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Retiring overseas? Ageing, stress and how to ensure a healthy life abroad

Whether it’s a planned retirement move to a home in the sun, or a sudden desire to embrace a beloved host country for the long term, many ponder spending their ‘golden years’ living internationally.

Retiring overseas? Ageing, stress and how to ensure a healthy life abroad
Moving abroad to enjoy your golden years can be incredibly fulfilling. Photo: Getty Images

Turning your dream of living overseas into reality can be intensely rewarding. However, it is important to understand the stresses that come with it, how stress exacerbates common health conditions, and how these can be mitigated to ensure a happy, fulfilling life. 

In partnership with Cigna, we discuss the significant factors to consider before making plans to live abroad permanently.

Let’s talk about ageing

As much as we’d like to ignore the fact, as we grow older we are at greater risk of health problems. So it’s worth understanding some common conditions.   

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is by far the biggest threat to both men and women as they age. It encompasses a range of common conditions, from strokes and heart attacks to vascular dementia. Taking the United Kingdom as an example, CVD is responsible for 160,000 deaths each year. More pressingly, it is the impact of CVD on survivors that has greater consequences – strokes are one of the leading causes of disability in the UK , with two-thirds of survivors leaving the hospital with some kind of disability.   

Be prepared for the unexpected, get an international health insurance quote

Cancer is another leading threat to both men and women as they age. With the UK again as an example, 147,407 Britons died from cancer in 2020, out of an average of 375,000 new cases each year. One-third of all cancer cases were diagnosed in those over the age of 75. Breast cancer was the most common cancer diagnosed in the UK between 2016 and 2018, followed by prostate, lung and bladder cancers. While the survivability rates for many cancers are rapidly increasing, treatment and surgery does mean loss of mobility and quality of life for many patients. 

Mobility issues are another serious health problem faced by many as they grow older. After the age of 40, the number of people in the UK who require assistance to move freely begins to rise exponentially. Whether caused by the degradation of joints or other, more complicated issues, a loss of mobility can limit how much of the world an individual can engage with. 

While these figures may seem frightening, it’s worth remembering that medical science has led to significant increases in global life expectancy. The chances of surviving a life-threatening illness today are greater than at any point in history. 

What matters, however, is quality of life. We want to enjoy our later years rather than be impaired by illness. Therefore, any factors we can identify to help us avoid developing illnesses are worth paying close attention to.

Recent research shows the surprising role stress plays in the development of age-related diseases. The good news? This is a factor we can largely control. 

Stress and the human body

We’re all familiar with the sensation of being stressed – a rush of adrenalin, a flush of irritability and a pounding head. 

When we’re stressed, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline, as well as hormones such as cortisol, to spur us into a ‘fight or flight’ response, and lead us out of a dangerous situation. While this was a useful tool for our ancient ancestors, in the modern world it can do more harm than good. 

Increasingly, science is uncovering the myriad effects that prolonged stress can have on the human body. We’ve known for a long time that stress can harm the heart and circulatory system – prolonged stress can lead to a more rapid heartbeat and higher blood pressure, doubling the chances of having a heart attack or stroke

Research has also uncovered the role of stress in the development of many kinds of cancer. It indicates that the brain’s release of hormones during periods of prolonged stress can activate cancer cells, leading to rapid tumour growth. 

Stress also impacts the body’s immune system. When a person experiences prolonged stress, hormones again can significantly reduce the number of lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell, weakening the body’s defences against infection. 

So, for most of us, if we can reduce stress in our daily lives, we can lessen our chances of falling ill. There are a number of techniques, practices and habits that can help reduce the effect of stress. For people living overseas, however, this may be more of a challenge. 

Enjoy the life you’ve planned for yourself abroad and build a policy that meets your specific health needs

Stress and living abroad

The experience of living abroad carries with it its own stressors. 

Chief among these are communication difficulties. A lack of understanding of language and cultural mores can be a constant source of stress for internationals, in particular when it comes to resources that may be needed, such as healthcare.

A lack of access to friendly support networks can also be a major stressor. A significant proportion of expats are individuals, so asking for help or having interactions may be difficult. Making friends can take time, and bring its own anxieties. 

Finally, there may be financial pressures – particularly for retirees, who likely have finite savings. Sudden disruptions to their lifestyle could mean a costly return to their home country, or a reduction in circumstances – in itself a major stressor. 

Stretch yourself: Staying active and connected to others can help vastly reduce stress levels. Photo: Getty Images

The most important consideration for older internationals 

As increasing numbers of people work, live and retire abroad, international health insurers are beginning to understand the role of stress for policyholders – in both recovery and prevention. Most insurers now actively address the stress experienced by internationals abroad through their coverage. 

Chiefly, many providers, such as Cigna Global, offer unlimited phone and online consultations with doctors, with clinical advice and prescriptions in the customer’s language. They also grant access to specialists and choice of hospitals within their network, giving clients peace of mind when it comes to serious illness.

Insurance providers, like Cigna Global, are also developing benefits tailored toward specific conditions, such as cancer. In such cases, in addition to treatment, telephone counselling and other disease-related costs, such as those for a wig, may be included. This provides needed support during a crisis, minimising the damage done by stress and boosting the chances of a full recovery. 

Finally, depending on the level of coverage, some insurers have deployed the use of dedicated services to give their policyholders advice on all areas of life abroad – from rubbish collections to family emergencies. A friendly voice acting as a guide means that many stressors faced by internationals can be minimised, if not eliminated. 

If you are planning to make a permanent move abroad, especially if you’re getting older, it’s important to consider how a potential insurer addresses the challenges of living abroad, and how it actively helps tackle stress. 

