July 28, 2010

5 Keys to a Healthier Life

For those of us in the Encore Years maintaining good health is a key concern. A  study from a few years ago noted that half of all retirees are worried about health-related issues, while only 17% are worried about death. Here is a basic, 5 point list of some of the factors that most experts agree are vital to a happy aging experience. See if this list spurs you to make improvements where needed.

  • Financial Planning . Nothing causes more stress among retired folks than the fear of running out of money. A generation ago people only lived an average 10 years after they stopped working. Today, most of us can expect at least 20 more years of productive time. If the economy has caused you serious worry, there is every reason to believe your daily health will be negatively affected. For many, the economic problems of the last few years has made retirement difficult if not impossible. As a reminder, This blog does not include specific financial planning advice In a future post I will detail l some of the steps my family took to allow us to quit the rat race early. In the meantime, use the resources in the link and commit yourself to getting a solid grip on your true financial situation and develop a plan that will allow you to relax and enjoy your time.
  • Manage Your Stress. I'm referring to chronic stress, the kind that never seems to end. Certain kinds of stress are actually good for you and keep you moving forward. But, the wrong kind can trigger all sorts of physical symptoms. Mild problems can include headaches and susceptibility to colds. With more exposure to chronic stress, all sorts of bad things can begin to happen. Diabetes, heart problems, obesity, ulcers, and anxiety attacks is a partial list. The key is to manage the amount of on-going stress your body is exposed to every day.
  • Eating The Right Balance of Food Types. This falls under the heading of common sense. But, for many retirees, it is very easy to slack off in this critical area. You are probably near a refrigerator or pantry for many more hours of the day. When you dealing with stress or how to manage all that extra time, eating is a natural response. Your choices are more likely to be from the snack section, not the fruits & vegetable bin. 
  • Exercise & Stay Active. This closely follows the item above. If you don't "use it, you lose it." Any form of exercise and physical activity is better for you than none at all. Even with limitations to what you can do, there are isometric exercises anyone can do. Flexibility and muscle tone will directly affect how healthy you feel. There is no need to run a marathon *unless that is a new goal of yours) or joining an expensive gym. Walking around the neighborhood or inside a nearby shopping mall is a very positive thing you can do. Inexpensive rubber bands designed for working your muscles can be had for just a few dollars. Excellent ideas and recommendations are at this link.
  • Keep Your Mind Active and Alive. Developing dementia is a real fear for most of us. Our mind is what keeps us feeling connected to life, our relationships, and our future. There is no promise that doing crossword puzzles, reading, learning a new skill, playing a musical instrument, writing, or joining a discussion group will keep dementia from striking. But, there is growing medical evidence that these activities help delay its onset. I have a few posts that deal with ways to stimulate your mind and stay engaged.    AARP has an excellent article with lots of mental stimulation ideas here.

July 26, 2010

What is Most Important to You?

The Google gadget for taking a poll of this blog's readers doesn't work properly, so I'll do it the old fashioned way: pose a question and ask for a comment.

What topics are most important to you as an about-to-retire, just-retired, or long time retired person?  There are dozens of things that could be written about, but the ones that are important are the ones that most concern you. So, why don't I just ask?

Health, finances, relationships, keeping an active mind, travel, having fun and making friends, managing your time, discovering your new passion, exploring your creative side...what are the areas that you would like to learn more about, or discuss with others? Which of these worry you or bother you?

Very simply, I ask that you leave a comment below with one or more of these words. If there is a topic or area of concern that isn't listed, by all means, add it. We will all learn something.

I will attempt to tailor future blogs to what you say is most important to you. Thanks for your thoughts and input. I am anxious to see what pops up.

July 24, 2010

Journals and You...Why Bother?

The suggestion to keep a daily or weekly journal is not new. A quick Google search of the term registers over 5.3 million hits. You can be old-fashioned and write in a notebook. You can buy special software to help you keep your journal. But, maybe you have wondered, why journal?  Writing down my random thoughts, or what I did today serves what  purpose?  I have better ways to spend my time.

