirement
The FoR found that people who have been retired for longer are more likely to worry that poor health will interfere with key aspects of their retirement. 44% of respondents that have been retired for 6 years or more are worried that poor health would affect their ability to take care of themselves, while only 25% of people who have retired for less than 5 years have this worry. Financial well-being, mobility, and comfort are the other categories that were surveyed, and in all 3 categories, the group that has been retired for longer is more concerned for their quality of life after retirement.
Prevention is better than cure
Medical professionals essentially recommend the same preventative measures for all of the difficulties above. The main ones include increasing physical activity, eat a healthy diet, stay mentally active, and take some supplements2. In full awareness of these issues, the FoR study addresses them by asking retirees and pre-retirees if they are taking any steps to reduce the risk of poor health in the future. Unsurprisingly, the study found that retirees are doing more than pre-retirees to reduce the risk of poor health in the future. 78% of retirees are eating a healthy diet, 55% are having regular medical checkups, 54% are taking vitamin supplements, and 23% are reading, doing puzzles, and generally keeping their brains active.
Fortunately, the numbers for pre-retirees aren’t far behind, and in some categories they rank higher than retirees. When it comes to being physically active, 56% of pre-retirees are already taking this step as compared to 52% of retirees. Pre-retirees are also more inclined to take holidays or relaxing breaks to reduce stress (38%) while retirees clocked in slightly less at 35%. Interestingly, both retirees and pre-retirees are tied at 14% when it comes to giving up on excessive habits (e.g. smoking). It’s important to note that most medical professionals recommend giving up certain vices like smoking and drinking for better health2.
Gender also seems to play a part in mitigating health risks. The FoR study found that retired men and women take different approaches to reduce the risk of poor health and seem to prioritise different areas. Amongst retired women; 82% eat a healthy diet (76% of retired men), 61% take supplements (50% of retired men), and 48% take holidays (27% of retired men). On the other end of the spectrum, 58% of retired men have regular medical checkups (50% of retired women) and 28% take prescription medicine (20% of retired women).
The retirement bounce
With more time to spend on healthy living, retirees continue to rate their health as good for their age. 35% of retirees agree to that statement, while 33% of pre-retirees do. That’s not too big a difference, but once again, gender differences are where things become more fascinating. Male pre-retirees tend to be more positive about their health than women. No reason was stated for this occurrence, but it’s possible that women have a more reserved outlook because they tend to worry more4.
On the flip side, worrying more (but not excessively) may actually help women take better care of themselves. They are more likely to take preventative measures and have a realistic view of things due to risk aversion, which has been helpful to humankind throughout our evolutionary history. For men, risk-taking has been favoured because riskier men usually acquired higher social status by not backing down from confrontation4. These deep-set gender differences could help to explain why men and women view their health differently.
Regardless of gender, procuring a health plan may help to allay your worries and fears. For example, HSBC’s HealthCash Plan provides you with a lump sum benefit payment and daily expense allowance so that you don’t have to worry about day-to-day finances while recovering. A plan like this can help to reduce your stress for a speedy recovery, and supplements like a room upgrade could be possible depending on your level of coverage.
Common conditions associated with aging3
So, what’s stopping you?
Pre-retirees and retirees both have their own barriers to living a healthier lifestyle. In general, the FoR study found that something prevents 85% of pre-retirees from pursuing a healthier lifestyle as compared to 71% of retirees. It’s no surprise that pre-retirees say that they are too busy with work or other commitments (46%) while others blame a lack of free or leisure time (41%). Affordability is also an issue for 29% of pre-retirees and 21% of retirees.
Existing poor health is also a factor for retirees. 26% of them say that this or other medical conditions prevent them from leading a healthier lifestyle. Plus, people who have been retired longer confirm that poor health prevents them from living a healthier life. 33% of people who have been retired for 6 years or more agree with this, compared to 21% of people who have been retired for 5 years or less. On the bright side, almost a third of retirees say that nothing is stopping them from living a healthier lifestyle.
Male pre-retirees tend to be more positive about their health than women.
