Is today the day you’ll start?

Is today the day you’ll start?

In January I wrote a lot about health.  You can’t be unhealthy—mentally, emotionally, physically—and have a great retirement.  While that’s true, it’s also true that you are fighting a losing battle.

No matter how much kale you eat or how many marathons you run, your body is gradually breaking down.  Mine too.  In science, this is called entropy.  Everything is moving from order to disorder.  You can slow the process through your actions and decisions, but you can’t stop it.  How should this affect how you live?

First, don’t let it depress you.  Yes, your time is limited, but to paraphrase Seneca, you have plenty of time if you use it wisely.  Second, stop waiting.  Delayed gratification is overrated.  Decide what you really want out of life and start taking those plans very seriously.  Retirement isn’t about how many birthdays you’ve had or whether or not you punch a time clock.  It’s an intentional way of living that prioritizes freedom, fulfillment, purpose and relationships.  It starts today and is an incremental process of aligning your lifestyle and actions with your highest priorities.

Bottom line?  Do everything you can to get and stay healthy, but don’t stop there.  Make the most of those extra years.  Start today. 

“We have two lives.  The second begins when we realize we only have one.” – Confucius

~ Joe

How to keep loneliness from ruining your retirement

How to keep loneliness from ruining your retirement

Quick summary:  Loneliness and depression are growing problems with the baby boom generation.  In this article I talk about why that is, the problems that it causes and a few ideas on how to fix it.

Loneliness is the sadness you feel when there’s a gap (in quality or quantity) between how much social interaction you have and how much you want to have.  Unfortunately, it’s a growing problem among retirees.  According to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, loneliness affects between 25% and 60% of all older adults.  The baby boomer generation reported the highest levels of loneliness and isolation.  This is a serious issue because it not only affects quality of life, but can also have severe health consequences.  Why are retirees particularly susceptible to loneliness (and depression) and how can you keep it from ruining your retirement?

Risk factors

As you age, there are a number of things that can affect the quality and quantity of your relationships.  Death.  Divorce.  Leaving the workforce.  Moving.  Physical changes, like arthritis, can affect your mobility and keep you homebound.  Common ailments like hearing loss can make it harder to engage socially.  Women are especially vulnerable because they live longer and are therefore more likely to be impacted by one or more of the previous risk factors.  What are some of the problems that loneliness causes? 

Health consequences

Loneliness affects more than just your happiness and quality of life.  It increases the risk of depression, cognitive decline and dementia.  It weakens the immune system.  It increases blood pressure.  In short, it is linked to poor health and early death.  So let’s re-cap.  Loneliness is more common among older people and the side-effects are no bueno.  How can you keep it from ruining your retirement?  I put several ideas below.

Fixes

Work on your social circles.  A large study by Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University found that those with greater social connection had a 50% lower risk of early death.  Retirement is an amazing time, but it’s also a time where your social network can undergo serious change.  Some of those are by choice (e.g. leaving work, relocating).  Some not (e.g. death of a close friend or spouse).  Either way, you need to be very intentional about making and maintaining relationships.   

Use technology to maintain your independence.  Loss of independence can have a huge impact on social interaction.  If you can’t drive, you can’t meet a friend for coffee.  Thankfully, there’s Uber.  If you can’t hear very well, you’re unlikely to attend social functions or join groups or organizations that require you to interact and converse with others.  Thankfully, hearing aid technology has improved dramatically.  Take advantage of it.  I could give a hundred more examples.  Unfortunately, some people are reluctant to use these technologies because it’s like admitting that they’re “old.”  That’s nonsense.  We all grow old.  We all experience health changes.  Don’t let stubbornness or pride prevent you from using technology to improve your quality of life. 

