Here’s to Your Health in Retirement

(Taken from “I Want to Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be”)

Joy and temperance and repose, slam the door on the doctor’s nose.~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I think it is reasonably safe to say that at this stage in our lives we have all been made well aware of the importance of doing those things that are healthy and good for us. With worldwide attention focused on the benefits of organic foods, vitamins, nutrition, weight consciousness and cardiovascular health, we would have to be living in a cave to not have tuned into the familiar song. Avoid too much of this and be sure to do at least “x” amount of that. Make sure your diet includes some “y” and don’t even think of putting that into your body. It can be somewhat confusing but at a high level I think by now we get it. We know the basics of what we need to do to stay healthy. Of course what we choose to do with this information is a different matter.

While recently on vacation in Mexico my wife and I noticed something alarming. We had been coming to the same spot each year for many years but something seemed different this time. The average vacationer was easily 55 or older – nothing new there. But it seemed that a much greater percentage were overweight and not by just a little. We also noticed more of the older people moving slowly and struggling as they walked up from the beach toward their room. We could not help but compare with a trip to Switzerland some years ago where the old people – some very old – could be seen mixed amongst the younger generations as they up the nearest mountainside. Swiss women in their seventies had their hiking sticks in hand with chins pointed to the nearby peaks and if you walked too slowly in front of them they passed you by. We did not notice any of the locals overweight by more than a few pounds. It appeared the active lifestyle of these residents kept them fit and healthy well into their later years allowing them to enjoy their life to the fullest.

In defense of the non-Swiss we did meet a wonderful 89 year lady old while vacationing in Mexico who breathed a little hope into all of us not-quite-yet-there in years. Throughout the week, she remained in a state of perpetual motion walking far and wide across the resort letting everyone know that it was her way or the highway. The exciting and vividly described stories of her past left no doubt that she was still very much with it. She was not a single pound overweight and although careful where she put her feet she kept moving ever onward. There is hope that no matter where you are from you can positively impact your state of health by making the effort.

A reader of my blog put is well when she offered her advice encouraging those in retirement to get and stay as fit as possible and to do and go before good health and stamina abandon you. Such a large percentage of health issues for all Americans are the result of bad personal choices.

We should not downplay the significance of eating right and exercising to encourage a healthier you. If you want to live a truly excellent retired life it helps to be healthy in mind and body. That said, I don’t think we need to rehash the various philosophies of health or review the multitude of programs that can help to get you where you want to go. It would be surprising if you did not already have your favorite program or training routine by this point.

What I believe can be helpful is to highlight some simple and universal keys that apply across all programs intended to make you healthier. This is not a prescription for perfect health but rather observations made after many years attempting to stay on the healthy path as much as possible.

I am one of those fortunate folks who actually enjoy exercise and working out. Over the years I have created my own routine that combines cardiovascular for the old ticker, stretching via a combination of Yoga and Pilates to work the core and promote flexibility, and weight lifting to keep the biceps flex-worthy for as long as I can. I make exercises part of my every day. If I do not do something in the way of exercise each day, I miss it. If I miss two days in a row I actually feel a little bit off and even slightly agitated. Fortunately I know the cause of my restlessness and the cure is as simple as getting active and working out.

No matter how good it is for us, not everyone looks forward as I do to sweating on the bike or lifting weights. With that in mind I want to share a few practices that have worked for me over the years and might help in your efforts to do the right thing and live a healthier lifestyle. Don’t expect anything earth shattering but rather some common sense principles to consider as you pursue your own good health in retirement.

Find an exercise that you can tolerate and stick with it

I wish I had started preparing sooner, but it’s really never too late to improve your life and prepare for a healthier and more robust future.

To achieve results – short term as well as long term – you need to stick with it, whatever routine or program or combination of routines or programs you ultimately decide upon. You want to perform your exercises regularly and consistently. Busting your butt for a few months and then giving it up will not do much more than bust your butt.

If you hate what you are doing it will be difficult to maintain it. You will find excuses and you will likely fail. Though it may not be possible to find an exercise you actually enjoy at the very least try to find something that you can tolerate. Having a partner can help you on those days when you would rather be doing anything other than exercise. The two of you can push each other and support your common goals.