From someone who starts lots of journals but rarely keeps them going for more than a few months, I understand the questions. For the record, I am not keeping a journal of any kind now. Frankly, the attention I am paying to this blog fills the need for me. However, there are very legitimate reasons for you to consider the experience. Wherever you are on the retirement timeline,  journaling may be a positive experience for you.

One of the books I have enjoyed for years is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. She is a big believer in journaling, though she calls it writing your "morning pages." This is an exercise to force you to write. You must complete three pages a day. If you can't think what to write about, write one sentence over and over until you fill three pages. Her contention is the act of writing will help you uncover your creative side and allow you to express anger or gratitude as appropriate to people or things.

A book I re-read at least once a year is Jordan Ayan's Aha, 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit. He likes to call this process Power Journaling. His ideas for keeping any kind of written record include some I hadn't thought of before. He suggests a focus journal in which you write everything you can think of on a specific theme or topic. The idea is you notice gaps in your knowledge that you can then fill. He describes a Dream Journal, a Letter Journal, a Techno Journal. I won't detail what these are about. Get the book and check it out.

I have kept a Gratitude Journal off and on for years. Very simply, once a day or every few days, write down three things you are thankful for: a pretty sunset, the lawn service didn't break the sprinkler head, you spouse made your favorite dinner, air conditioning, you figured out how to stop the DVD machine from blinking 12:00...anything. This helps you focus on the good things in your life and reminds you that things could probably be a lot worse.

Along the same lines, I have heard of a Beauty Journal. Again, making note of things that please you visually helps train you to notice the world around you and remain positive. A Creative Writing or Poetry Journal may make sense to you. How is this Retirement Thing going so far? That could be a fascinating journal for you to review over the years. 

Bottom line. The reasons for journaling and the type of journal you keep are personal decisions. But, I can vouch for the value of putting your thoughts on paper or in a computer. The discipline of doing it regularly is helpful in all areas of your life. You are likely to discover something you didn't know about yourself in the process. You may open up an entirely new area to explore you hadn't thought about before as you develop your own retirement lifestyle.

Journaling is just a way to force you to think and express yourself, and that sounds like a good thing.

July 22, 2010

Who Is That Person Sitting Beside Me?

One of the biggest adjustments most of us have to make after being employed is being around another person, all day, everyday. Whether we have stopped working, or the spouse has, or significant other or family member has, it is hard to ignore the "extra"  person in the room. Marriage manuals and books on relationships will tell you that together time is great. They tend to gloss over the flip side: too much together time can make for a rocky journey.
During the Second Stage of Retirement  there is a difficult period most everyone has to traverse after retiring. The adjustments to lifestyle, time management, and  finding a new passion for your life are not easy, but necessary. Learning to adjust to the new reality of a full time relationship is right up with the biggies. if you are single, there are points I will make that you can apply to your relational situation.

Shared Interests

You have some, don't you? If not, now would be a good time to step away from the computer and find a good counselor. Seriously, anyone in a relationship of any length must have some interests and likes in common. Retirement gives you and the other person the chance to spend more time doing them together. Notice I used the word chance. This won't happen just because you are together. It will only happen if the two of you strive to make it happen. Cooking dinner together, taking a hike or a bike ride through a pretty park, watching every Cary Grant Movie ever made......you know what those shared interest are. Make a concerted effort to include them in your day on a regular basis.

Here is something many of us forget about shared interests: you may have a shared interest you don't know about yet. It is quite likely that with all the time apart during your working years, the other person has done things without you, and vice versa They might be fun and exciting and enjoyable if you tried them together. That will require you to step out of your comfort and control mode for a while. Since the entire process of developing a satisfying lifestyle without employment is stepping way out of your comfort zone, this should be no big deal. Each of you agrees to try an interest of the other person for a set period of time. If it doesn't work, drop it and try something else. You just might discover something you love and don't know how you got along without it before.

