Lifestyle Factors to Promote Healthy Retirement and Aging In Place

Where should we live in retirement for the healthiest aging possible? The rankings are out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a report called “The State of Aging and Health in America 2013”.

The CDC collected, analyzed, and ranked data using 17 measures of health behaviors and outcomes.

It then had the results for the 50 states compiled and compared by 24/7 Wall St.

Where not to live is just as interesting as where to live. More importantly for our senior loved ones is what makes a location better or worse for those retired there.

The report is based on measures of health behaviors and outcomes – the why of what makes one state a healthier place to live than another.

When our seniors know what makes a place healthy, are they willing to learn from this data and alter their own lifestyle habits?

What We Know About Healthy Aging

There are lifestyle factors that will help our seniors stay healthy as they age.

Many are not news but we still don’t necessarily practice positive health behaviors.

This study highlights how certain poor lifestyle habits impact healthy retirement so that we can learn from this information and make better choices for our own health in the coming years.

Physical Activity

Most of us and our seniors have heard the message that being physically active keeps elderly people from suffering from frequent physical distress.

We know keeping active will help us stay healthy.

West Virginia is one of the least healthy states because 40% of its residents 65 and older do not engage in moderate physical activity. This is the highest of any state in the union.

People in West Virginia also have a lower than average life expectancy at 75 years, better than only Mississippi which, at 74.5 years, is the lowest of all states. Also, 25.9% of those over 65 living here are considered obese.

Falls With Injuries

Another hurdle to successful and healthy aging in place is falling. Falling in older adults is actually the leading cause of death from injury in this population.

Some states have higher than average numbers of falls including Georgia, with the fourth highest rate, and South Carolina, which has the second highest fall rate.

Falls can’t be totally prevented but they can be reduced with sufficient exercise and physical activity.

Healthy Eating

A poor diet, eating fruit and adequate vegetables less than twice each day, can negatively impact health.

Mississippi has seniors who are more likely to smoke, eat poorly and be sedentary, resulting in an obesity rate of 27.3% in people over 65. These unhealthy lifestyle factors also play a part in achieving one of the highest rates of disability in the nation too at 43.9%.

Adding poor eating habits with little physical activity will result in obesity which can lead to health conditions and poor quality of life, including loss of mobility.

It seems that most of the states with the lowest rankings in this survey were in the south and, in fact, the bottom 5 are in the south — West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisiana.

Poor health in these states is attributable in part to poor diets with little fruit and vegetable intake.

Preventive Health

States with less than average use of preventive health resources, such as flu vaccine or colon screening, put many of the nation’s seniors at risk for unsuccessful aging in place.

West Virginians have the 18th lowest rate of those getting a flu shot, at 66.4%.

Oral health is another area where good preventive care can improve quality of life. When seniors lose five or more of their natural teeth, there is a correlation with not only mouth pain that inhibits healthy eating but health conditions that are impacted by poor diet. In Tennessee more than half of those over 65 have lost at least five teeth.

Of seniors across the country who require medications to control high blood pressure, only 94% actually take their medication. That number drops sharply in Montana where only 90% take their prescription hypertension drugs. This is problematic because heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans.


Despite that fact that elders in California are more likely to eat well and stay active, many report frequent mental distress impacting their health.

Top 5 States

The top five states where seniors’ overall health is better than their peers include:

  1. Connecticut – life expectancy is 80.4 years
  2. Vermont – 23.4% obesity
  3. Massachusetts – 72.4% flu vaccination rate
  4. Minnesota – 34% people over 65 with disability
  5. Wisconsin — 23.6% had injury from a fall

These states show many positive health results including low fall rate, far fewer injury rate if a fall occurs, few smokers, low reports of mental distress, take prescribed medication more often, take vaccines as scheduled, get their preventive health checkups and therefore have longer life expectancy rates than the nation.

What can we all learn from the seniors who are following healthy habits and staying well as they age?

Positive Habits

No matter where your senior loved one lives, there are definite healthy habits that will impact their well-being if they improve lifestyle behaviors now including:

  1. Getting physically active
  2. Eating right including fruits and vegetables daily
  3. Stop smoking
  4. Maintain an appropriate weight
  5. Participate in health screenings and preventive health management, such as vaccinations for flu and pneumonia
  6. Taking medication as prescribed
  7. Preventing falls with injuries
  8. Clean teeth daily and visit the dentist for prophylactic dental care

Retirement Fears

Your senior loved one and you (really all of us) dream of a happy and healthy retirement. However, sometimes the reality of retirement can be less than expected.

There are some realities that need to be prepared for despite what state in the union your senior or you choose to call home.

  • The Census Bureau reports 15% of retirees 65 and older live in poverty. Half are considered ‘near poor’ meaning their income is less than twice the poverty level.
  • Retirement is often stressful for our elders because of a variety of factors, including finances, health concerns, isolation and even lacking a sense of purpose.
  • Cost of healthcare becomes a major stumbling block for many over 65. They may not have realized the cost it would actually be depending on their health status or a new failing health or they didn’t fully understand the limitations of Medicare in paying their healthcare bills. Prescription drug costs alone can be staggering for seniors on fixed incomes.

Proper, thoughtful planning and knowledge about what constitutes healthy aging into retirement can mean that our senior loved ones will be ready to live their golden years in both health and happiness.