Try to think long term as you investigate the many options available. Healthy exercise and lifestyle is the job of a lifetime with no time off for good behavior. Realize that whatever you decide upon will become a part of your world for the foreseeable future. With that in mind you may want to include a variety of exercises and practices in your routine. Variety can help to keep things fresh as well as work different parts of your body in different ways.

Fortunately your choices of what exercises to do are seemingly endless with new programs popping up all the time. Had you heard of Zumba a year ago? Cross fitness sounded like some kind of clothing line until its recent rise to popularity. Yoga in its numerous forms and styles has grown impressively in popularity offering different strokes for different folks with very age appropriate options. For some having a set of barbells and an exercise bike in the garage is all it takes. Any of these options can help improve your health situation as long as you stick with it.

I know it takes work but the key is to start as early as you can and exercise, eat right and if you develop health issues, be proactive about managing them. Whatever your health issues are, there are things you can do to improve the quality of your life. My husband and I are almost 60 and we are both in really good health but we drink green smoothies daily, walk every evening and recently took up Tai Chi. I think many seniors just think ill health is part of life and they accept it without trying to improve the situation. Or they pop a pill and call it good.

So do your best to find something you enjoy or at least do not hate doing. Find a workout buddy who will motivate you when necessary and you them. Plan to stick with it long term to match your long term longevity target. And get ready to get healthy to enjoy that retirement you have worked so hard to get to.

Short cuts don’t work long term

Don’t try to fool yourself – staying healthy is a lifetime commitment. There are no quick and easy shortcuts. Diets and the latest and greatest fads may help you quickly drop a few pounds. But once you get to that reduced weight how do you maintain it? One diet prescribes no carbs while another supposedly equally effective option may require you eat nothing but carbs. One diet allows no fat consumption while the other allows for all the fat you want from meat, cheese and butter. Do you want to continue long term on a diet which although it may trigger a quick weight loss often excludes some part of a healthy balanced diet?

Although I do not personally like the idea of diets that generate quick reductions, I understand the attraction. For a short term fix I will concede that a diet may have some value. After years of living with extra pounds it can feel good to lose that excess weight. That being the case, how much better would it be to sustain the loss beyond just the next weeks and months? Wouldn’t you prefer a lifestyle adjustment that keeps you lean and mean for the foreseeable future? When it comes to doing the right things to live a healthy life, you don’t want to cheat yourself. Play the game by the rules, accept that you will need to be living healthy for the rest of your days, and you are off to a good start.

Don’t take the easy way take the exercise way

How many of us choose to take the elevator rather than walk a few flights to our destination? Or how often do we jump into the car to drive the few blocks to the local store? An easy way to add some exercise to your day is to choose to burn calories rather than store them. Use your legs rather than your rear end. Walk to the post office rather than drive. Get off your couch during halftime and move around. Don’t look for the easy way to do things. Try to get yourself into the mindset of moving more. If you are sitting back and enjoying a long movie why not pick up some dumbbells and do a little lifting? Or stretch out on the floor and do some sit-ups? You can always do some stretching for flexibility even while continuing to watch your show. Be creative and be healthy with a bit more movement and activity in your life. Don’t look for the easy way, look for the exercise way.

I can’t say how I’ll feel in 25 years if I’m still around but I just hope I’m still out there going for my walks and doing Yoga. I’ve seen so many seniors just kind of give up and vegetate in old age. They won’t eat right or go for walks or other simple things that would improve the quality of their life. What’s the point of living to be old if you spend 15-20 years sitting and staring at the TV?

Everything in moderation

Temptations surround us. We each have our own special weaknesses whether wine or chocolate, cake or hamburgers, ice cream or chips. If we cannot control ourselves when it comes to these delicacies we can be in trouble. Man does not live by (your favorite temptation here) alone. However, in moderation with a modicum of control, giving into temptations can be acceptable. Too much of almost anything can be a bad thing.

Don’t overdo it but on occasion it is okay to do it.