Complementary Interests

This doesn't mean telling the other person how good they look today, though that isn't a bad thing to say. I'm referring to combining interests that compliment each other. For example, I like to take photographs. I have a decent eye for composition. But, I do not have the patience to edit each photo for color balance, sharpness, raster layers (whatever those are), perspective, and so on. Lucky for me and her, my wife loves that kind of work and is very good at it. She likes taking photos too, but secretly I think it is just so she can edit them. I will have ideas for a house project or decoration change. If she agrees my wife implements them. I don't like to pick up a paint brush or level or an electric drill. She wants them for a present. In fact, Home Depot has a special parking space for her. Our skills compliment each other and allow us to complete a project or develop a hobby that neither one of us could tackle as well individually.

Private Time and Space

No matter how well you make the above suggestions work for you, this last point is not last in terms of importance. You may be a saint. You may be the kindest, most considerate person alive. You may look stunning in a ratty T-shirt and gym shorts. But, no one wants to be with you 24/7.

Each of us must have a period when we are alone. We must be able to simply "be" without having to respond or comment or decide. We must have time alone to become involved with interests and activities that we don't share with another. The trick is to make it clear you are not avoiding the other person because he or she irritates you or you simply want to get away from him or her. Both of you must discuss boundaries of duties and time so each of you protects what is important to the other person.

For some this is a hard message to accept. If your spouse or best friend or family member makes it clear they need private time, you must accept that request graciously and with full support. Understand that all of us have a very real need to our own thoughts and space.

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July 20, 2010

Does Family Matter ?

A post from several years ago dealt with an article in the Times of London. Its premise was that retirees are happier with good friends than good grandchildren.

I think the argument is silly. The answer is both friends and family are delightful and important. Maybe the author was trying to make a case for keeping things in balance; that is a legitimate point. Maybe the paper was just trying to sell a few extra copies. But, whatever the case, it prompts me to write the following.

Grandkids can be an absolute breath of fresh air.They can remind you what is was like to be very young. They can remind you what it was like to see each day as an exciting period of discovery. They can remind you what it is like to have total trust and love in another human being. They remind you of the amazing capacity of the human mind to grow and question.

They can also make you very glad your kids are grown and out of the house. They can make you glad that you can play and explore and accept their love.....and then go home to peace and quiet.

Family Importance

Leaving the grandchildren importance aside for now, I want to talk about family. I know I have been blessed. My family is rather small, but very close. We all live in the same area now that our children decided several years ago that being with family is more important than better weather, prettier city, even friends. So, they moved back to Phoenix from Southern California.

My Mom and Dad lived here for over 20 years until their deaths. My son-in-law's brother and some of his children are here. So are his parents. If your family interaction isn't good I have just described your nightmare. All I can do is suggest that you do all in your power to try and heal any divides.

During your working life, the nuclear family is your focus. If you are single, your co-workers, maybe a married brother or sister in another city are your family. When you retire, the people you are related to are what you have to work with. As much as you think you will maintain all the friendships from the job,  that is unusual. It is much more likely that you will move in a different direction, at a different speed, and with different motivators than your former co-workers.

American families get a bad rap from the media. TV shows with happy families are not in vogue. Movies without a seriously messed-up child or parent or next-door neighbor as the dramatic focus don't often succeed.  Novels based on families like the Waltons don't make the best seller lists.

I think that is a real shame. My experience is that the families I know are functioning well. There are bumps in the road in all families but I don't see the massive amount of dysfunctional behavior I am lead to believe exists. I am not Pollyanna. Drugs, sex among 10 year olds, bullying in schools, various addictions, texting instead of actually talking to someone....I know things are not the 1950's and Beaver Cleaver. (where many of the problems existed, we just ignored them).

"Family" comes in all different shapes and configurations

Support System

I can tell you that as you move into retirement, family becomes a critical part of your support system and your ability to be happy. You don't necessarily have to live in the same town. You don't have to see them as often as I see my family members. You may not even be related to those who are your "family."  But, in whatever arrangement you find yourself, these relationships matter. They matter a lot.

