How to Make Healthy Retirement Choices
Boomers are finding new avenues for meaning and purpose in their lives
After working 40-or-more-hour weeks for years and years, the thought of relaxing, golfing and lounging around after retirement sounds too good to be true. And it may be.
Studies show retirement may not be so great for your health. Complete retirement led to a 5 to 16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and the ability to perform daily activities, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The same study showed a 5 to 6 percent increase in various illnesses and a 6 to 9 percent decline in mental health.
The good news: The very concept of retirement is changing, with more people continuing to work, but on their own terms. That lets them stay active and reduce the risk of illness later in life while increasing leisure time.
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“People don’t want to keep working by following someone else’s schedule,” says Peggy Buchanan, coordinator of Vitality and Wellness Programming for Front Porch, a family of companies devoted to the changing needs of retired people and older adults. “They want to be able to pick when and where they want to work. The whole concept of retirement is getting a makeover.”
“Retirement is a bad idea unless you are able to find something else that gives you purpose and meaning,” says Robert Schwalbe, a New York psychoanalyst and author of Sixty, Sexy and Successful: A Guide for Aging Male Baby Boomers.
The quest for how to scale back on work but maintain physical and mental vitality is core to David Borchard’s book, The Joy of Retirement. Borchard, a career and executive coach, developed an assessment activity called The Life Themes Profiler to help people identify themselves in one of four categories and create a vision for the “next season of your life.”
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The assessment helps you identify which general theme you prefer: gray eminence, new work venture, sailor-gardener or seeker-explorer.
Even without taking the test you may recognize yourself as wanting one of these lifestyles as you retire from traditional full-time work. Here’s an explanation of the themes and retirement options that may speak to you.
1. If you enjoy power and status Those rating high in what Borchard calls “gray eminence” say their career — or an aspect of it — remains a prime motivator. People who identify with this quadrant may have a need for power and status, knowledge and experience, creating a legacy and making a contribution to their professional field, serving clients or organizations.
If this sounds like you, appealing retirement options may include:
- Transitioning into a senior advisory capacity with your current organization or as a consultant in your field of expertise
- Taking over a senior position or role within your organization, or moving to a different one where your feel valued and can capitalize on your talents
- Taking on a leadership position within a professional association in your field
- Taking a retirement pension but continuing to work in a consulting capacity, either within your current company or elsewhere
2. If you are motivated by new work or by creating your own business Those falling under the “new work venturer” enjoy trying out a new role within their existing organization, beginning a new career or moving on to a new work situation — but are not ready for retirement. If this sounds like you, consider:
- Creating your own business
- Hiring a career counselor to guide you into a totally new and challenging career
- Go back to college and earn a degree or certificate to initiate a career in a new area of expertise
- Finding a niche to transfer a special knowledge, natural talent or unique personality asset into a new career direction, such as a Web designer for small businesses, tour guide to an attraction you enjoy or sportscaster for your local baseball team
3. If you enjoy new experiences and adventure If you are ready to stop working but dream of doing something different, maybe even somewhat risky, you fit Borchard’s “seeker-explorer” profile. You like learning something new and fascinating, enjoy achieving a new nonwork skill or interest, maybe exploring tropical places. Your desires may include mastering yoga, meditation or another type of spiritual practice. If this appeals to you, these options may work:
- Move or visit a new country to master the language, culture and history
- Participate in demanding volunteer work for a cause that resonates with you, such as Habitat for Humanity
- Experiment with new physical challenges, such as mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, biking and hiking in new and unusual places
- Play competitive chess, bridge, golf, tennis, or try auto racing or sailing
4. If you enjoy a relaxing, quiet lifestyle Those fitting the “sailor-gardener” profile prefer a quiet, relaxed lifestyle. Many times, this desire results from having been involved in a high-stress occupation. Options to consider include:
- Developing relationships with others who share your interests and values
- Becoming involved with a local club (social, professional, health, etc.)
- Scheduling fun learning adventures to romantic, historic and quaint places
- Taking a culinary course in a cuisine that interests you and creating a dinner party for friends
Recreating a new chapter is a step-by-step process that may seem like slow going, especially if you’ve always led a busy life, says Borchard. “Perhaps the best advice in making a major life transition is to be future-oriented, and to enjoy the process in the current moment.”
Next Avenue contributor Linda Melone is a California-based freelance writer specializing in health, fitness and wellness for women over 50.
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