Consider senior housing, an assisted living facility or CCRC.  People understandably want to age in place and stay at home.  It’s familiar.  It gives a sense of independence.  I get it.  But if your physical limitations mean that your home becomes a place of isolation, maybe it would be better to move into a facility that is designed to provide social interaction, regular activities and assistance with issues that get harder as you age.  People in these types of facilities report being happier and having higher levels of physical, social and emotional wellbeing.  Most clients I’ve worked with over the years have viewed a move into one of these facilities as a positive, even if they were reluctant at first.  In fact, I moved into one myself to see what it was like.  You can read more about that here: So…I moved into an assisted living facility.  Here’s how it went.

Volunteer. I mentioned this in my article last week, but it bears repeating.  Several large studies show that volunteering can have positive effects on your health and well-being.  One reason it’s so good for you is because it provides lots of social interaction.  Not only that, but doing good deeds can reduce stress and lower cortisol levels which can strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems and ultimately lengthen your life.  Use some of your extra time during retirement to volunteer.  Chances are it will make you healthier and happier.

Evaluate social media use.  Sometimes social media is a helpful way to stay connected with your friends and supplement your in-person interactions.  Sometimes it’s a vortex of negativity that breeds discontent and FOMO (fear of missing out).  If it’s making you happier and more connected, great!  If not, don’t be afraid delete your profiles and invest your energy elsewhere.

Join a local group related to your hobbies or interests.  Like to garden?  See if there’s a local gardening club.  Like to golf or play pickleball?  Join a league.  Like to dance?  There’s a group for that.  Like to travel?  Consider group trips through organizations like Road Scholar.  As with most things, hobbies are better when you can add others into the mix for friendship and fun.

Entertain.  Everyone wants and needs social interaction, but too often they just sit at home waiting for the phone to ring.  They’d jump at the chance if someone took the initiative.  You can be that someone.  As our daughter has gotten older, we’ve invested a little money in our house so it will be a place where her and her friends will want to hang out.  I’m guessing many of you did the same thing for your kids.  There’s no rule against doing that same thing in retirement.  Be the person that has dinner parties, back yard barbeques or movie nights.  Take the initiative and you’ll likely have plenty of people excited to participate.

Get professional help.  If you’re lonely or depressed, get some professional help.  There’s no shame in that.  I’m not a doctor, but I have had several close friends and family members who have struggled with loneliness, anxiety or depression.  In each case they sought help (counseling and/or medication) and saw drastic improvements.  For some reason, there is a stigma associated with mental health in the U.S.  No one blinks an eye when someone seeks treatment for cancer or diabetes, but there is reluctance to treat depression like the disease that it is.  There are a number of effective treatments.  “Cheer up!” is not one of them.  If you need help, get help.

If you have any other thoughts or ideas, feel free to share them in the comments section.  Thanks for reading.

Be Intentional,

Joe

12 Tips for a healthy retirement

12 Tips for a healthy retirement

Are you trying to take better care of yourself this year?  Great!  We enjoy having you around.  Here are 12 simple ways to be healthier, both now and in retirement.

Forgive.  Researchers have discovered a link between forgiveness and physical health.  One study showed that people who forgive have fewer coronary problems than people who hold grudges.  Other studies show that those who forgive have less anger, less depression, decreased anxiety and more hope for the future.  The research also shows that forgiveness improves your mood and makes you more optimistic.  Don’t let old wounds fester.  Forgive and move on.

Volunteer. Several large studies show that volunteering can have positive effects on your health and well-being.  Doing good deeds can reduce stress and lower cortisol levels which can strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems and ultimately lengthen your life.  Use some of your extra time in retirement to volunteer.  Chances are it will make you healthier and happier.

Find purpose and meaning.  Studies show that when you feel like your life has purpose and meaning, you will experience less stress (and the negative health effects it produces), you’ll be better able to cope with challenges and you’ll be more inclined to take better care of yourself.  Studies also show that having purpose makes people more likely to be physically active and more likely to use preventative health services like getting a cholesterol check or prostate exam.  Looking for ways to find purpose and meaning?  Read this: 15 Practical ways to live a purposeful life.

