As the saying goes, “Most tigers don’t change their stripes.” Essentially, who we are now is who we’ve been and who we’ll be in the future. That’s why, in my new book, AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life, I’ve developed a scoring system to help you match how active you are now with ways to sculpt a retirement that will be an ideal fit.
I call it the "level of activity scale" and it goes from Level 1 (extremely high activity) to Level 8 (very limited activity).
If you’ve been an active, highly charged person all your adult life, working long hours and exercising frequently, it follows that you’ll want to maintain that level of activity in retirement to the extent you’re able. You’d be a Level 1.
By contrast, if you’ve led a quieter, less intense life, either through choice or circumstances, it’s likely you’ll prefer that lifestyle when you stop working full time. You’d be a Level 6, 7 or 8.
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So as you’re getting closer to retirement, it will help to define your current lifestyle and begin planning a future that correlates to your level of activity score.
What Each Level Means
The following descriptions of each level of current activity, with examples, will help you do this. Your ability and desire to participate within a particular range of actions will define your limits and, in turn, influence your future choices.
Level 1 (extremely high) Always on the go; a Type A personality with an abundance of energy. Works six or seven days a week for 10 to 12 hours a day. Exercises or plays sports regularly.
Level 2 (very high)
Elevated energy level and stamina. Works long hours, including weekends. Can engage in a full cardio workout three times a week. Jogs or power walks routinely.
Level 3 (high)
Impressive energy and stamina. Works normal hours, plus some weekends. Exercises or plays sports a couple of times a week regularly.
Level 4 (moderate)
Good energy and stamina; more of a Type B personality. Works normal hours, plus occasional late nights or weekends. Exercises once or twice a week, including some cardio.
Level 5 (less than moderate) Fair energy and stamina. Works normal hours. Gets 30 minutes of exercise periodically, with some cardio. Can climb several flights of stairs without losing breath.
Level 6 (minimal) Little energy and stamina; lives a relatively sedate life. Works full time or part time. Can run short distances with effort or climb a flight of stairs without losing breath.
Level 7 (somewhat limited) Sparse energy and stamina. Works part time or not at all. Can walk without assistance, but challenged by distance and slope.
Level 8 (very limited) Can move around only with crutches, walker or wheelchair. Works part time or not at all.
A Couple Who Mismatched Their Level of Activity
If you don’t match your retirement plans to your activity level, you could be setting yourself up for problems.
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To show you what I mean, consider John and Andrea, who sold their successful New England furniture business 10 years ago, in their 50s, and moved to a small North Carolina beach community where they planned to retire. The couple had spent years working long hours six or seven days a week and taking full advantage of fine dining and cultural events nearby.
When they moved to the beach, they rented a house for a year, oversaw the construction of their new home, got to know the community and involved themselves in local activities. But this meant changing their lifestyle to a different level of activity than they had enjoyed.
Once the house was completed, the couple felt they needed more to do, so John got his real estate license and joined a brokerage; Andrea began painting. Five or six years later, still unsatisfied that they weren’t as busy as they used to be, the pair opened a restaurant, which again required them to work six or seven days a week.
Today, they’re both extremely happy with the new venture and their revived activity level. They’re finding their second adulthood far more rewarding than when they first moved to North Carolina. But not all of us have the luxury — or resources — to continue searching for the right lifestyle.
Retirement Planning and Your Level of Activity
How does knowing your current level of activity translate into the way you should think about and plan for the early years of retirement?
One way is with your retirement budget.
If you’re now an urban dweller who goes out a great deal, your future budget should reflect spending on travel, theater tickets and restaurants. A stay-at-home lifestyle, on the other hand, might mean allocating more of your retirement savings and income for entertaining house guests, buying books and watching high-definition TV with a wide array of premium channels.
Your level of activity will also have a large impact on your housing choices in retirement.
If you travel a great deal now, you’ll likely continue when retirement begins. So you might consider downsizing to a townhouse, where you won’t have to worry about frequently tending to a large yard.
Your level of activity will also play into your potential health care costs and health insurance choices.
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The frequent traveler should plan to buy a Medigap policy that includes coverage for foreign travel emergencies, rather than a less expensive plan without this benefit.
When Your Level of Activity Changes
So make your retirement years the best they can be by figuring out now where you are on the level of activity scale and the level you’ll want when you stop working full time. Then prepare your budget accordingly, making certain you build in the appropriate resources for the lifestyle you’ve selected.
By zeroing in on who you are, you’re more likely to create a fulfilling, enjoyable lifestyle for yourself when retirement kicks in.
Then, once retirement begins, reassess your level of activity from time to time.
You may find a reason to move up or down the scale, either by choice or circumstance, and a need to adjust your finances accordingly.
As you think about living the rest of your life, don’t define yourself by your age; define your lifestyle.