Set as one of your goals as you go on this retirement journey to nurture and protect the interactions you have with the people who love you the most.  

After 17 years of retirement, one of the parts that never gets old is family closeness. 


July 19, 2010

Lots of Helpful Links

The web site TopRetirements.com is primarily designed to promote the benefits of living in a 55+ community. I am not taking a position on that issue at the moment, though it could form the basis for an interesting blog sometime down the road.

Life Changing Activities

This link will take you to a page on that site with some good information on a variety of topics. Scroll down to the Volunteering section and click on the 7 Live-Changing Activities for Retirement.  While not particularly new information, it is good to review the basics from time to time. On the home page  are all sorts of "Best of" lists that might spur some thoughts for you.

Part of the fun of blogging is stumbling across little nuggets of information or interesting paths to follow. This one will only take a few minutes of your time, but is worth the click.

July 18, 2010

Friends or Family?

I just ran across a newspaper and am not happy with its central premise. Having friends is very important to a happy, satisfying retirement, there is no debate about that. Hobbies, interests, and keeping your mind active are crucial. No argument from me on that point...just look at some of my posts for agreement and support.

However, one of sentences in the item just jumped out at me: "Researchers suggested that grandchildren could get in the way of grandparents’ social life if they spent too much time caring for them."  I would agree being a full time babysitter would put a crimp in your social calendar and hamper a lot of what makes retirement so great. But, I can't accept that putting family first is the wrong choice.

I'll say no more, but ask that you read the article from The Times of London and decide what you think. Comments are encouraged.

July 15, 2010

Just For Fun

One of the joys of retirement is having the time to have fun. You can take an hour, or a full afternoon to entertain yourself, and no one will dock your pay. No one will wonder why you weren't being "productive."  You have the freedom to do something you like, or even try something you've always wanted to but just couldn't fit it into your schedule.

Low Cost Options

Here are several free or low-cost ideas worth exploring where you live:
  • In Phoenix , as well as Tucson, Flagstaff, and Prescott, is a fabulous resource called Showup.com . This non-profit agency has contacts with virtually every arts organization in these cities. It offers highly discounted, last-minute tickets to concerts, art and museum exhibits, plays, photographic displays, and musicals. It is possible to score a seat (or two) for 50-70% off. There is a section of the web site that has a huge listing of events that are absolutely free. Just Show Up!  I would bet there is a similar opportunity where you live. It may not be as extensive, but in today's economy art organizations are scrambling to sell tickets. A few phone calls may be all that is required to find a similar deal in your town.
  • A new breed of on-line discount coupon distributors exists. Companies like Groupon, Living Social and others make arrangements with local restaurants, spas, bookstores, or other local businesses to sell their product for one day, at a discount usually 50% off. You are e-mailed an new offer each day. If you want to take advantage you simply buy the coupon and use it as needed.  An excellent article by the folks at Tech Crunch explains exactly how these companies work. I've used Groupon and am very satisfied.
  • Free, downloadable e-books are now available at most public libraries. Audio books have been around for several years. But, now you can download a book directly to your computer or electronic reader like a Kindle from your library. Just like a printed book you borrow for a period of time, at the end of two or three weeks you are asked to delete the file from your device. Some more advanced systems actually make it impossible to access the material after the borrowing period expires. This is the perfect way to sample an author or particular book before you decide to buy it.

Support Your Local College

If you are lucky enough to live in a town with a university or college you have a cornucopia of free events at your disposal. Community colleges are every bit as active. I live within an easy drive of Arizona State University. But, more often than not I prefer to take advantage of the free movie series or concerts at the community college 10 minutes away. Every year they offer two different film programs, featuring movies from a particular country or area of the world, or with a similar theme. The twice a year classical, jazz, and big band concerts are always a delight. These events are free and rarely crowded. The college sends me an e-mail whenever something I might like is scheduled. 