Get rid of belly fat.  A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed a strong correlation between belly fat and cognitive abilities as you age.  Those with higher levels of belly fat performed worse on cognitive tests and they were also more likely to develop diabetes or have a heart attack. 

Eat less.  Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “You can’t outrun your fork.”  If you’re trying to lose the belly fat mentioned above, focus on how much you eat rather than just exercise.  You need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose a pound.  Most people could trim 500 calories per day if they shrunk their portion size or cut back on snacking.  That would result in a pound per week of weight loss.  To burn the same calories running, you’d need to run about 5 miles per day or 35 miles per week.  Exercise is good, but most of us aren’t running an ultra-marathon every week, so watch the Ben and Jerry’s instead.

Retire sooner rather than later.  According to research done by the National Bureau of Economic Research, retiring can improve your overall happiness and health.  The research found that life satisfaction improves immediately for retirees and their health improves gradually over a period of years.

Retire later rather than sooner.  There are other studies that show that retiring later (after 65) may extend your life. I suspect this has to do with the quality of your pre-retirement life.  If you have a fulfilling career, staying in the workforce can help you stay socially and mentally engaged and reduce the risk of certain diseases.  If you hate your job and have plenty of friends outside of work, retiring sooner (as mentioned in #6) might provide more benefits.

Meditate/Pray. Meditation carries a number of benefits.  It reduces stress, anxiety and blood pressure.  It improves self-awareness and can help you sleep better.  It helps you live more in the present.  It can improve emotional health and reduce age related memory loss.  There are several apps that can help you with meditation, including Calm and Headspace.

Don’t smoke.  This one pretty much goes without saying.

Get enough sleep.  The research on sleep has gotten pretty compelling.  Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.  Getting enough sleep can strengthen your immune system, help you maintain a healthy weight and help reduce your risk of serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease.  It can also improve your mood and help you to get along well with others, which will help with # 11.

Work on your relationships.  Retirement is a risky time for relationships.  Death can take a spouse or close friend.  Leaving work might alter key relationships or social interaction.  Friends might retire and move away.  Those are all bad, because loneliness is linked to poor health and early death.  In fact, loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking about 15 cigarettes per day.  The takeaway?  Invest in friendships.  Invest in your family.  Work on your relationship with your spouse.  Being lonely and isolated can kill you.

Exercise.  We all know that exercise is important, but recent research shows just how important it is to retirees.  Not only does regular exercise reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, but a recent study by Cardiff University showed that exercise was the single biggest influence on whether or not study participants developed dementia.  If you want to maintain your faculties and have a healthy, active retirement, then get regular exercise.

Do your actions match your aspirations?

Do your actions match your aspirations?

Happy New Year!  It’s that wonderful time of year when we all get a blank slate and a chance to make a resolution or two.  That got me thinking about actions and aspirations.  What if I told you that my goal for 2019 was to become an Olympic swimmer, but I never got in the pool?  Or if I said I wanted to write the great American novel, but never bothered putting pen to paper?  How confident would you be that I’d reach my goal?  Not very, right?  That’s because most people realize that major accomplishments require major effort.  You’re not going to achieve an exceedingly rare outcome by putting forth a mediocre effort.  Said another way, your actions need to match your aspirations.

How about this one:  What if I told you I want to retire someday.  Big deal, right?  Actually, it is.  We take it for granted because it has become so ingrained in everyday life, but when you think about what retirement really is, it’s a wonder anyone can do it.  Retiring is like saying: “I want to quit my job tomorrow and never work again, but I want to be healthy enough and have enough money to do fun and exciting things and also maintain my standard of living for 30 years or so.”  Seriously?! I think most of us have a better shot at the Olympic team.  

