You’d think that all anyone has to do these days to secure an enjoyable and comfortable retirement is save money. The media, financial gurus, and your employer harp on money as the end-all, be-all of retirement. Just get there with enough money, they say, and you’re all set.
Well, money is certainly important to your retirement plans. You’re going to need it to pay for housing, health care, and all of those fun things you want to do. But if you really want to enjoy your retirement, you have to make sure you are healthy when you get there, and that you have the energy to make the most of it.
My biggest hope is to be like the woman I met at the starting line of a marathon a couple of years ago. She was eighty-three years old and getting ready to start her fifty-sixth marathon. She’d run marathons in all fifty states and had no plans to stop. She told me that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer in her fifties. At the time, she was out of shape, generally unhealthy, and had only run when chased. She was afraid that she wouldn’t live long enough to do all the things she wanted to do. When she finished her treatments, she decided to get healthy so she started running. One thing led to another and there she was, starting race number fifty-six. I admired her greatly. Here was a woman who knew that old age was coming and she not only wanted to make it there, she wanted to be able to participate in it fully.
Maybe you don’t want to run, but you probably have things you want to do in your old age. Maybe you want to travel, volunteer, play with the grandkids, play golf or all of the above. Besides socking away money, here are some other things that you need to be doing today while you’re “young” to make sure you hit your retirement years with enthusiasm and energy.
Exercise Your Body
Exercise will keep you agile and strong, helping to prevent broken bones and problems with arthritis later in life. It’ll also reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. You don’t have to run marathons, but you need to get up and do something. Some studies now show that the benefits of exercise are cumulative throughout life, so the sooner you start, they better off you’ll be.
Exercise Your Mind
Exercising your body helps your mind, too, but there are other things you can do to help stave off memory loss and dementia (http://www.savingadvice.com/2009/01/12/103857_keep-your-brain-active-to-save-money.html). Keep learning new things and skills (take up a language that’s spoken in a country you want to visit once you retire, for example), do puzzles like crosswords or word jumbles, work jigsaw puzzles, play board games, practice memorization exercises, and read, read, read.
Eating well gives your body the nutrients and vitamins it needs to ward off illness and keep you healthy. You can indulge in the occasional treat, but the bulk of your diet needs to be healthy.
Deal With Your Stress
Stress ups your risk for heart disease and some cancers. Find a way to deal with your stress. Maybe you need to exercise, scram at a wall, meditate, write it all in a journal, or get a therapist. Maybe you need to eliminate some toxic tasks and people from your life. Find what works for you and keep it up.
Get Regular Checkups and Screenings
Get an annual physical and make sure you get whatever tests are recommended for you (mammograms beginning at age 40, colonoscopies beginning at age 50, etc.). The earlier problems are caught, the easier they are to treat and the less likely they are to become chronic issues that keep you down in retirement.
Nurture Your Relationships
Part of aging well is having well-developed relationships. You need friends and social contact. Isolation isn’t healthy. Start finding people you enjoy spending time with and work at those relationships. You may have to make a special effort to “get out there,” but it’s worth it. Join some groups that share your interests or beliefs and find some new friends. Volunteer work can be a great way to meet new people.
Explore Your Interests
When you retire, you’re going to have time on your hands. It’s better to start finding things that interest you now than when you’re sitting on your sofa wondering, “Now what?” Go ahead and explore your interests and get involved with activities you enjoy. Then, when you retire, it won’t be a matter of finding something to do, but simply doing more of what you already love.
Skin cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in the world. It’s also one that you can do a lot to prevent. Wear sunscreen every day, even under your clothes (unless you have UV-protective clothing). Since you can get UV rays through glass, this applies even if you spend your days in an office. Wear a hat if you’re going to be outside, and don’t forget a lip balm with SPF protection built-in. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but so’s cancer. There are lots of “daily” formulas of sunscreen available these days that aren’t as smelly or greasy as the stuff you remember from your childhood.
Stop Smoking and Other Bad Habits
If you smoke, stop it. Lung cancer and emphysema aren’t conducive to an enjoyable retirement. Similarly, stop drinking to excess or engaging in any other risky habits you may have. Bad habits aren’t always obvious. Quitting that soda habit that has you consuming huge amounts of sugar or artificial sweetener should also be on the list.
Lose Weight (and keep it off)
If you’re overweight, take the initiative to lose weight. Excess weight causes joint problems plus makes other diseases more likely. Once you’ve got it off (or even if you’re a normal weight now), don’t let your guard down as you age. Most people need substantially less food as they age because their activity level decreases and their metabolism slows down. Keep the weight from creeping on.
Now, you could do all of these things and more and still end up sick or incapacitated in some way. Sometimes life just isn’t fair and people who do all the right things end up in nursing homes far too young. However, it can’t hurt to do these things. You’ll give yourself the best chance of making it to retirement and actually being able to enjoy it.
(Photo courtesy of Ed Yourdon)