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Posts Tagged ‘Retirement’

For Healthy Aging, Stay in Control

May 17th, 2016 at 2:58 pm by timigustafson

In his latest book, Charles Duhigg, the author of bestsellers like “The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” and now, “Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business,” describes how a group of seniors changed the daily routines they were supposed to follow in an assisted living facility. They ‘rebelled,’ if you will, against a regimen that was forced upon them – not violently, of course, but in subversive ways nevertheless.

For instance, they would trade food items from their pre-set lunch trays among themselves according to their individual tastes and preferences. That may seem insignificant, but still, it gave them a sense of control they wouldn’t have had by eating everything that was put in front of them.

Even more rewarding was the idea that they could rearrange the furniture in their cookie-cutter-style rooms to give them a more personal flair. When those actions were met with resistance from management, those rebellious spirits had ever more fun in doing as they pleased.

But getting a brief moment of satisfaction from some random acts of defiance wasn’t the point of this story. The consequences were much more profound. As it turned out, experiencing a bit more control over their lives did the health and well-being of these people enormously good. They ate better, were more physically active, improved their mental capacities, and had overall fewer health problems – just because of a little boost in self-confidence and determination. In other words, for these folks, control seemed to be a crucial element for healthy aging.

Being able to make decisions for themselves signals people that they are still alive and that their lives still have meaning, Duhigg writes. Even deciding to stage a nursing home insurrection can become proof that someone is alive and can assert authority over his or her actions.

The changes that typically take place after retirement and as the natural aging process progresses are monumental, to put it mildly, says Dave Bernard, a California-based blogger who specializes in issues around retirement and aging.

When people stop working after decades of employment or in business, they exit abruptly from the world they knew. In many ways, they lose their identity, which they must regain in some other fashion, and they must reorient themselves. At the same time, they find themselves more isolated and have to rely on their own devices as they plan their days, organize their financial affairs, or try to take care of their health needs. They also gradually undergo physical and mental changes that don’t work in their favor. As they get more fragile and vulnerable to health problems, they become increasingly dependent on others, something seniors dread the most among all effects of aging.

Loss of independence can happen suddenly through a catastrophic event or insidiously through natural decline. But most seniors don’t prepare well for either. They believe they can stay in their home indefinitely and take care of themselves, even if that means to struggle on their own. But the vast majority does eventually end up requiring some help with daily chores like cooking, cleaning, shopping, or simply getting out of the house.

Thankfully, there is assistance available that enables people to have both, remaining reasonably independent and being cared for to the extent it is needed. Organizations like the National Aging in Place Council and countless other programs try to enable their clientele to continue the lifestyle they are used to and also get support like adult day care services, home remodeling, or financial advice.

Of course, the quality of life at old age depends largely on the personal choices an individual makes. The best care is to take proactive steps towards health aging. And for this, it is never too early and never too late.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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How to Avoid the Retirement Trap

March 21st, 2016 at 7:30 am by timigustafson

Retirement is an artifice, an invention of the 20th century. Before then, people hardly ever retired. They stopped working when they couldn’t do their (mostly physically demanding) jobs any longer, and soon thereafter they usually died. Now, every day about 10,000 members of the Baby Boomer generation enter what is commonly considered retirement age at 65.

What does this mass exodus from the work force entail? Predictions range from the sanguine to the dire about the prospects of today’s retirees. On the one hand, especially well-to-do older adults who are reasonably healthy have many more options to fill their ‘golden years’ with activities and pursuits than their forbearers could ever imagine. By contrast, insufficient financial security and chronic diseases can lead to a rather precarious endgame. For most, it will be something in between.

For the lucky ones, retirement can really be a glorious time. According to a recent study, being freed from work-related and other demands can allow for lifestyle changes that enhance health and well-being.

“A major life change like retirement creates a great window of opportunity,” says Dr. Melody Ding, a Senior Research Fellow of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, Australia, and lead author of the study report. “It’s a chance to get rid of bad routines and engineer new, healthier behaviors.”

That would be a desirable outcome. However, there are also challenges waiting for retirees that are not always easily overcome. Routines that helped structure their days and that are now falling by the wayside can leave a considerable void. Those who have no plans other than getting more sleep or enjoying a favorite pastime (golf comes to mind) can find themselves unprepared for that extra amount of leisure. Losing one’s professional identity, feeling no longer needed or being bored can result in low self-esteem and depression.

One study from Harvard University found that newly retired men and women faced a 40 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke than their contemporaries who were still in the workforce. The increase was most pronounced during the first year of retirement and gradually leveled off after that.

