Monday, 24 September 2012

The Importance of Health in Retirement

A 2005 study of retirement on lifestyle choices in relation to weight change, led by Dr Astrid CJ Nooyens, showed that those retiring from active jobs tended to gain more weight than their unretired colleagues. Meanwhile, people leaving less active roles lost more weight. Clearly, when you retire, you need to take some time to re-evaluate your energy intake and exercise program to fit in with your new lifestyle. 

The meaning of “good health” isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Our bodies are in a constant state of flux.  Immediately after you leave the doctors, you could develop a problem that would have been detected ten seconds previously! 

But don’t let this make you anxious – considering how much psychology influences health, anxious is actually the last thing you should let yourself be! Just consistently follow some common sense principles and remember to look left and right before crossing the road.

Here are some very predictable, but absolutely crucial basic health tips to get you started:

First and foremost, don’t underestimate the impact of your mindset on the overall quality of your life. Staying optimistic will have discernable positive physiological effects.

If at first you don’t succeed, quit and quit again... STOP SMOKING! The benefits of quitting are enormous at any age. Some of these are immediate, such as breathing easier, sleeping better and feeling more energetic. And of course we all know that it prolongs your life by reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. It’s also one of the best things you can do for your sex life!

Watch your booze intake. The stress that comes with retirement can lead to hitting the bottle more than is good for you. Because retires often drink at home, they may not realise how much they put away each week, and this can be disastrous for both your health and your sexual ability. If a woman drinks too much she will become temporarily anorgasmic – but if the man has done the same then this won’t be much of an issue anyway.  

Eating well helps you lose weight much better than starving yourself. Not eating slows down your metabolism, causing you to burn calories slower than in a well-regulated, nutritious eating program.

Find excuses to exercise. Get a dog, or get off the bus several stops earlier than normal and walk home. Seemingly insignificant lifestyle choices like choosing the stairs over the lift soon add up to better health in general. 

∙Remember to consult a health professional before starting any exercise regime if you’ve been out of the game for long. And, in general, make sure you have regular checkups with your doctor. It’s normal to feel scared before medical appointments. Stickers and sweets in surgeries shouldn’t just be for children, because however old you get the anticipation doesn’t get much easier. But the more routinely you go, the less likely they’ll find anything for you to be scared about. Remember that in the majority of cases, even serious things are fixable. 

Finally, as if you needed an excuse, have sex! A Chicago University study found that those who had sex more often in later life rated their health more highly. While they still don’t know whether participants had sex more often because they were healthier, or healthier because they had more sex, the evidence points to a mutually beneficial link. That’s good enough for me!

You can add years to your life with a tiny bit of effort. This doesn’t mean obsessing over diet fads and imagining every blemish is the beginning of the end. Just stay mindful of your own well-being and remember you’re entitled to feel happy as well as healthy. 

As happiness guru, Professor Ed Deiner says: “Current health recommendations focus on four things: avoid obesity, eat right, don’t smoke, and exercise. It may be time to add ‘be happy and avoid chronic anger and depression to the list.’” Wise words, Ed. Leave room for levity in your food and exercise programs. 

Next time I’ll be talking about how to create your perfect retirement picture – your achievable happiness framework.

Monday, 17 September 2012

How Much Do Money Matters Really Matter?

In my new book, Great Retirement, Great Sex, I haven’t included much financial advice at all. Why? Well firstly, I’ve already written several books on business and this time around I wanted a real change. Also, any sections on pure finance would have proved pretty financially inefficient for me I think, as I would have needed to hire somebody to prod me with a stick every five minutes to stay awake. Mainly, however, it’s because Great Retirement is a self-help book geared at making you happy, and studies have shown that money isn’t nearly as significant a factor in overall happiness as you might think.

The American National Academy of Sciences published a survey of 341,000 people, which found that happiness takes a dip in early adulthood, rises in our forties (easily outstripping our earlier years) and peaks at 85!

It makes sense if you think about it. As we age, we mature, even while it seems like we’re just getting sillier! I actually think the ability to let go and be silly once in a while is a sign of maturity. In addition to this, we all know that the more time we spend with someone, the better we get to know them. This applies to ourselves too.  As we age we become more aware of and comfortable with our likes and dislikes. We know who our friends are, and frankly we just don't care as much what anyone else thinks of us anymore.