In future posts I'll offer some additional ideas for free or low-cost entertainment. But, these thoughts should get you started. If you have something in your town you'd like to mention, please post a comment. Maybe your possibility exists somewhere else.

July 13, 2010

Healthy Habits

As  I have noted before, I don't feel qualified to pass along specific exercise or diet regimens. That is well beyond the scope of this  happy retirement blog. But, I am comfortable in providing a few links to websites that I do trust, or come highly recommended from other sources. So, if you have questions of this nature, please begin by looking at the AARP siteThe Federal Government site for Eldercare, The Mayo Clinic Senior Health Center,and commercial sites like WebMD

I am comfortable in touching on a few areas where there is general agreement on their importance to a retiree's long term health and happiness. Staying active is probably top on all lists. Earlier posts have mentioned the risk someone faces who stops working and stops moving. Passive activities are an important part of life. I couldn't survive without my daily dose of reading, listening to music, watching a favorite movie, or sitting on the back porch and enjoying the birds.

But, I probably  wouldn't survive as long as I am destined to, or be as happy, if I didn't mix in active pursuits. Walking to and from the park (about 2 miles) with my wife and going to the gym a few times a week are an important part of my regime. I starting playing the guitar last spring. This is both a physical and a mental active activity. A few hours each week are spent in the garden or house maintenance.

If you paint, or dance, or jog, keep it up. If all your current physical condition will allow you is a slow amble to the end of the block and back, go for it. If you can't do that, some basic isometric exercises involve nothing more than a chair or a wall in your home or apartment (or even RV).  

Take on a new challenge, either physical or mental (or both). In the book, The Joy of Not Working the author says it best: "just because something is difficult is no reason for not doing it."  We all have a fear of failing, or looking silly when we try a new sport or hobby or taking a class at the local college. But, the truth of the matter is no one else really cares how well you do something. They are  having the same thoughts about their performance!

Personally, I have a tickler in my calendar that prompts me to tackle a new project or explore a new subject every three months. This forces me out of my comfort zone and keeps me engaged. At the moment, in addition to trying to learn the guitar well enough to play some Christmas carols in a few months, I am building a small electronic project. I am not technically oriented. I don't normally have the patience to solder together small electronic pieces. But, it is something I want to try. The worst that could happen is it ends up in the trashcan and I spent a few dollars and a few hours. But, it wouldn't be a waste or a failure. To not even try would be a failure.

One of the blogs I follow is Mildly Creative. A posting entitled Don't Leave Yourself Stranded on the Runway presents a quick and on-target summary of this point using a very effective airplane metaphor. I notice the author is changing his blog address and the focus of his efforts but will maintain all the great stuff I enjoy so much. I'll update the link at some point soon.

In future posts on this topic I'll pass along some thoughts on socializing, sports, hobbies, and ways to keep your mental powers perking. But, for now, please do not fall into the deadly trap of too many retirees and think an easy chair, a remote, snacks, and a walk to the mailbox is what you have earned for yourself after all those years on the job.

What you have earned for yourself is the opportunity to do just the opposite. Weigh (pun intended) your choices seriously. It can be a matter of life and death.

July 9, 2010

On-Line Courses Part Two: TED

If you haven't discovered TED yet you are in for a treat. TED is short for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It is a an Internet site with video talks by some of the most fascinating, interesting, riveting people in the world.

Founded over 25 years ago, TED has blossomed into a world-wide phenomenon. Based on the premise that ideas can change the world, presenters have up to 18 minutes to promote a cause, explain a thought or concept, entertain through all sorts of musical styles, or simply leave you in awe over the beauty of our world.

While some of the presenters are famous (Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Bono, James Cameron, Natalie Merchant, and Bill Gates), most are not well-known outside their speciality. But, that what makes TED an even greater adventure. You are exposed to people from all over the world, talking about subjects you might not even know exit. You can't help but leave a visit to the TED website stimulated to learn more about a speaker or the subject.