Moving from working to not working brings a whole host of disruptions along, many of which don’t become immediately evident. But the effects are very real and can lead to serious problems if they are not constructively addressed.

“Our [study] results suggest we may need to look at retirement as a process rather than an event,” says J. Robin Moon, a researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

The process can be a smooth or a bumpy ride, depending on a wide range of factors.

Financial stability is certainly part of it, but for retirement to succeed, many other components need to be in place as well. Most important are a supportive social life as well as engagement in meaningful, stimulating activities such as travel and continuing education, among countless other options. To maintain both physical and mental health, there are no better means than preventive measures, including an age-appropriate eating and exercise regimen.

However, such steps should be taken long before actual retirement takes place. People need to prepare themselves thoroughly for this transformative time, preferably several years in advance, experts recommend.

The tremendous changes newly retired persons experience can affect their lifestyles favorably or unfavorably, says Else Zantinge, a researcher at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands who conducted studies on the health affects of retirement. The pre-retirement period should be used as an opportunity to make the transition as easy as possible.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Despite of Optimistic Outlook, Baby Boomers Feel Their Vulnerability

April 30th, 2014 at 12:08 pm by timigustafson

They saw themselves as trail blazers and pioneers. They broke rules and redefined values. They took much for granted and expected more. They vowed to be forever young. But now, the baby boomers generation – those born between 1947 and 1964 – just hope to retire safely, hold on to their lifestyle, and stay as healthy and fit as possible.

That may not be easy. Boomers have plenty of reasons to worry about their diminishing future prospects. Although they never thought of themselves as anything but winners, millions begin to discover how vulnerable they truly are.

According to a survey by Associated Press-Lifegoesstrong.com in 2011, the latest of its kind, slightly less than half of all boomers consider themselves as reasonably happy. Most think they are healthy or fairly healthy, and nearly half feel that their physical health has not worsened over the past five years. In terms of health concerns, cancer ranks highest, followed by age-related dementia and memory loss, and heart disease.

Overweight and obesity are among the most common causes of health problems affecting boomers. Two-thirds have made at least one dietary adjustment to lose weight, and more than half to reduce cholesterol levels. Overall, this generation seems better informed about the ins and outs of nutritional health than its predecessors.

Still, as other studies have shown, boomers don’t age as well as their parents and grandparents did. Despite of their optimistic outlook, the truth is that only a small minority (about 13 percent) is in really excellent shape.

Baby boomers may view the effects of aging as something that happens to someone else, but in reality they may end up creakier and sicker than their parents did, according to one study report.

“The message here is that we may not be the healthiest generation,” said Dr. Dana E. King, a professor of medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine and lead author of the report. “And I think this may be a wake-up call to the baby boomers to change their lifestyles for the better and try to delay the kind of diseases and disabilities that seem to be coming at a higher rate.”

However, despite of being better educated and having easier access to information about health matters, most boomers believe their physical well-being – especially as they age – is pretty much out of their control, according to a study by Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement, a financial consulting group. There is something uncharacteristically fatalistic about this generation when it comes to health issues, the study found. Most seem to think (falsely) what will happen to them is largely predetermined by their genetic make-up and/or to what extent they can afford advanced medical care.

Not everyone doubts the boomers’ ability to meet their health needs, though.

“In true baby boomer style, they will probably do these things in a new way,” predicts Tom Valeo who writes for WebMD. Since they are bound to live longer than past generations, they will have to figure out how to make this extended longevity work for them. The question is, will those years be vigorous and healthy, or will baby boomers sink into the pain and disability of chronic disease? A lot hangs on the answer, he says.

Fortunately, there is indeed much that can be done to avert, or at least reduce, the impact of the natural aging process, provided boomers – as well as the younger generations that follow them – observe health-promoting diet and lifestyle adjustments and take as many disease-prevention measures as they can. For this it is never too soon and never too late.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Great Plans for Retirement, but How Much Will Materialize?

March 19th, 2014 at 5:22 pm by timigustafson

In the 2002 movie, “About Schmidt,” a recently retired insurance agent (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) goes on a road trip in a brand new RV to see his daughter, and a bit of America along the way. What unfolds is a story as complex and convoluted as Schmidt’s new life. He realizes that his work of many years has quickly become irrelevant, and that his ties to family and friends have long frayed. Now he is intent on making up for the many sacrifices and missed opportunities in his past. Even his wife’s sudden and unexpected death doesn’t change that. There is still more to come in his “Golden Years,” or so he hopes.