Encouraging a healthier lifestyle
Now that we have a better understanding of what prevents people from leading a healthier lifestyle, how can we encourage it? When asked what would help them lead a healthier lifestyle, 60% of retirees said cheaper healthy food and 29% said better food labelling. In the pre-retiree camp, 46% said that more free time would help them, while 16% said that they would like a cheaper gym membership. Encouragement from friends and family also plays a role for 39% of retirees and 28% of pre-retirees.
Eating healthy is one of the most important steps when leading a healthy lifestyle, and it seems that 60% of retirees have a legitimate concern about the price of healthy food. A 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating a healthy diet (fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts costs about USD1.50 more per day per person than eating an unhealthy diet (processed foods and refined grains)5. It doesn’t sound like much, but that adds up to $547.50 per year. Granted, these figures are taken from an American context, but a quick glance around a local grocery store shows that organic food and food without preservatives and pesticides tend to cost more in Malaysia as well5.
How then can we eat healthy without breaking the bank? Firstly, try not to get overwhelmed. Focus on the big picture, and buy lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fresh meat. Ensure that fresh foods outnumber packaged food, and then only consider if they are organic, fair trade, GMO-free (Genetically Modified Organisms), etc. Secondly, you should prioritise. If buying organic vegetables and farm fed meat is important to you, budget more money for those things. Make some concessions on other things like rice, noodles, and condiments to balance out your grocery list. Lastly, make a meal plan at the beginning of the week so that you don’t overspend at the grocery store. With adequate planning, eating healthy can become an easy affair6.
Pre-retirees said they would be more likely to live a healthy lifestyle if gym memberships were cheaper (16%), and if they had easier access to sports and activities (33%). Instead of looking at exercising as a big task that can only be accomplished by hitting the gym or partaking in sports, there are simple exercises that can be done in or around your home. Body weight exercises improve strength, condition your body, and help with weight loss. Some examples would be squats, lunges, planks, push ups, and sit ups. As for simple cardio exercises to improve endurance and stamina, simply jogging in place, skipping rope, or climbing stairs would be helpful7. A little bit of creativity and discipline is really all you need to introduce physical activity into your routine.
Insights and practical steps
Finally, the FoR study has provided us with some important insights along with practical actions that are drawn from the research findings. Hopefully, these findings will help today’s retirement savers plan a better financial future for themselves
1. Start saving for an earlier retirement
2.Plan for a longer retirement
56% of retirees say that their relationship with the spouse or partner improved in retirement. Make the most of this new chapter in your life by ensuring that you have a solid financial plan in place.
3. Aim for a healthier retirement
85% of pre-retirees say that something prevents them from leading a healthier lifestyle. Don’t wait until you have stopped working before taking proactive steps to improve your health. Lessen your worries by planning far ahead and implementing a healthy lifestyle as soon as possible.
4. Consider how your healthcare needs may change in retirement
45% of pre-retirees are unable to predict how much they are likely to spend on healthcare in retirement. It is important to consider your financial obligations throughout retirement and make sure that potential healthcare needs are included in your plan. Unexpected medical costs can exact a heavy financial toll at any life stage, but more so during retirement when there’s no fixed income.
The discussion on health and retirement is a complex one, and HSBC Group’s study aims to provide you with relevant information as well as solid steps that you can put into action. Retirement should be the most rewarding time in your life, and we would like to help you make it so.
Please contact your Relationship Manager or visit any of our branches to find out more about our products, or if you need further information.
Reproduced with permission from The Future of Retirement “Healthy new beginnings”, published in 2016 by HSBC Holdings plc
1 Mjn-e-news.com.my, “Malaysia’s healthcare costs set to rise 8.8% a year”, March 15, 2013.
2 Mayoclinic.org, “Aging: What to expect”, April 6, 2015.
3 Medicaltourism.com.my, “Medical Cost References”, April 27, 2013.
4 Psychologytoday.com, “Why Women Worry More”, December 18, 2012.
5 Freemalaysiatoday.com, “How much does it cost to eat organic food?”, January 30, 2014.
6 Parents.com, “Healthy Food IS More Expensive. So Now What?”, March 24, 2015.
7 NHS.uk, “10-minute workouts”, September 16, 2013.