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Spend now, save later.

Estimated cost for health care post-age 65? Try $285,000 per couple.

Key takeaways

  • It is estimated that the average couple will need $285,000 in today's dollars for medical expenses in retirement, excluding long-term care.

  • Health care continues to be one of the largest expenses in retirement.

  • People should be proactive about their health NOW.

If you are like most Americans, health care is expected to be one of your largest expenses in retirement, after housing and transportation costs. But unlike your parents' generation, you won't likely have access to employer- or union-sponsored retiree health benefits. So, health care costs will likely consume a larger portion of your retirement budget—and you need to plan for that.

There are a number of drivers behind this mounting retirement health care cost challenge. In general, people are living longer, health care inflation continues to outpace the rate of general inflation, and the average retirement age is 62 for most Americans—that's 3 years before you are eligible to enroll in Medicare.

It is estimated that about 15% of the average retiree's annual expenses will be used for health care-related expenses, including Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.


Aim for 30 minutes every day. Regular exercise -- especially if you do it briskly enough to feel a little breathless -- delivers huge health benefits. It help keep brain cells healthy by delivering more blood and oxygen. In fact, research suggests aerobic exercise may delay or improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

It also helps:

  • Control your weight

  • Boost your mood

  • Keep bones and muscles strong

  • Helps you sleep better

  • Makes you less likely to get heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol


Small changes in body weight can have a big impact on health risks. Losing just 5 percent of your body weight has been shown to reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease and improve metabolic function in liver, fat and muscle tissue. That means a 200 pound person can reap big health benefits just by losing 10 pounds. While we’d all love to shed all of our extra pounds, it’s a lot easier to start with a 5 percent weight loss goal and keep it off.


Processed meats like hot dogs and sausages have been salted, cured or smoked to enhance flavor and improve preservation. A number of studies have found associations between eating a lot of processed meats and poor health. A Harvard review found that eating one serving a day of processed meats like bacon, sausage and deli meats was associated with a 42 percent higher risk of heart disease and 19 percent increased risk of diabetes. But there was no increase in risk associated with eating unprocessed red meat. Notably, the culprit in processed meats wasn’t the saturated fat or cholesterol — both whole cuts of meat and processed meats contained the same amount per serving. The big differences were the levels of sodium and chemical preservatives. Processed meats had about four times more sodium and 50 percent more nitrate preservatives than unprocessed meats. Other research has implicated processed meats in a higher risk for colon cancer. 


While you shouldn’t plan your health around any one “super food,” there’s a lot to be said for eating blueberries. In one review of the eating habits of 187,000 male and female health workers, eating three or more servings of blueberries a week was associated with a 26 percent lower risk for diabetes. Another study found that eating the equivalent of a cup of blueberries a day lowered blood pressure. Most of us can’t eat a daily cup of blueberries. But the lesson is to add darkly colored fruits and vegetables — blueberries, cherries, spinach and kale — to your diet. They are loaded with nutrients, fiber and carotenoids. They will also fill you up so you’re less likely to binge on junk food.


The best eating strategy for aging well is to skip processed foods and beverages. That will immediately eliminate added sugars from your diet. How do you know if a food is processed? One good indicator is if it comes in a package that has to be ripped open. Think chips, granola bars, junk food, fast food, frozen pizza, etc. There are, of course, some exceptions to the rule. Some whole, unprocessed foods that are good for you come in packages by necessity. Think nuts, eggs, olive oil and milk to name a few. Try to live by the one ingredient rule. If a packaged food contains only one ingredient (ground turkey, for instance) it’s probably a reasonable choice. 

Once you cut out packaged foods, you will start eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish and whole grains. This is essentially a Mediterranean diet, which has been shown in numerous studies to be good for you. Harvard Men’s Health Watch offers a quick-start guide to the Mediterranean diet.


Study after study has seemed to debunk the benefit of taking supplements. The best advice about supplements: Save the money you would spend on them and invest in a new pair of walking shoes, a gym membership or a delicious healthy meal with your family and other loved ones. All of those are likely to do more for your emotional and physical health than a supplement.



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