Getting In Shape for Retirement

There are a number of myths associated with aging.  Some people believe aging involves getting sick, disabled or memory loss, but the baby boomer generation is finding retirement years can be filled with health, vitality and meaning.  Getting fit and staying in shape well into your golden years can help make retirement some of the best years you will ever have.

According to a Fidelity Investments Retirement Savings survey,  entering retirement in good health can also result in a major cost savings.  Those who retire in good health may need 19% less money over the course of retirement than people with chronic conditions and bad habits.

Donald B. Ardell, Ph.D and publisher of the Ardell Wellness Report, has been one of the leading figures in the wellness movement for four decades.  Ardell offered the following tips to enable boomers to live a full, purposeful and active life in retirement:

Boomer:  Is there more to health than not needing too many medications, not having a disease, not being overweight, not being a smoker or not being one who drinks too much? Is that what being healthy is all about?

Ardell:  No, those descriptors have little or nothing to do with health. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand that, so they don’t think and act in ways that would enable them to become and stay healthy.

Boomer:  Well, you’ve got my attention. What then does it have to do with health?

Ardell:  The examples you listed are symptoms that reflect the likelihood of ill health. Think of it this way: If I’m not lying on the ground being given CPR, not falling off a ladder, not driving the wrong way down a one-way road or not climbing over the fence that enclosed the zoo’s polar bear compound, none of these cautions proves that I’m safe, secure and sensible. The absence of evident stupidity is not evidence of intelligence, any more than a state of non-sickness suggests one is truly well, or prosperous in the sense of optimal physical and psychological functioning.

Our medical system is almost entirely about diagnoses and treatments, as well as the management of dysfunctions and diseases and the search for cures. Not health.

Every baby boomer in America ought to know such facts concerning health. Accepting this reality is the first step on the path toward getting one’s body, spirit, mind and finances in order so as to be in a favorable position to live every day and enjoy a high quality of life in retirement. Boomer:  What are the most important determinants of my health as a senior and how much control/influence do I have over each one of these factors?

Ardell:  In my view there are at least six critical determinants that affect your longevity and the extent and severity of the illnesses you are likely to experience, particularly during your later years.

  1. Heredity or genetics. Choose your parents wisely. Ooooops. Too late.
  2. The “health” or more accurately the medical system. This system cannot give you health in a positive sense; it can delay death and help you recover from illnesses and injuries.
  3. Environments in which you have lived and in which you live now.
  4. Cultures and the norms, customs, traditions and all manner of beliefs they convey, by example, over long periods of time, particularly during the formative years.
  5. Lifestyles.
  6. Random fortune or chance.

You can’t do much about the first, second and last of these determinants. You can change the third, fourth and especially the fifth of these determinants. For example, you can modify physical factors (e.g., where you live) and cultural factors. Many cultural practices that seem to be “normal” in that nearly everyone acts a certain way are actually harmful to positive health. An example would be family gatherings wherein people drink excessively and otherwise behave in acceptable but destructive ways personally and toward each other.

Boomer:  What is the difference between prevention and wellness?

Ardell:  Prevention means to stop something from happening. In a medical context, it means efforts to encourage smokers to eliminate a bad outcome by overcoming this negative addiction. Prevention is designed to keep something bad from happening.

Wellness is a mindset and a lifestyle. It’s the opposite of trying to stop something from happening. Wellness means trying to make something happen - and that something is positive health beyond the absence of illness and disease. It has nothing to do with doctors, with drugs, with treatments of problems. There is nothing medical about wellness. It’s a “celebrate life and enjoy more of it” philosophy. Rather than focusing on avoiding unpleasant states, it seeks out exuberant states that are attractive.  It’s motivated to make good things happen.

In a few words, wellness is a set of action-oriented ideas, choices and behaviors that boost quality of life.

Boomer:  What are workplace wellness programs and what are the benefits to participating?

Ardell:  They are educational programs provided to employees at no cost by almost every large to medium size company in America. They are focused on health risk identification and reduction, as well as support in managing existing medical problems. The purpose of worksite wellness is to help organizations save costs on medical insurance expenditures. Such programs have the effect of supporting employees and their families to become fitter in their middle years and to maintain wise health habits. Reducing the incidence of avoidable illness lessens the financial strains that poor health imposes on everyone.

Lifestyle awareness is good for companies and vital for retirees. Baby boomers have, for the most part, responded favorably to worksite wellness, in part because employers have offered attractive incentives to participate, most of which involve saving money.

Boomer:  What are the most important things I can do, even if I have physical limitations, to experience more exuberance and love of life?

Ardell:  Let me count the ways. Actually, there are too many ways and too little space for counting and explaining them all, so let me offer a couple of tips.  Follow these suggestions in your own unique style with confidence and good cheer and you will surely enjoy retirement.

  1. Curb your enthusiasm for meds, doctors and treatments. The best way to pursue life, liberty and happiness is to consciously appreciate that your health depends on what you do now to be happy, to find joy at every opportunity and to be as exuberant as possible. Dance, mentally and physically, your way, at every opportunity. The great 19th century American orator Robert Green Ingersoll said, “Nobody should fail to pick up every jewel of joy that can be found in his path.” What great advice - that’s part of what real, positive health is about - being able to experience life fully, each day until the curtain falls, as it must for all.
  2. Associate to the extent possible with happy people who are enjoying their time on earth, feeling joyful, loving others and being loved, exuding kindness, engaged in supportive communities that share your interests in whole or part.

All good wishes and be well!