Retirement is an exciting time and something many people look forward to. It can also be a confusing and overwhelming time—there’s a lot of information, advice and options out there. To help Albertans transition into a new phase of their life and prepare for retirement, we created a guide to retirement. This guide goes over some of the things to consider when you retire including drug, health, dental and travel benefits.

Aging is an inevitable part of life, but it doesn’t have to slow us down. Staying active and maintaining our wellbeing helps us stay strong and mentally fit. This can reduce the impact that things like aches and pains, cognitive decline, social isolation and the risk for chronic conditions as we age. Regular physical activity helps increase overall fitness, strengthen muscles and bones, maintain a healthy bodyweight and reduce the risk of chronic disease and premature death. It improves mental health and wellbeing by releasing endorphins that can make us feel happier. It also gives us opportunities to connect with friends and meet new people, which help prevent cognitive decline and keep our brains healthy.

While your health and wellness should always be top priority, it can be challenging to maintain while working, caring for family and keeping up with a social life. When you retire, you have more time to focus on your personal wellbeing and interests. Health benefits become an important part of maintaining your health and wellness in retirement, allowing you to enjoy your favourite activities and explore new experiences. We recently spoke with our Alberta Blue Cross wellness experts to provide answers to common questions about health and wellness for retirees.

What daily routines should I continue or start to ensure I stay healthy during retirement?

If you’ve always been mindful and consistent with healthy habits, carry them forward to maintain a good quality of life and longevity through retirement. Be open and curious to experiencing new things, too.

If your health and wellbeing is, or has, suffered due to neglect or other factors, it’s never too late to make a positive change. Incorporating new healthy habits can have a measurable impact on how you feel, your energy levels and your ability to enjoy retirement. You can also improve key health metrics such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, maintain good cognitive function and increase your opportunity to enjoy optimal health and quality of life.

Below are some tips to help you maintain or build healthy habits for retirement.

Physical activity

  • Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity—activity that raises your heart rate and body temperature like fast walking, swimming or tennis.
  • Reduce sedentary time with several hours per day of light physical activity such as standing, slower walking, gardening or household chores. If you use a step counter, aim for more than 7,500 steps per day.
  • At least twice a week, incorporate muscle strengthening and balance activities such as resistance training or heavy gardening with digging and shoveling.

Sleep

  • Get seven to nine hours of good quality sleep on a regular basis.
  • Aim for consistent bed and wake-up times, even on the weekend.
  • Create sleep and bedtime rituals that support sound sleep—avoid screen time one hour before bed, enjoy a cup of herbal tea or listen to soothing music.

Dietary needs

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and proteins. Eating healthy helps prevent muscle and bone loss, promotes good organ function and reduces your risk for some health conditions like heart disease.
  • Check with a health care practitioner or dietician to ensure you consume enough nutrients. As we age our bodies need less food, but we may need more of certain nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
  • Make water your drink of choice. Thirst can decline as we get older, so be sure todrink water throughout the day and with meals and snacks and avoid sugary drinks.

Social connections

  • Keep in touch with family, friends and former colleagues—plan a dinner, meet for coffee or visit to a local attraction together.
  • Create opportunities to meet new people. Developing new relationships can happen at any stage in life, so exploring new hobbies and experiences can introduce you to others with similar interests.
  • Take time for casual acquaintances such as chatting with people in your neighborhood or at your local farmer’s market.
  • Enjoy new experiences as a grandparent if this is an opportunity for you.

Mental health

  • Get daily physical activity and maintain and build social connections—these are important components of caring for your mental health.
  • Practice regular self-care with a journal or gratitude list. Our mental health isn’t static, so it’s important to be aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions to be able to address any concerns.
  • Adopt a relaxation practice such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga or tai chi.
  • Spend time outside—taking in the sounds, smells and sights of nature is a great way to relax, reduce stress and feed the soul.

Dive deeper into reducing sedentary time, moving more and sleeping well with ParticipACTION’s benefits and guidelines for adults. Learn more about nutrition guidelines on the Government of Canada website.

What can I do to mentally prepare for retirement?

Retirement is something many of us look forward to and often have high expectations for, so it can be a difficult period if it doesn’t go according to plan. Therefore, it’s best to think of retirement as a transition rather than a destination.

In preparing for retirement, it’s important to consider how you’ll spend your days and maintain a sense of connection, engagement, purpose and meaning. When leaving a career, you may find yourself grieving a sense of purpose and social connections—such loss can lead to depression. If you move to a new community or city where you don’t know anyone, you may feel isolated and alone. Many of us often find we’re so busy with our careers and raising a family, that we don’t develop a lot of other personal interests along the way.

Take some time to figure out what gives you joy and meaning, and what new things excite you in retirement, such as travelling, further education, hobbies, volunteering or spending more time with family. Stay curious and you may be surprised at what the journey will reveal.

If you’re not quite ready to retire or want to continue working, part-time or contract work is another option. The reduced hours still provide the benefits of working but allow for more free time to relax and pursue other interests. If you don’t feel prepared for the transition to retirement or you’re not handling it well, talk to a counselor, coach or someone who has been through this before and can provide some insight. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—this is good advice to follow at any stage in your life.

How will my health benefits change when I turn 65 years old?