It is worth asking exactly what is offered in an international health insurance policy, beyond the coverage it has for illness and accidents. Does it offer consultations with a doctor in your language? What about counselling services? How will the policy offset the stresses of life abroad daily?

Important for retirees to know, if joining Cigna Global before the end of August, the company will upgrade their policy to include the highly-valued Vision and Dental add-on module for one year*, that covers eye tests, eyewear and a wide range of preventative, routine and major dental treatments. 

Enjoying your later years abroad can be a hugely rewarding and fulfilling experience. To make the most of it, make sure you invest in a policy that not only covers you for when you’re ill but also helps you stay fit, healthy and free of stress in the first place. 

Find out how Cigna can ensure you make the most of your life abroad, and request a quote for international health insurance today

*  – The free Vision and Dental policy upgrade is only applicable to new policies sold in August 2022 which will be eligible for 1 year free Vision and Dental cover. Premiums under $2k will not be eligible. Not applicable in conjunction with any other offer or discount.

Sources

Member comments

  1. Can someone explain why on The Local.DE all the stories are about, and from, the UK? Id didn’t sign up for The Local.UK

    The Italian and Spanish The Local are also mostly about Brexit and The UK folks living there and complaining how its not the same.

    Please, just news. Local to the country and focused on the country would be great.

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For members

MOVING TO SWITZERLAND

Seven tips to help you settle in Switzerland

Despite its many advantages - safety, education, and low taxes, to name but a few, Switzerland can be a tricky place for immigrants to navigate. Here are a few tips to help make you feel like a local rather than just a visitor.

Seven tips to help you settle in Switzerland

Learn the language
First things first: Whichever part of Switzerland you find yourself in, the way to the (notoriously reserved) Swiss people’s hearts is through language. It is no secret that immigrants who go that extra mile to fit in are more readily welcomed and accepted by the locals.

While those living in larger cities such as Zurich, Geneva or Basel may very well have an easier time finding people willing to speak to them in English, after a while, the obvious becomes inevitable: If your goal is to feel at home in Switzerland, you best learn one (or more) of its four official languages to break the cultural gap.

READ ALSO: Is your French good enough for Swiss residency and citizenship?

So whether you left your home country equipped with a basic grasp of your new local language or find yourself having to start from scratch, the easiest way to get learning is to sign up for language classes – and if you have the funds, tailored private lessons will have you speaking the lingo of your choice in no time!

Go on mini adventures
One of the easiest ways you can combat those budding feelings of loneliness and start to feel more comfortable in your host country is to step outside and explore your immediate surroundings.

Speak to locals, colleagues and classmates and make a list of a few places in your area you would like to visit. Shopping malls, local cafes, town markets, museums and historical sights make a good starting point.

Pro tip: Sometimes, the best way to get familiar with a new environment is to get lost in it first. Why not try an off-the-beaten-path stroll around your new hometown?

Get volunteering and involved in the community
Volunteering can be a very rewarding experience for immigrants looking to integrate into a community, learn new skills, contribute to their new place of residence, and meet other foreigners and locals alike. Whether you have a heart for animals, enjoy teaching English, or wish to advance your career by volunteering for a large organisation, Switzerland has opportunities for everybody!

Visit Swiss Volunteers or SCI Schweiz to find upcoming volunteer events in your area and take the first step toward closing the gap between tourists and residents.

(Photo by angela pham on Unsplash)

Take up a social hobby that aligns with your interests
Even if your goal isn’t to meet new people immediately, there are many activities you can pursue that will get you out of your house and embrace the local culture.

Join cooking classes to learn how to cook up yummy national dishes (yes, they extend beyond fondue!), attend a nearby book club event and dive into Swiss literature (again, there’s more to it than The Swiss Family Robinson), or find yourself a local hiking buddy that may very well share the odd insider tip, because if there is anyone that knows the place you have moved to – it is the people that live there.

READ ALSO: ‘Peaceful coexistence’: How one Swiss canton helps foreign citizens integrate

Break a sweat for free
Exercise not only helps you feel good about yourself and boost your endorphin levels (yay!), but it also gives you a chance to connect with like-minded people that may even live in the same neighbourhood.

Now it’s a common misconception that your natural starting point is your nearest gym or sports club, and while getting a gym membership is an excellent way of linking up with fellow sports lovers, there are countless ways to keep fit without a hefty price tag.

Switzerland is, after all, a hiker’s paradise, making it just as common to meet people while taking in the beautiful Alps – whether on a hike, while out trekking, or enjoying a casual jog, as it is breaking a sweat at your local health club.

A man stands in front of the Matterhorn in the Swiss region of Zermatt

(Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash)

Get connected
There are arguably many disadvantages that come with modern technology, but if you find yourself in a new environment, logging into social media may not be the worst idea. 

Join a local community group on Facebook to keep up with upcoming events or clubs in your area, or use Instagram to your advantage and share your favourite pastime with fellow hobby enthusiasts.

And while out and about, why not check out your local mall’s bulletin board? You never know what you might find!

READ ALSO: All you need to know about bringing your pets to Switzerland

Adopt man’s best friend
Dogs undoubtedly deserve the title of “man’s best friend”: they are loyal, intelligent, affectionate, and can boost our mental health and fitness. But besides providing their owners companionship (a big plus when moving to a new country), dogs can also help create human-to-human friendships and offer social support.

For those not in a position to get their own pup, consider picking up dog-walking, and you’ll find yourself bumping into neighbours and other dog walkers on the regular!

And lastly, give yourself time and be patient with yourself. Moving abroad is no small feat, so remember to give yourself credit for making such a giant leap!

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