I think the feeling of liberation that comes from this is summed up well in these lines of Jenny Joseph’s poem, Warning:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

Of course, it’s not exactly a revelation that not having enough money can make people pretty miserable. After all, as Leo Rosten said, “Money can’t buy you happiness, but neither can poverty.” We’re all aware of the money troubles that can overshadow the freedom of finishing work. After all, they don’t call them your “golden years” because of the fortune retirement is likely to leave you with.

But being in the money hardly guarantees fulfillment either. In fact, it has the power to make you very miserable too if you let it.

Studies show that a person’s day-to-day happiness increases along with their income only up to approximately £50,000 ($80,000). After that it hits a flat rate, essentially showing that money can buy you happiness only up to the point where all your basic needs are cared for and your stress is minimised. After that you’re going to need something else for a pick-me-up.
That’s where things like community, personal interests, a positive attitude and sex come in. Sex never gets boring, it’s absolutely proven to make you happier and healthier, and best of all... it doesn’t cost a penny!

Studies can back me up again here. One published in 2004 by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that increasing their number of sexual encounters from once a month to once a week boost’s a person’s happiness by as much as a $50,000 (£31,000) pay rise. So this weekend stay in bed instead of heading to the bank – you’ll be glad you did!
Some financial planning is unavoidable if you want to make the most of your retirement without worry. But remember, happiness lies more in how you choose to use the money, especially if you use it to work on being a loving partner.

Next week here you can read about the importance of staying healthy as you age.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Retirement: A Dirty Word?

So why is it exactly that even a mention of the “R” word can have the power to strike fear into the heart of even the most positive soon-to-be-pensioner?

A quick look at some of the entries for “retirement” in the Oxford English Dictionary can give us a telling clue. I have to warn you, it’s not exactly heartening, but bear with me:
“the state or condition of living apart from society; seclusion; privacy”
“the act of leaving office, employment, or service permanently, now especially on reaching pensionable age. Also: the act of withdrawing permanently from one’s usual sphere of activity”
“(sport) a withdrawal from a race or match, esp. because of injury”

Yes, society’s widely held assumption seems to be that retirement necessarily entails indolence, loneliness, and above all an act of giving up. This is part of the popular pigeonholing of retirees that I spoke about last week. And as I’ve been saying, we need to fight these stereotypes and allow ourselves to enjoy life in retirement on our own terms.
See finishing work not as a withdrawal from a race, but the point at which you cross the finish line and wonder what to do next. Get back in another race! Or a football match, or pie-eating contest, or game of solitaire... I’m taking the metaphor a bit far here. What I’m trying to say is that your options are very varied.

You can nurture old passions, experiment with new ones and follow impulses. And if you find you’re not quite ready for full-time leisure just yet, don’t rule out the option of later returning to work. It’s surprising how much of the stress is lifted when it’s your choice to work entirely. You can engage in it in whatever capacity you like, and explore possible new callings. Every individual’s idea of retirement is different.

One thing is certain however – it’s a time of opportunity. You now have all the breathing space you need to think about exactly what you want this time to mean to you. You’re really in no hurry!
It’s all about remaining active and open-minded. Remember that no doors are closed to you. Below are a few examples of some truly inspiring retirees:
  • In 2009 a 97-year-old sky-diver, George Moys, jumped from a height of 3048 metres with his grandson (and survived!)
  • Professional weight-lifter and great grandma, Winifred Pristell, set two world records age 68, through bench pressing 176.2lb and dead lifting 270lb. She earned the nickname “heavy metal” and said soon after that the older she was getting the stronger she felt she was becoming
  • The oldest first-grade student was a Chinese woman called Ma Xiuxian, who fulfilled her life’s ambition by starting school at the astounding age of 102!
  • 84-year-old Anthony Smith recently embarked on an Atlantic voyage on a raft made of gas pipes in order to travel 2,800 miles. Best of all, according to the British paper The Daily Telegraph he named the vessel “An-Tiki” (geddit?)

I think the OED might have to give its definition of “retirement” a rethink. And we need to update that old cliché “life begins at forty,” because with years of healthy, active life and great sex ahead of us, life most definitely begins at retirement. This is not despite our age and situation, but exactly because of the freedom and experience they give us.
Next time I’ll be considering the role that money matters play in achieving retirement happiness and doing my best to convince you once again that positivity is really the most important factor.