The importance of friends to a healthy, happy retirement

The importance of friends to a healthy, happy retirement

How healthy are your friendships?  The answer will have a huge impact on your retirement.  Research shows that friends (or lack thereof) can affect your health, happiness and even your habits.  Let’s look at the findings, examine some of the challenges your friendships will face as you age and discuss a few ways to make and maintain friendships during retirement.

How Friends Affect Us

According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships can affect your health and happiness in a number of important ways:

  • They provide support in tough times.
  • They help you find belonging and purpose
  • They reduce your stress and increase happiness
  • They give self-confidence and self-worth
  • They can help you through difficult times like death, divorce, illness or job loss
  • They provide accountability and positive peer pressure
  • They help reduce the risk of things like depression, high blood pressure and unhealthy BMI.

In addition to the benefits above, friendships can help keep your mind sharp.  Several studies have found that there is a strong connection between loneliness and cognitive decline.  For example, a 2018 study in the Journals of Gerontology found that loneliness was associated with a 40% increase in dementia among study participants.  In another study, researchers in the Netherlands found that people who feel lonely are about 1.6 times more likely to get dementia.

There’s also evidence that the importance of friendships increases as we age.  Dr. William Chopik at Michigan State University conducted a study on how our relationships affect our health and happiness as we age.  The results showed that the benefits we get from healthy family relationships stays level throughout life, but the value of good friendships has a greater impact on our health and happiness as we age.  According to Dr. Chopik:

“Friendship quality often predicts health more so than the quality of other relationships.”

The Problem + The Solution

So the benefits of friends are huge, but there’s a problem.  Making and maintaining quality friendships gets harder as you age.  In mid-life you have competing priorities like kids and work.  As you age, caring for your parents often gets added to the list.  And life isn’t static.  Circumstances change and friendships ebb and flow.  Major life events—death, divorce, job loss, moving and retirement—can derail even the best of friendships.  So if you want to enter retirement with good friends that have a positive impact on your health, happiness and cognitive function, you need to be intentional.

That means investing time, effort and often money into your friendships.  It means being kind, likeable and trustworthy.  It means listening and being transparent.  It means being reliable and available.  It means celebrating victories and being there when life is challenging.  It means being loyal and avoiding drama.  It means being proactive about spending time together.  All those things have a compounding effect over time.  They deepen friendships and give them a solid foundation.  And as we saw earlier, those deep friendships take on added meaning as you age. 

A Few Practical Applications

The primary takeaway is this: Don’t underestimate the power of friends.  They can make or break your retirement.  Start working on them now.  If you’re looking for a good place to begin, forward this article to one or two of your friends and start a conversation.  Ask how you can be a better friend.  Plan an adventure or fun outing.  Start a new tradition.  Discuss ways to deepen your friendship.  Compare retirement plans and make sure they overlap in ways that will allow you to maintain your friendship.  All of this takes effort, but it’s worth it.  The payoff is a healthier, happier life for both you and those you care about. 

Be Intentional,

Joe

What won’t change?

What won’t change?

Read this quote from Jeff Bezos and then let’s apply it to retirement.

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

What won’t change in retirement?

Bezos was talking about business, but you can just as easily apply his idea to retirement.  Most people spend decades preparing for retirement. If you’re going to do that, you want to make sure that the time, money and energy that you’re investing will get you to where you want to be and will pay dividends for years to come.  So, what won’t change?  What is likely to be just as true 10 or 20 years from now as it is today?  Here are three ideas:

You’ll want to be healthier. I have yet to come across the retiree who doesn’t care about their health.  Everyone wants to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  I’m sure the same will be true of you.  So the time and effort you spend on improving and maintaining your health will be well spent.  That could mean making a long-term commitment to eating better.  Or hiring a personal trainer.  Or buying better quality food.  Or going to your doctor for regular checkups.  Or going to a physical therapist to finally treat those aches and pains.  Or flossing (seriously…new research links gum disease to Alzheimer’s).  Or getting that knee or hip replacement surgery that you’ve been putting off.  If it’s an investment in your health, it will pay dividends for years to come.  

You’ll want to be happier. That was true when you were 2.  It was true when you were 20.  It will still be true if you live to be 200.  So think about the things that make you happy and invest in those.  Here are a few suggestions based on happiness research.  Invest in relationships.  Learn new things.  Focus on experiences rather than things.  Work on something bigger than yourself.  Exercise. Meditate or pray.  Spend time outdoors.  Help others.  Get enough sleep.  Forgive. Stop comparing yourself to others.

You’ll want to be more financially secure.  I’m sure everyone has dreamed of winning the lottery, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Financial security simply means you’re not worrying about money at night.  It means having enough to buy your freedom.  Enough to control what you do with your time.  Enough to do the things that you want to do.  Enough to help those you care about if they need help. Enough to take care of yourself if/when your health changes.  Enough to design the kind of lifestyle you want.  The desire for financial security will not change, but it takes most of us a long time to get there.  So be a good steward of your assets.  Save diligently.  Pay off debt. Invest wisely.  Calculate how much you need to fund the retirement you want and make a plan that will get you there.  Hire an adviser if you need help.  Get your finances in order and it will pay dividends (literally) for years to come.  

Quick summary:

Step 1: Decide what won’t change.

Step 2: Invest in those things.

Step 3: Reap the rewards for years to come.

Touch base if I can help.

Be Intentional,

Joe

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.

A Long Life vs. A Good Life

A Long Life vs. A Good Life

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see an article about how to live a longer life.  Drink coffee.  Don’t drink coffee.  Eat a paleo diet.  Be a vegetarian.  Do yoga. Meditate.  Do this to avoid Alzheimer’s.  Do that to minimize the risk of prostate cancer.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and live a long life, but what about actually having a life worth living?  Isn’t that more important?

A long life is good, but only if you’re healthy, happy and fulfilled.  So try to get your recommended fruit and veg, but don’t forget why you want those extra years to begin with.  Is it just to be alive?  To check off another year on planet earth?  Or is it to actually use those years to live a meaningful life?  Of course, everyone would say it’s the latter, but our actions don’t always reflect that. We procrastinate.  We don’t take our plans and dreams seriously.  We put things off until “someday.”  How can we do better?  Below are a few practical ways to add life to your years (rather than just years to your life).  Each is punctuated with a quote taken from the essay On the Shortness of Life by Seneca.

Spend

Carl Sandburg once said “Time is the coin of your life.  It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent.”  A few extra years would be great, but how have you spent the last 10 years?  How are you spending this year?  How about today?  Stop wishing for more time and start actually using the time you have wisely.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

Simplify

Don’t spend your precious time and money pursuing and maintaining a lifestyle that isn’t what you want.  That feels pointless and toilsome.  Decide what’s important to you.  Invest in that.  Cut out everything else.

“It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return.”

Start

One of the biggest unintended consequences of “planning for retirement” is that it trains us to procrastinate.  Yes, it’s important to save for your future, but that doesn’t mean ignoring your present.  Life is meant to be lived.  If you’re trading the very best of your present for some uncertain future, you’re doing it wrong.  Plan for your future.  Make the most of your present.  Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

Be Intentional,

Joe