Personalize Your Retirement

(Taken from “I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be”)

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Retirement is defined quite simply and succinctly in Wikipedia as the point where a person stops employment completely. To those about to begin their personal journey into retired living that abbreviated account might seem an understatement of sorts. As 75 million baby boomers begin to enter that time in their lives when retirement becomes a consideration if not a priority, retirees to be may quickly discover there is a lot more to consider beyond simply the absence of work. Talk about a life changing event – no more nine-to-five, no more Monday morning dread, no more corporate politics, away with those boring meetings, done with pressure filled project deadlines, and finally time for ourselves to do what we want to do. Rather than centering our efforts on moving up in the ranks we can begin to focus on moving out into the world and on to brand new experiences. Retirement can change the way we live every day and redefine those activities we have become accustomed to doing during that day. There is a bit more to retirement than merely the absence of employment.

Well before reaching the threshold of retirement the wise retiree to be will begin to navigate the endless jungle of details that promises to make up his retired life. Assuming we retire at 65 the duration of our typical retirement will be in the twenty to thirty year range. That is a lot of days, a lot of weeks, and a lot of months during which we are solely responsible for identifying and pursuing interests to make our days worth living. Gone are those busy working days filled with packed calendars. Our weekends will extend beyond Saturday and Sunday to include the entire seven day week. Imagine the possibilities now that we can pursue our passions and plans seven days a week! Get ready for time on our hands – lots of it.

I retired from years working in social services and now am following my own bliss. I have a small antique business that I started the month after my retirement. I love old things and the search for them. For the first time in my life I am able to wake up when I want, and the way I spend my day is up to me. I am free to be me.

As we look toward our future, it can help to start to prepare for what is going to happen rather than just wait and see. There might be actions we can take ahead of time to provide for an even more enjoyable retired life. Try to visualize your perfect retirement. Based upon the person you are, your interests and your passions, how might your perfect retirement look? What is really right for you? It is never too early to begin planning for your own fulfilling retirement. Once you begin to more clearly understand where you are today and where you want to ultimately end up, you can start putting together the pieces to build a retirement custom made for you.

What does retirement mean to me?

So you have decided it is time to call it quits at the old job and take a step into a new life of retirement, a new chapter, a new beginning. Some soon to be retirees find themselves almost giddy with excitement and expectation as they look toward the wonderful new life they will soon begin. Others are just ready for a break from the same old grind. Still others may find themselves a bit unsure and perhaps nervous about exactly what lies ahead. With the pending event drawing ever nearer, ideally you are beginning to ask the questions that can give you a deeper understanding of your personal views and expectations.

How do you feel about retirement?

Are you ready or reluctant?

How do you envision yourself in the next five years? What about ten? What about 20?

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about your new life ahead?

Are you maybe a bit scared? If so what is it that concerns you? What are your biggest fears?

What most excites you about the promise of retirement?

Are you looking forward to exploring new interests and trying different things?

Are you creative and energetic enough to occupy yourself with meaningful events each day?

Are you looking forward to spending 24/7 with your spouse?

Will you be able to find meaning in a life outside of work?

What single thing do you believe is most important to achieving happiness in retirement?

An understanding today of what you expect in retirement can allow you to make adjustments as needed while you still have time.

Take a look at your emotional reasons for working (doing something worthwhile, being respected by others, etc.). Those don’t just drive your work, they drive your life. You need to find non-work interests that give you the same sort of emotional benefits.

While I was searching for just the right cover for this book, I asked myself what single picture would best represent the concept of retirement. Is it even possible for a single moment in time to summarize all that is part and parcel of retired life? What I did not want to do was go with the old tried and true snapshots typically associated with retired life. I did not want to use a sunset since I believe that retirement is the beginning of something new rather than the end. I was not interested in using one of the many pictures of an old couple sitting on a bench looking out at a beautiful view of ocean, lake, or mountains. Yes this can be a wonderful component of the retirement we will live but it downplays all of the activity and adventure and life there is to live in addition to watching the world go by. And I sure wasn’t going to use a picture of someone swinging a club on the golf course, a far to frequent depiction of what awaits the recent retiree.

I settled on the picture you see of an empty hammock swinging in the breeze. First of all the vacant spot invites someone to climb on in and enjoy a peaceful, relaxing moment and who better qualified than a happily retired person in search of a little downtime. Secondly, the fact that the location is a tropical spot on some unknown shore reflects the myriad of options we will have to travel and explore new and exotic locales once we retire. The hammock may await us but not before the adventure of getting there has been lived. Finally, I have always had a thing for the ocean and the peace it brings to my soul. I can definitely picture myself reclining in the hammock, gently swaying in the warm tropical breezes with the steady sound of waves breaking in the distance. And when I am ready, one quick hop out of my hammock and a new unexplored world awaits me.


