Wondering how our health will hold up is one of the topics that often gets more attention as we near and move through retirement. It's a major determinant of quality of life at all stages but in retirement, it gains momentum.
Like it or not, our bodies often begin to feel the effects of some wear and tear, especially if we haven't been actively taking care of ourselves earlier in life. There are some unique health concerns to be aware of as we transition to and live in retirement, but with the right approach, you can have a better outcome.
Retirement is considered 10th on the list of 43 greatest life stressors on the Life Change Index Scale. It brings change in routine, social circles, self-perception and for many, worries about finances. Cut yourself some slack as you move through this time.
The risk of heart attack and stroke is 40% higher in people who are retired compared to those who are still working in the same age group, according to the Health and Retirement Study as cited by Patrick Skerrett in this Harvard Health Blog. The risk is highest right after retirement and then levels out a bit after the first year.
"Wait!" you might be saying, "I've been waiting to retire for years and it's supposed to be the time when I get to do everything I've wanted. I don't want to hear that there are health risks with it. It's like reminding me of all the calories in my Thanksgiving dinner."
Hold on. There are plenty of easy things you can do to stay healthy. I want to share five simple health ideas that I find pretty universal for you to crack open.
1. Your Routine
For those of you anticipating retirement, it's important to note that no matter how stressful or busy your work has been, your body has grown accustomed to that routine. It has been busy holding you together perfectly to allow you to do what you do. While your body may eventually be happy with the lighter load in retirement, it's quite a shock all at once. Whatever you can do to smoothly transition, the easier the adjustment for your dear, sweet body.
If you already have a health routine, hang with it. Don't hurry and change things up when so much else is changing. Don't stop it because you are going to retire and you want no responsibilities for a while.
If you don’t currently have a health routine and plan to start, think about what you want to begin begin moving in that direction before you retire. If that doesn't seem feasible, hang onto your current routine for a time after you are done working and ease into something new vs. beginning to train for a marathon three days after retirement or packing up and being on the road to a change of address within 48 hours (yes, I've seen both).
Practice self-compassion for all the adjustments that your body and mind and spirit are going through. My hope is that they are all gleeful, but even positive change is stressful for your system.
2. Listening to Yourself
You will be or are building your retirement lifestyle. Incorporate listening to yourself and your emotions. Build some quiet into each day to just check in with yourself. That may take the form of prayer or meditation or simply quiet. Pay attention to what is coming to the surface about what you really want now that you may not have been able to see before.
I have a client who recently retired and has committed to taking six months to listen to her leadings before getting involved in new activities. She knows she can quickly dive into helping on all sorts of fronts. Taking that time to be intentional and take stock of what's true now is a really healthful choice. It would be easy to get pulled into helping with everyone's agenda but your own.
3. Listening to Your Body
Listen to the subtle signs your body is giving you. We live in a culture that congratulates us for powering through our pain and illnesses. While I'm not recommending a full-on plunge into hypochondria, you can improve your health outcomes by being able to tune in and pay attention to where you have little pains or discomfort or even uneasiness before it becomes something else.
For example, a muscle knot in your thigh may actually be a sign of a knee joint that isn't articulating correctly or a ligament that is inflamed. Tending to it earlier rather than later may prevent subsequent damage from walking inappropriately, surgical intervention and/or back and hip problems. If you don't have a provider who will listen to or explore things on that early functional level, seek out another.
Listening well includes taking in whether you are eating enough (yes, I said enough) to power your body, eating the right types of foods that make you feel good, getting enough rest, and whether your exercise routine makes you feel great or depletes you.
When you do take the time to listen, don't forget to thank your body for the amazing things it does. Spend a few moments just knowing and appreciating that things are okay, right now in this moment. I'm a big fan of doing the body scan which is a 30-45 practice as part of the well-researched Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. You can find a mini-version of this practice here. There's a link on that page to a longer version, as well.
As you are planning your activities, incorporate balance. If you are an introvert, you may tend toward filling your time with solitary activities and gravitate less to planning time with others. If you are an extrovert, you may fill your life by being out and about with people but not build in any quiet reflective time. You will have a much healthier (and interesting) path if you are intentional about balancing that out.
If you are immersing yourself in creating something new, plan some time here and there where you are destroying or disposing of some things (I learned that a long while back in a writing class). If you like rapid, active activities (water skiing, running, competitive kickboxing, etc.), incorporate some quiet, smooth activity (yoga, mindfulness walking, meandering in a kayak) and vice versa.
You can apply this idea of balance to any area of your life. We are both yin and yang creatures and we need some of each to keep functioning well as we go forward. Think of the opposite of what you easily move toward as a tonic for yourself.
5. The Power of Purpose
The final piece I will mention in this writing is the power of purpose. Boyle, Buchman, et al found that having a sense of purpose decreased the risk of Alzheimer's by nearly 60%....yes, nearly 2/3!
What are you planning and doing that will grab you, pull you out of bed each day, and capture your imagination and your gifts? If you don't know, there are people who will help you explore (including me) and discover what that is for you. In the meantime, pay attention to what you are curious about and let that pull you in. There's a fabulous world out there. You are still part of a community and have so much to offer.
In future blogs, I will write in more depth about some of these practices and explore several others. This is true retirement planning! If you don't have your health, you can't do much in retirement; and if you don't do much in retirement, you may not have your health.
There's More to Life.
I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment below. Part of my vision is to help create community around living a great retirement. In what ways would connecting with other people approaching or living retirement be helpful for you?
Ruth Tongen helps you take stock, plan and live retirement in a bigger, happier, healthier way. She can help you find an 'aha' and move that to an aspiration and then on to an action. Move past sticking points and begin living on purpose.
E-mail her: firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to explore how she can help you live a great next chapter.
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Ruth Tongen helps people plan and live meaningful, fun and healthier retirements.