Everywhere we look, there is media focused on how to have a great retirement. No wonder. 10,000 people a day are turning 65. The emphasis is largely on urging you to get financial advice so you can feel “secure” and “reach your goals” all suggesting that these are the components of a happy retirement. But is that all there is to it?
Of course, saving and controlling spending are essential to protect against running out of money but there is far more to a satisfying retirement than your finances. Generally, financial advisors and managers do not address the subject of a healthy retirement because health is not their educational nor skill focus. However, no one is going to feel “secure” in retirement if they are also facing down a load of health problems as retirement unfolds. Money doesn’t help keep you from declining faster than you normally may with age.
Let’s get real and look at the most valuable thing over which we have some control–healthy aging. Yes, some of how we age is hereditary. But that is only about 30% of what happens to our health in our retirement years. The other 70% is up to us. No matter what our wealth, we aren’t going to enjoy the retirement years without paying daily attention to our lifestyle choices. These include food intake, moving our bodies, managing stress, sleep, social engagement and finding purpose in our lives. We want our retirement years to be great but making that happen is not a passive process, nor one that depends entirely on luck or how well our investments are doing.
If we consider just one of these lifestyle choices, which is moving our bodies purposefully every day, that is possible in some form for every one of us. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise. That means moving around any way you like, such as walking, taking the stairs, gardening or carrying laundry or groceries. “Moderate intensity” means that you’re not just ambling, strolling or taking your time. You’re putting effort into it with intention. How much effort varies with each of us. For some who have not done much moving around before, a walk around the block can leave one breathless. Ideally we have to aim for at least 30 minutes of movement per day, five times a week to keep our hearts healthy. Alternatively, you can do more in less time if you prefer. Vigorous activity can cut the total recommended time in half: 75 minutes per week. However, “vigorous” means the sweaty kind of exercise, like jogging, riding a bike, swimming or whatever suits you that you can do with a lot of effort. That’s not for everyone, but everyone can do something even if you already have some physical limitations.
I live in a California county with the best life expectancy for men in the U.S. and the second-best life expectancy for women. What do I see around me? I belong to a gym. There are many older people any day any hour, doing something. Chair exercise class in the auditorium looks full as I glance in the door. White haired folks, some with personal trainers, are using equipment from stretch bands to hand pedaling on a machine. Some are on treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals. Others are in the pool, taking gentle yoga or doing floor stretches. Wheelchairs, walker and canes don’t stop them. I’d bet most of them would say they are pleased with the way retirement is going for them. I see many smiling as they leave, with peaceful expressions on their faces. It feels good when you get used to moving.
Whether retirement is down the road a bit or you’re there now, think about ensuring your own satisfaction. What you do for your health every day will shape a number of things about your retirement years. Start small if you must with five or ten minutes of walking, even if you’ve been a couch potato all your life. Get a decent pair of walking shoes designed for that purpose and start. Time yourself and go longer little by little. Small increases every week are encouraging. You’ll be glad you did. Take it from me, as I heed my own advice, with swimming, biking and jogging. As a retired RN, I understand the benefits of moving and the risks of being sedentary. Moving is a component of happiness in my 70s. At AgingParents.com where I consult with families on many age-related issues, including health, I learn. How others do retirement well is informative.