How to Keep Growing Your Savings in Retirement

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by PSECU, a Pennsylvania-based credit union.

Ah, the golden years, that magical time when people trade in their workers’ aprons and finally get to enjoy some much-deserved rest and relaxation.

However, one’s comfort level during retirement depends upon having an adequate nest egg. In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, many people dipped into retirement savings or increased the amount of debt they carried by taking out home equity lines of credit and the like. This means many seniors today experience a bit of anxiety when looking at their retirement funds, wondering if they will have enough to carry them through comfortably for the rest of their days.

Fortunately, techniques for continuing to grow savings even in the golden years exist, and people’s money can continue working long after the employee has hung up their hat. Here’s how.

Catch up on Your Contributions

Those 50 or older who remain in the workforce should take full advantage of the IRS rule allowing for catch up contributions to your 401(k) or IRA. Workers can contribute up to $6,000 per year without tax penalty. However, the vast majority of workers with 401(k)s can truly benefit from a retirement boost, as the contribution limit for those 50 and older changed to $24,000 per year, much more than the previous contribution limit.

Continue Paying Yourself

A long, long time ago, indubitably some economics instructor lectured on the importance of investing in savings even before paying other bills. Today, placing your savings goals on autopilot doesn’t even require a trip to the bank.

Those receiving direct deposits can simply call or log into their financial institution and direct them to divide income among checking, savings and investment accounts. Another tip — avoid linking debit cards to savings accounts. Merely having to drive to the bank to make a withdrawal versus hitting the ATM makes it easier to decline impulse purchases.

Avoid New Debts

Nothing can cut into retirement savings like high-interest credit cards that need paying each month. Avoiding new debt when nearing retirement should be a logical choice.

Unfortunately, too many people anxiously awaiting their retirement ages yield to the temptation to buy their dream car or take a no-expenses-spared vacation. While driving into the sunset in a shiny new Porsche sounds tempting, adding a $600 monthly payment may break one’s retirement budget. Try to resist the urge to splurge.

Consult Your Financial Planner

Your investing needs change as you age, and by the time you reach retirement age, dropping high-risk investments in lieu of lower-risk vehicles makes sense. By age 60, approximately 75 percent of any investment portfolio should consist of low-risk assets such as bonds. Contacting a qualified financial planner on an annual basis can help stretch nearly any retirement budget.

Have a Little Patience

Many people know waiting to retire means earning more in Social Security income, but holding off on pulling money from other retirement accounts may result in significantly increased gains. For example, those with $1 million in investment assets by age 60 can add another half-million dollars simply by waiting to retire until age 66, assuming a 6.5 percent return on investment.

Consider Downsizing

Many retirees find themselves rattling about in homes meant for growing families, not those approaching their sunset years. Larger homes require more money to heat and cool, increasing annual costs of living significantly.

Given the current stability in the housing market, the time to downsize has come. Additional proceeds from the sale of an overly large property can pad any retirement budget, and the savings in heating oil, not to mention in property taxes, cuts expenses at the same time.

Make Money with Hobbies

The entire point of retirement means finally shaking off the mantle of work responsibilities and spending time doing what one loves. Some hobbies can generate additional retirement income.

Seniors savvy about fitness can seek Silver Sneakers instructor certification and take up teaching classes. Crafty seniors can create unique gifts to sell at local fairs. Animal lovers can open a pet-sitting business.

Stepping out of the workforce means increased loneliness for many seniors, and harnessing a hobby helps keep them involved in their community while providing extra money.

Finally Dig Those Discounts!

Don’t overlook the power of the senior discount! Just about every grocery store hosts a monthly senior day where those 55 or older receive an additional percentage off purchases. Use these days to stock the pantry.

In addition, many Medicare supplement plans come with free fitness memberships. Why not work out when it’s free? Movie theaters, bowling alleys and other entertainment venues likewise often offer senior discounts.

Happy Retirement

Just because a senior retires from the workforce doesn’t mean their money has to stop working for them. By managing money wisely, one’s golden years can become the best ones ever. PSECU, a credit union in Pennsylvania, has created this interesting graphic on the average retirement savings by age — check it out here!