More so than any other generation before them, today’s retirees have great expectations about what they will be able to accomplish after officially leaving the work force. There are many good reasons for that. People live longer, have a wider variety of skills and interests, are more mobile, and can take advantage of technologies not available only a short time ago.

On the downside, a great number are not financially secure enough to be able to afford retirement. They hope to continue working, at least part-time, to supplement pensions and savings. According to surveys, three fourths of Americans say they plan on working beyond retirement age in some capacity.

But that may be easier said than done. In actuality less than one fifth manage to remain in the work force. Many retire even sooner than they had envisioned – in most cases not by choice. According to the AARP, older Americans may want to continue working because it provides them with much needed income, keeps them busy and engaged, allows them to stay socially connected, and so forth. But often retirees underestimate the difficulties of finding any job, let alone one that fulfills them and gives them pleasure.

True, much of today’s work environment does no longer require hard physical labor, so aging people are not necessarily as disadvantaged as they used to be. But well paying jobs, as scarce as they are, typically demand long work hours as well as skills older workers may not have and find hard to acquire.

Also, while blatant age discrimination is unlawful, many employers are hesitant to hire workers late in their careers, even those with valuable expertise, if they can get their needs met by younger ones for less money and fewer benefits.

There are, of course, numerous examples of retried persons finding meaningful and rewarding things to do. Those who can afford to busy themselves for free are invited to volunteer for countless causes. But for the majority that’s no solution. According to consumercredit.com, more than 70 percent of Americans are financially too insecure to retire without some source of income in addition to their pension plans and/or social security checks.

Among the greatest concerns, unsurprisingly, are rising healthcare costs. This is where many of the elderly feel most vulnerable. Whether the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) will change that remains to be seen, but presently there is much uncertainty about the new law’s impact, particularly on those who suffer from chronic ailments.

For this and other reasons, we all, but especially the now retiring baby boomers, are well advised to pay close attention to our health needs, preferably in terms of disease prevention through diet and lifestyle improvements. Contrary to widespread belief, illness and decline are not inevitable parts of aging. In fact, with few exceptions, we have considerable control over our own aging process. And how well we do health-wise determines greatly what else we can hope to accomplish in every other aspect.

So, to my fellow-retirees who are still highly active and full of plans for the future, I say: let’s keep up our zest for life, but let’s start with the fundamentals, and see where we can go from here.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Living Long, Living Well

August 29th, 2012 at 5:47 pm by timigustafson

Americans may be less optimistic about the future in general than they once were, but a solid majority still hopes to enjoy a long life. In fact, longevity is considered by most as part of a good life, on par with health, prosperity and loving relationships.

60 percent expect to live at least until they’re 80. 40 percent think 120 to 150 years could be feasible within their own lifetime due to further advancements in medical and biological technology. And one percent believes that death could eventually be eliminated altogether, according to a survey conducted by David Ewing Duncan, a science writer and author of “When I’m 164: The New Science of Radical Life Extension and What Happens If It Succeeds.”

Considering that two thirds of the population are currently dealing with weight problems and a host of lifestyle-related diseases, this may be wishful thinking for many. But the fact is that the average life expectancy has indeed dramatically increased over the last century due to improved hygiene, diet and medical care. In 1900, people could expect to live just under 50 years. In the year 2000, it was nearly 77. The average lifespan was lengthened between 1.5 and 2.7 years per decade, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

What’s even more stunning is that our chances of living longer seem to go up all the time. How so? “Because the more time you spend in the world, the more time the world gives you,” says Ted C. Fishman, author of “Shock of Gray” (Scribner, 2010). “For every hour we live,” he claims, “the average human lifespan increases between eleven and fifteen minutes. Every day sees the average lifespan grow another five hours.”

Of course, that doesn’t apply for everyone across the globe, Fishman admits. “Your odds are better if you have avoided the obesity epidemic and live in a place that enjoys good health care, education, and freedom from war and terrible poverty.” It also helps if you can manage to stay mentally fit and don’t suffer from memory loss and cognitive decline. A loving family, a circle of friends and other supportive social surroundings add to your chances.

Unfortunately, many of these important factors for longevity cannot be taken for granted. Baby boomers, now entering retirement, are rightly worried about their prospects when it comes to their financial security, health needs and social life.

“It does not bode well for the baby boom generation at all,” warns Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor for public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies longevity, in an interview with Reuters. More recent studies show that life expectancy gains in the U.S. have actually flattened out since the 1960s. Despite of dramatically increasing expenditures for health care, many Americans live with chronic diseases that are left insufficiently treated, especially among the uninsured and those with limited coverage. One study concluded that poorer citizens have on average a shorter lifespan of up to five years than the more affluent.