The list of topics covered is expansive.  Click on the TED website link above and then look at what is listed down the left hand side. Want a choice of talks that are persuasive, or ingenious, or funny, or beautiful? How about outrageous or inspiring? Pick one, click on one of the photos that appears and you are off to the races. Everything is free and plays without extra software downloads.

New videos are added on a regular basis, but so much already exists it would take you months and months to explore it all. As you can tell I am a TED fan. It is one of the shining beacons on the Internet and should be part of your satisfying retirement lifestyle.

After you have sampled a video or two on TED please leave a comment here. There are so many options I am sure it would find it helpful to learn what you liked (or didn't).

July 7, 2010

On-Line Courses Just for Fun

You are likely aware of various on-line schools of higher education. Places like the University of Phoenix, the largest on-line school in the world, offers a full range of degrees.  At last count over 200 accredited college and universities in the U.S. offer the ability to get a degree without ever stepping into a classroom. better. Complete a degree you had to stop to go to work, or follow a new path in a whole new direction.

What you may not be aware of are the incredible resources available online from some of these same universities that are absolutely free, have no tests or papers to worry about, and can be started and stopped at any time. The range of subjects covered is every bit as extensive as it is if you were paying a tuition.

I have sampled courses from Yale, MIT, Berkeley, and Stanford. I have tried audio courses, video courses, courses with reading lists and without, courses that are fun and entertaining, and courses that test my mental limits.

Most reputable studies make it clear that the brain must be exercised like any other muscle. Things like crossword puzzles, regular reading schedules, TV shows that make you think are important. Social interactions and conversation with others are very important. Future posts will touch on all these subjects. But, for now, let's look at what you can find sitting in front of a computer.  Here is a list of links you can click to see what is available.

  • Probably the most surprising resource is ITunes U. Over 250,000 free lectures, videos, films, and other resources are here and they are free. You don't even need an IPod or IPhone. Download the material directly to your computer, using free software provided by Apple.

  • One of my personal favorites is Open Culture. In addition to all the college level courses, there are links to free audio books, videos of every style. Ever want to learn a foreign language. Open Culture gives you the chance. Over 250 free courses are available.

  • Promising 1,900  free lecture notes, exams, and videos from MIT, all free and without registration, is the aptly named MIT Open Course Ware.

There are dozens of additional links you can find by Googling "Free On Line Courses."  The ability to use your computer, some free time, and the willingness to learn something new is one of the best ways to keep your mind active and your retirement lifestyle happy and satisfying.

July 5, 2010

Life-Long Learning

One of the nicest benefits of not working (at least full time) is you get to choose how to fill the time that is suddenly available to you. I believe that is a true statement for anyone who has retired. As long as you are breathing and above ground you can decide how to spend the most valuable resource you have: time.

I am not going to get into a qualitative discussion that says watching TV is less valuable than playing golf. Or that hitting a small white ball around a large green lawn for three or four hours doesn't use your brain to its fullest potential. Or that going back to college and getting that degree you have always wanted is the best use of your free time.

Rather, in this category entitled Creativity and Learning, posts will give you ideas to explore, possibilities to follow, and suggestions that may help you build an active, happy, satisfied lifestyle. I will also say these ideas are ones that have worked for me. What I enjoy or have explored may not interest you one bit. You might wonder how someone can not be fascinated by model plane building, or going on an archaeological dig in Greece, or playing 36 holes of golf a day. Your idea for the best use of your time may never have even occurred to me. So, the only logical goal I can have is to get you to think about what would leave you satisfied.

One thing I ask is that if a specific idea or suggestion doesn't make sense to you, think about what would. Use the presentation of my bad idea to spur you to think of a good answer for your situation.

A quick example that I'll probably bring up again: I started to teach myself guitar last spring. I had been involved in music as a youngster but stopped playing any instrument in my early teens. A few months ago I decided I missed making music and I wanted to learn something new. So far, so good. I'm enjoying the challenge and I feel good about the process. I stepped out of my comfort zone and allowed myself to be poor at something for awhile.