Posted on 19 March 2008
By Mark Miller
You plan your retirement savings. You probably have some plans for retirement travel. Maybe you’ve got a plan for the dream retirement home.
But are you planning your retirement body? If not, it’s time to get busy.
“It’s possible to envision the kind of physical body that we want to have in retirement,” says author John Nelson. “The level of fitness, flexibility, strength, what we want to weigh-all those things create a compelling vision for the body we want to have when we retire. And it will probably take us years to create that body for ourselves.”
Nelson calls it the “dream body for retirement.” What does he mean by that? Simply that we’re all getting older, but healthy aging often depends on the decisions we make in the years leading up to old age-not only upon the medical care we receive once we get there. And, while you can’t control the calendar age on your driver’s license, lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise, relaxation and socialization can hold down your biological-or “real”-age.
Nelson is co-author of What Color is Your Parachute? For Retirement (Ten Speed Press, 2007) one of the most thoughtful and informative retirement books I’ve run across. He wrote it with the assistance and blessing of Richard Nelson Bolles, author of “What Color is Your Parachute?” one of the best-selling career books ever published.
Nelson is finishing his Ph.D. in adult education at the University of Wisconsin but his real focus is retirement education. The book describes a valuable overall model for thinking about retirement planning that he calls the Retirement Well-Being Model.
His model addresses a wide range of financial, emotional and health needs. But one of his most provocative notions is that we need to envision and plan for the body we want to have in later life.
In Nelson’s retirement model, there are several components contributing to overall health. Two key factors are genetics and medicine-that is, the doctors, medicines, procedures and whatever interventions people may need as they age.
But the biological dimension is just as important. “That’s our own basic biology,” Nelson says. “So much of our biological health and vitality is driven by our lifestyle choices.”
“Retirement health is really about making that distinction. Our state of biological health and vitality doesn’t show up the day we retire-we create it over a decade or two. It’s about taking the steps to create the biological health we want during that 10 or 20 years prior to retirement.”
Note that Nelson sees this as a long-term process that requires motivation and focus-no different from the planning you might do for your retirement portfolio or any other major life goal. “Most people can usually come up with a list of healthy lifestyle behaviors. Most of us know what is healthy to eat, or that we need exercise. What it’s really about is motivation.”
One great way to get started-aside from reading Nelson’s book-is to get a baseline on your current lifestyle and habits, and how they affect your health with respect to age.
For a major eye opener, try taking the free RealAge online test at Realage.com.
The test uses 125 different factors to calculate your biological versus calendar age. It’s based on mainstream, validated medical and scientific research and is guided by the work of RealAge co-founder, Dr. Michael Roizen, author of several popular books on healthy aging.
You’ll want to have the results of your last physical sitting alongside your computer, because you’ll need the numbers on your cholesterol, blood pressure and other key vitals. You’ll also answer a battery of questions about diet, exercise, and other factors such as your family life and socialization patterns. Within 10 or 15 minutes, the site can calculate your “real age” as compared with your driver’s license age.
I took the test recently, and received a lecture via e-mail how I can do better-by taking vitamins, cutting back on red meat, boosting my strength-training program and so on.
But, I learned that I’m beating my calendar age by about four years. That’s not good enough but it’s a start. How are you doing?