There are various government-sponsored programs in Alberta to help retirees and seniors with drug, dental and vision coverage. The Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) provides all eligible Albertans with coverage for medically necessary physician visits, hospital procedures and standard ward accommodation, as well as some dental and oral surgical health services. The Coverage for Seniors program offers Albertans aged 65 years and older premium-free coverage for prescriptions drugs and other health-related services not covered under the AHCIP. Learn more about what’s covered by the government in our guide to retirement.

If you have a benefits plan through your employer, find out if you’ll continue to have coverage when you retire. There are also many options for benefits plans in Alberta for those transitioning off an employer-sponsored group benefits plan. For example, our employees and members on an employer-sponsored Alberta Blue Cross plan receive preferred pricing on our personal plans when they retire. Our guide to retirement provides more information on transitioning from an employer health plan.

How can I keep something like my current benefits plan when I retire?

Once you know what will be covered through government-sponsored plans and what may continue to be covered through your employer when you retire, you can identify additional benefits you may want covered. Based on your lifestyle and individual needs, you might consider supplementing your retirement coverage with a personal benefits plan. Such plans can provide peace of mind and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs, dental services, vision care, medical devices and travel insurance.

You want to enjoy this next phase of your life fully covered and worry-free. There’s lots to consider when it comes to your health benefits—use our guide to retirement to help you ask the right questions when looking for health and dental coverage.

How do retiree plans compare to my existing plan?

Compared to your existing plan, a retiree plan might differ in the following ways:

  • More flexibility—you want the ability to change your coverage down the road as you age and your health needs change. Did you know that 75 per cent of Albertans aged 65 years and older develop, on average, at least one chronic health condition? Consider getting a plan that allows you to change your coverage levels at any time. If you have a partner or spouse, you might want a plan that also allows you to have separate or different levels of coverage.
  • Focus on wellness—some plans include features like access to wellness programs and Individual Assistance Programs (IAPs) for personal, nutritional and financial counselling. For example, Alberta Blue Cross personal plans include IAPs and access to Balance®, our online wellness program, to help you live your best life. Our plans also provide access to the Blue Advantage® program, which gives our members discounts on things like fitness centre memberships and wellness products.
  • Travel insurance—if you want to travel during your retirement years or spend the winter months in a warmer climate, go with a plan that includes travel insurance to save yourself money in the long run.
  • Medical reviews and waiting periods—some plans require a medical review while others don’t, so any pre-existing conditions or prescriptions that need to be covered might impact your eligibility. For example, a medical questionnaire is required for our Blue Choice® plan but isn’t for our Blue Assured® and retiree plans. Waiting periods for benefits are also something to consider. The industry standard for drug and dental benefits is three months, or longer in the case of extensive dental work, but some plans don’t have waiting periods.

When is the best time to apply for retiree health coverage?

When it comes to applying for retirement and seniors’ benefits plans, timing is everything.

When the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) records indicate an Albertan is turning 65, a package providing information about programs and services for seniors is mailed to the address on their file. You should receive this information three to six months before your 65th birthday, if you’re registered for the AHCIP and the address on your file is correct. To avoid delay in receiving benefits when you turn 65, you should complete and return any applications as soon as you receive them. You can also apply online up to one year prior to your 65th birthday.

If you’ll be coming off an employer health plan, you typically need to apply for an individual benefits plan within 30 to 60 days of your employer plan ending. You might be worried the application process will be tedious, but you can usually find the answers to your questions and start the application process on any insurance provider’s website. For example, we offer an easy and seamless experience, either entirely online or with a benefits specialist over the phone. Learn more about our health and dental benefit plan options online.

What can I do to stay healthy and active in retirement?

There are many things you can do to maintain or improve your health and wellness during retirement. Below are some ideas to explore.

  • Join a fitness centre or recreation facility for a variety of options to meet your fitness level and interests and to make social connections. Some fitness centres offer group classes, specialty programs for chronic health conditions, events and access to information and experts for personal training and orientations on how to use facility equipment.  
  • Explore your city’s events, resources and program offerings for ideas to keep you physically, mentally and socially engaged. Perhaps there is a festival you’ve always wanted to check out or a volunteer opportunity for a cause important to you.
  • Contact your local community league to see what additional programs and activities they might offer. This could also introduce you to a new network of people in your area.
  • Visit your local public library for a world of literature on any topic, as well as additional events and services.  
  • Volunteer with a local organization or charity to enjoy new experiences, meet new people and contribute your time and skills in a meaningful way.
  • Adopt a pet if you’re able and looking to add joy and purpose to your retirement years. Dogs and cats provide great companionship, encourage physical activity, boost your mood and reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Check out a community centre for older adults, which provide a variety activities, games and social outings such as weekly dinners, dance classes and group visits to different indoor and outdoor community attractions. Many centres also provide health information, access to health care practitioners and host guest speakers on a variety of topics, such as travel, financial planning, mental health and other relevant issues.
  • Consider when to move into a retirement residence, which offer many physical, mental and social health benefits. Some of these include the ability to socialize and make new connections, opportunities to learn and engage in new hobbies, reduced isolation and risks associated with living alone in your own home, increased security and support, easy access to health care and the ability to live more carefree—no more housework, cooking or yardwork. Learn more about the advantages of moving into a retirement home.

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