The 1% Life

I recently saw a video of writer/speaker/businessman Gary Vaynerchuck talking to a young man who was describing the kind of career he wanted—meaningful work that paid handsomely but gave three to four months off each year for travel.   He was lamenting that it wasn’t happening and asking for advice.  Gary asked him several questions that made it pretty clear that, aside from daydreaming, the kid wasn’t putting forth much effort to get his dreams off the drawing board. This was Gary’s response (and I’m paraphrasing): Look, you’re asking for a 1% life.  In other words, a life that is so unique and amazing that only 1% or less of the people in the world get to experience that.  What you’re asking for is ridiculous and you’ll have to do ridiculous things to have any hope of making it a reality.  So you’re asking for this 1% life, but you’re not really doing anything to achieve that.  If you want a 1% life, you need to do 1% things.

To borrow Gary’s phrase, retirement is a 1% life.  And if you want to make that 1% life a reality, you need to do 1% things.  And I’m not just talking about money.  Finding meaning is pretty darn hard as well.  There are plenty of retirees who are cash rich and lifestyle poor.  

Unfortunately, we often treat retirement like it’s a 99% life that happens to everyone as long as you make a few 401k contributions and maintain a pulse.  It’s not that easy.  You won’t reach your retirement goals by simply having a certain number of birthdays.  It takes financial stewardship, intention, hard work, effort and sacrifice.  It takes deciding what you really want out of life and taking those plans seriously.  It takes being proactive.  It takes experimenting and practicing so you can refine your plans and get good at actually doing stuff.  It takes building into your relationships and working on your marriage.  It takes eating right and exercising so you can maintain your health.  All of those things are in your control, but they’re not necessarily easy.  But neither is retirement.  It’s rare and unlikely.  It’s a 1% life.  Are you doing 1% things to get there?  Stick around because I’ve got a ton of stuff coming your way this year that will help. Here are two that you’ll see in your inbox soon:

January Health Articles

I don’t care how much money you’ve saved, retirement won’t work without your health. Take care of yourself so you can get out there and enjoy life. Follow along at Intentional Retirement during January and I’ll post several health-related articles and resources to help you start the year off right.

aMUSEments

Sometimes you just need a little inspiration.  A muse, if you will.  With that in mind, each Friday in 2019 I’m going to send out a quick list of the coolest and most interesting things I’ve found that week relating to retirement.

The list might include trip ideas, articles, products, quotes, retirement tips or anything else that looks interesting or inspiring.  The goal is to give you a quick dose of motivation as you head into your weekend.  Keep an eye out for the first one in a few days.

~ Joe

How to use your IRA to give to charity and reduce your taxes.

How to use your IRA to give to charity and reduce your taxes.

Qualified Charitable Distributions

Once you reach age 70 ½ you need to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA each year.  There’s a simple formula to determine how much you need to take.  Then you just withdraw the money and—here’s the important part—pay the taxes.  Until recently, there was no way around those taxes.  Then Congress changed the rules to allow people to make tax free charitable donations directly from their IRAs and count those donations toward their RMDs. These are called Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs).  Here’s how they work.

If you have an RMD due, rather than having the money distributed to you, instruct the IRA trustee to send the money directly to a qualified charity.  The distribution will count toward your RMD and the IRS will exclude it from your taxable income.  You can exclude up to $100,000 per year.  If married and you file a joint return, your spouse can exclude an additional $100,000.

These distributions are particularly appealing after the recent tax law changes.  The standard deduction was raised considerably, which means many people will no longer itemize and deduct their giving.  The QCD allows you to still get a tax benefit for your charitable giving even if you don’t itemize. 

A few things to keep in mind:

  • You must be at least 70 ½ to make a QCD.
  • The QCD must be a distribution that would have otherwise been taxable.
  • The distribution must go directly to the charity.  If you distribute it to yourself and then give it to the charity, it counts toward your RMD, but it does not count as a QCD.
  • QCDs are excluded from your taxable income, so you can’t double dip and also claim them as a charitable contribution on your tax return. 
  • You can make a QCD for up to $100,000 even if your RMD is less than that.
  • A QCD cannot go to a private foundation or donor-advised fund.