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
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Apparently I can travel faster than I can write. I made it home Tuesday in the small hours of the morning, but I still have several articles I want to share with you including about my time in Italy and Germany as well as my reflections on and lessons from the trip. I’ll send those your way over the next week or so. Thanks so much for following along and keeping me company over 18 days and 25,000 plus miles. It was a fun experience!
After wrapping up my time in France, I took an early morning flight to Naples, Italy where I had a car service waiting to drive me about an hour and a half to a little seaside town on the Amalfi Coast called Positano. During the planning stages of the trip I read that parking a car in Positano is a difficulty on par with splitting the atom, so I decided to save myself the frustration and just use the aforementioned car service. The cost was surprisingly reasonable and talking to the different drivers (I used it for several trips) about the economy, politics, their families, the culture and more was a kick. Plus, the guy who picked me up from the airport was named Fredo so I instantly felt like I had been dropped onto the set of The Godfather (best movie ever).
When we arrived in Positano, I was reminded of a line from Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London where he described the houses on the narrow street where he lived as “lurching towards one another in queer attitudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of collapse.” Imagine pushing an entire town over a steep cliff and then somehow freezing the picture as the houses, buildings and roads spilled toward the sea. That is Positano. It’s beautiful, but it seems to defy the laws of physics.
Fredo dropped me off at the Hotel Marincanto where I checked in with the usual questions (Just you? Is that backpack your only luggage?) and then found my way to the hotel restaurant for lunch. It’s hard to imagine a meal with a better view. My table was outside on a veranda that was covered with flowers and lemon trees (Limoncello originated on the Amalfi Coast) and looked down the hillside at the crashing waves below. My waitress was a friendly Italian woman who age-wise could have been my mother and who, like my mom, took joy in providing a good meal. I ordered the ravioli and a beer. She asked me what kind of beer and I told her to surprise me. “Ah, Peroni for you,” she said. When I later complimented her on her choice of beers, she brought me another, gratis. Smiling, she said: “Is good, no?”
Stomach full, I decided to do a little exploring. As you might imagine from my earlier description, walking the streets of Positano is like doing a Stairmaster workout with the machine on “Everest” mode, but the shops and scenery reward you for the effort.
The itinerary for Italy was designed to give me a little downtime after the breakneck pace of Hong Kong and France. I had four days instead of three and the only scheduled activity I had was a tour of Pompei and Mount Vesuvius. The rest of the time was earmarked with exploring Positano, hiking the paths above the town and working. A typical workday started with breakfast and cappuccinos in the hotel restaurant and then writing, answering emails, calling clients and running trades in my makeshift office on the balcony outside my room.
Makeshift office on the balcony outside my room.
Pompeii and Vesuvius
Visiting the ancient Roman city of Pompeii and the volcano that buried it meant taking a day trip back into Naples. After the solitude of Positano, Naples felt raw and frenetic. I met the tour group near the train station and we took a small bus to Pompeii. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, burying the town in 20 feet of volcanic ash. Heat was the main cause of death, however, with temps reaching nearly 500 degrees Fahrenheit as far as 6 miles away from the crater.
The ash preserved the town, leaving people and animals frozen in time. The bodies eventually decomposed and left voids in the ash that excavators—hundreds of years later—filled with plaster. The result were eerie 3D casts that tell the story of those panicked final moments. After the tour we walked to a local restaurant for pizza (which originated in Naples) and then took the bus to Vesuvius. From the parking lot it was about a mile hike/climb to the top where steam vents remind you that the volcano is still active (it last erupted during WWII) and where you can see Pompeii off in the distance.
Path of the Gods
I got up early the morning after Naples and worked until about 3 pm. With a few hours of daylight remaining, I hopped the local bus and road it to the final stop in the Nocelle neighborhood at the very top of Positano. There is a trail there called the Path of the Gods (Il Sentiero degli Dei) that links Positano with the tiny hilltop town of Agerola. With my limited daylight, I couldn’t hike the entire thing, but I did enough to recognize that the path came by its name honestly. The views were really breathtaking. After returning to Nocelle, I thought about taking the stairs—about 1,500 of them—back to my hotel, but descending the dark, uneven stairs without a headlamp seemed like a surefire way to test out my health insurance, so I walked to the bus stop instead and caught the last bus of the evening.
Watching the sun set from the Path of the Gods.
On to Munich
The next morning I packed, had a few final cappuccinos, said goodbye to the staff and then walked up to the rooftop of the hotel (street level) to wait for my ride. Stepping out the door, I heard a hearty “Bonjourno Joe!” and looked up to see Fredo. About halfway through the ride to the airport he asked me if I had time to stop for an espresso. He took me to his local coffee shop and ordered two espressos made with Kimbo, the local brew. We stood at the bar (there were no seats in the small café) and were each handed a small cup of orange flavored sparkling water to cleanse our palates. The perfectly pulled espresso shots came 30 seconds later. We clinked glasses, downed the contents in one shot and it was on to Munich.