Choosing active, healthy lifestyle can boost retirement

The other day I noticed an unusual older couple in the grocery store — upright, muscular, confident and lithe, with the warm glow of active, outdoor living. These two didn’t look good for their age, they looked good.

I’m always amazed at the number of people who hang it up once they hit their sixties (fifties? forties? thirties?). Are you designing an exceptional retirement or accepting a mediocre one? Take a look at the following statements and see if one of them fits your current retirement mindset.

“I wish I looked like I did in high school”

Yup, I hear it all the time. Hey, I wish I had a million dollars, but wishing doesn’t make it so. Let’s take this passive, impracticable statement off the table, because it’s not going to happen.

“I’m old and will never look like I did in my thirties”

Fair enough, there are some things in life that come and go — tight skin, hair, etc. Enjoy them while you can. However, there are many other things, including strength, mobility and agility, that have more staying power than you can imagine.

The problem with this second statement is twofold. One, you’ve already given up, accepting your self-prescribed fate. Two, your future is based on perception, which is mostly predicated on the fact that none of your friends look like the couple in the example above. If everyone was active, chances are you would be too.

“I will regain (or maintain) the vitality I had in my thirties so that I can be physically strong and active during retirement”

For the majority of the population this is achievable goal. There are some obvious exceptions, but for the most part this is a realistic statement.

Several years ago, one of my fitness centre members lost her husband. They were active as a couple, but not overly so. After a period of grieving she made some decisions that would define the rest of her life. The new red Mustang in the club parking lot was an interesting addition, but it was her decision to start teaching yoga in her seventies that turned heads. Ida taught for many years, eventually becoming recognized by Guinness as the world’s oldest yoga instructor at the age of 100.

You could dismiss Ida’s story as exceptional (along with many other accounts of retirement excellence) but that would be a copout. Ida and others aren’t examples of gifted genetics, they are simply average people making good decisions and sticking to them.

Choice and determination are key in defining good health (and strong biceps). The fit couple in the grocery store were making daily, health-sustaining decisions. Its doubtful that they were world record holders or elite athletes, simply conscientious.

I also saw other shoppers eating hot dogs and fries (at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning). They too were making choices — ‘today I will be heavier than yesterday’; ‘the walk to my car will be a struggle’; ‘my heart will work extra hard even though I’m sitting all day.’

The decisions you make define you. The problem is, 95 per cent of all behaviours are shaped by our unconscious, meaning we are operating on autopilot most of the time — go to Costco, load cart with processed food and treats, eat hotdog and fries, repeat.

The tipping point toward change is making one firm decision that becomes part of your autopilot repertoire. The new behaviour (no more Monday morning hot dogs) should be simple and doable. If the challenge is too much of a stretch you may be setting yourself up for failure, and you don’t want failure to be the new learned behaviour.

One small change loosens up your rigid brain, making it easier to add new behaviours. Think of it as compound interest. A dollar invested today pays big dividends down the road. But unlike the market, an investment in your health doesn’t fluctuate annually (or even trend downward for years at a time).

So, you’ve got a decision to make. Will you be that good-looking couple enjoying a long and fruitful retirement, or have you opted for a chair and slippers? One choice could make or break an exceptional retirement.

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