Obviously, money can’t buy everything and life remains an uncertain enterprise no matter how rich you are. For the rest of us, there are plenty of opportunities to take care of our health and well-being by eating right, exercising, etc. (you know the drill) – and for this, it’s never too early to get started.

Researchers found that physical fitness achieved during middle-age can lower the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure in later years and may be associated with compression of morbidity at old age. Compression of morbidity is what many health experts consider the optimal outcome of aging. The idea is “to delay the onset of age-related disease and inevitable decline without worrying about extending life,” writes Dr. Andrew Weil, author of numerous best-selling health books, including “Healthy Aging” (Knopf, 2005). Not longevity itself should be our first concern, but the quality of life we have as long as we are around, he says.

This reminds me of the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. who died last year at the age of 56, when he spoke of the inevitability of death at his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.

“No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. […] Your time is limited,” he ended, “so don’t waste it…”

Even the longest life can be a waste if it’s not brought to its full potential. Even the shortest life is rich and fulfilled if it’s lived well.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The High Cost of Living Longer.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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How Golden Will Your “Golden Years” Be?

August 4th, 2012 at 4:28 pm by timigustafson

As they enter retirement age, baby boomers are once again at the center of the attention of marketers and industry. I speak from experience. Hardly a day passes by on which I don’t receive a letter, brochure or magazine in the mail, inviting me to go on a trip to far-flung places, continue my adult education, or join a community of like-minded, active seniors. Aging has never been so much fun and so full of promise, it seems.

Take, for example, the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which turned out to be one of the longest-running box office hits this year. In it, a group of retirees from England goes off to India (of all places) to start a new life that appears to be easier and more enjoyable than everything they’ve left behind. There is affordable health care, cheap housing, and, surprisingly enough, even job opportunities open up for those who have the courage to seek them. Some things may be a little chaotic, but that’s all part of the fun when you no longer need to stress over small stuff.

Unlike for its forbearers, retirement for this generation – so we are told – is a new beginning rather than a move closer to the end. The defining word now is “adventure,” which, of course, comes from the Latin term for “arrival.” Instead of fading away, this is the time to (finally) come into one’s own.

This unprecedented optimism about the prospects of old age is also big business. Just look at the self-help industry that thrives on people’s willingness to change their lives and start over again and again. Instead of the twilight zone, the later stages in life are now called the “Power Years” (to quote one title among countless best-selling books on the subject), a time to break with traditional roles and an opportunity for reinvention and creativity.

“Due to longer life spans, economic uncertainty, and the mass rejection of yesterday’s model of old age, yesterday’s model of retirement is being transformed,” wrote the two lifestyle gurus and bestselling authors of “Power Years” (Wiley, 2005), Ken Dychtwald and Daniel J. Kadlec. “Instead of viewing the years ahead as a time of decline, retreat, and withdrawal, we are coming to see this as a terrific new opportunity to reevaluate our lives, consider new options, and chart new courses. The next chapter in our life’s journey can be one of personal reinvention, financial liberation, career innovation, new relationships, and social and spiritual fulfillment.”

The authors suggest that the new retirees should consider themselves as “ageless explorers” who travel the world, start businesses and live life to the fullest at every moment they have left.

Americans are especially receptive for messages like these. The idea that our best days are always ahead of us is an important part of our fabric, both individually and as a nation.

But is all this actually achievable or just wishful thinking?

A much different, one might say, pessimistic, take on aging comes from Susan Jacoby, author of “Never Say Die – The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age” (Vintage Books, 2011). Jacoby agrees that baby boomers have many advantages that were unheard of in the past.

“Many old people today – if they are in sound financial shape, if they are in reasonably good health, and if they possess functioning brains – can explore an array of possibilities that did not exist even a generation ago.” However, she continues, “at some point, nearly every baby boomer will have to cope with the shattering of vanity and self-delusion about the capacity to remain, as the song goes, forever young.”

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with trying one’s utmost to stay physically fit, mentally sharp, socially engaged and curious about the world. But we must also remain realistic about our natural limitations. More importantly, we must be aware that our aging process starts at birth. While this may sound a bit dramatic, it is undoubtedly true that taking care of our well-being is equally important at every stage in life. The healthier we eat and the more we exercise, the better in shape we are, the better we can deal with life’s challenges, the more intact we come out at the other end. Life is what you make it, as the saying goes. So, let’s not wait until it’s almost too late, let’s make life as good as it can be right now.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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