To Meet Your Life Goals, Focus on Your Health Goals

Bucket with blocks spelling out bucket list

You're probably familiar with the term "bucket list" — a bit of dark humor referring to things we would like to do in our life before we "kick the bucket."

Stanford University School of Medicine researcher Dr. VJ Periyakoil says that talking to your doctor about your bucket list — your goals and desires for the rest of your life — can be an important part of care planning. Dr. Periyakoil reports that knowing a patient’s life goals can help doctors tailor treatment to a patient’s needs, and these conversations also can motivate patients to take care of their health. She says, "Telling a patient not to eat sugar because it's bad for them doesn't work nearly as well as saying, for example, if you are careful now, you will be able to splurge on a slice of wedding cake in a few months when your son gets married."

What's on your bucket list? In a study conducted by Dr. Periyakoil, participants named travel (79 percent), a personal goal such as running a marathon (78 percent), reaching a life milestone such as a 50th wedding anniversary (51 percent), and achieving financial stability (24 percent). Then there are the 15 percent who have their eyes on a daring activity, such as skydiving. Dr. Periyakoil reports that the older we are, the more likely we are to have a bucket list — but the earlier we think about our goals and dreams, the better.

Consider the results from two recent studies that demonstrate how important it is to keep our eyes on our bucket list:

People who have chronic inflammation when they're middle-aged are much more likely to suffer memory and thinking problems when they're older, says the American Academy of Neurology. In February 2019, Johns Hopkins University researcher Keenan A. Walker, Ph.D., explained, "Many of the processes that can lead to a decline in thinking and memory skills are believed to begin in middle age, and it is in middle age that they may also be most responsive to intervention." These interventions include regular exercise, following an anti-inflammatory heart-healthy diet, and getting enough sleep.

The lesson: When you're tempted to skip a workout, chow down on junk food, or play video games until 3 a.m. on a work night, picture that world cruise you want to take someday!

In August 2018, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston researchers reported that the all-around activity level of many Americans drops sharply as they enter middle age. Study author Kelley Pettee Gabriel, Ph.D., said, "We know higher intensity physical activity tends to decline with age. But these findings show just how much even gentle forms of activity that are part of daily routines, such as casual walking, slip in midlife, which doesn't bode at all well for future health and should serve as a wake-up call to us all." Gabriel says that even when we are busy with our jobs, families or elder care, we should consider how long-term inactivity will affect us later.

The lesson: While you're thinking about your dream to swim with dolphins or hike in Nepal, remember that physical fitness will help make that happen.

When the goalposts move

We can't predict the future. Despite our best efforts to protect our health and independence, our lives may take a different turn. Take a look at the following table from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows the percentage of people who will experience disabilities during their lives.

Census Bureau graph of disability rates broken down by age

As you can see, our chance of disability goes up quite a bit as we grow older. It's important to consider what we would do if we were one of the one-quarter of people older than 75 who have difficulty living independently. As we keep our goals in mind, we should always have a Plan B. Ask questions such as:

Will my home support my goals as I grow older? Maybe you're considering remodeling to upgrade the look of your home. If your dream is to live there forever, be sure to focus on design choices that would meet your needs if your health were to change. Or maybe moving to Hawaii is one of your goals, in which case you'd want to focus on features that would make it easier to sell the home when the time comes to move. (The two aren't mutually exclusive — as our population ages, more people will be looking for universal design.)

Young woman planning out her future with sticky notes on a whiteboard

Am I saving enough money? It's easy to spend our whole paycheck on things we want when we're younger. But sooner rather than later, talk to a financial planner about setting up a retirement account to help you not only with bucket list items, but also with healthcare costs in your later years. You might have to give up some "nice to have" items when you're younger, but your older self will thank you!

What can help me stay independent if I have health challenges? It's safe to say that losing independence is on no one's bucket list! But even if we're dealing with disabilities, we could achieve many of our goals and dreams in later years. Check out your options. You might move to a senior living community. To stay independent at home, you could take advantage of in-home care services for help with personal care, transportation, and keeping your home in good order. Discuss your preferences with your family well ahead of time.

What will I do if a loved one needs care? This is where the dreams and expectations of an increasing number of Americans are meeting an unexpected obstacle in the road. Just as we plan for our own care, we should be prepared to care for others. Read "Supporting Family Caregivers Is Everyone's Job" in the March 2019 issue of the Caring Right at Home online newsletter to learn more about how home care helps caregivers protect their jobs, their health and their dreams.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.