Rules of Retirement
Here’s to a happy, healthy retirement
By Kate Morgan

Don Doyle has five rules for a lively, fulfilling retirement. “The five things you need are things anyone can get,” says Doyle, 81. “Good health, good friends, good food, good family and good books.”

Doctors say he’s right – these are the most important aspects of a person’s retirement years. Financial experts say there is also a sixth rule: good finances.

Rule #1: Staying in good health

Doyle, a Delanco resident, keeps in good physical shape by taking long walks a few times a week. He learned photography while in the Army, and he takes a camera along on his strolls to capture images of nature.

“I walk half a mile up to the end of my block and half a mile back, at least twice a week,” Doyle says. “It’s just gorgeous along the river, and there are always beautiful things to see and capture in a photograph.”

He also gets regular check-ups – at least two each year – an effort physicians say pays off.

“Medicare now pays for what they call an annual wellness visit,” says Anita Chopra, MD, director of the NJ Institute for Successful Aging (NJISA) at RowanSOM.

“So that means at least once a year, a patient can go to the doctor, get checked out and take a look at some of the risk factors they might have. During these visits, we’re making sure people don’t have depression or memory issues, making sure they’re physically active and their balance is good. We can recommend what vaccinations and screenings a patient needs and work on building an individualized health plan.”

Chopra says, unfortunately, most people past retirement age can expect to develop some sort of chronic medical issue, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. The best way to prevent these conditions is to remain physically active, even if it’s just a gentle exercise regimen.

“As we age, we have to make lifestyle changes to keep ourselves healthy,” Chopra says. “That may mean developing a routine of walking or swimming. Just a little bit of exercise can make a big difference.”

Rule #2: Maintaining friendships

Doyle was happily married for more than 50 years, but after his wife passed away he experienced an acute loneliness. After getting involved with the organizing committee of his 60th high school reunion, he discovered it’s never too late for friendship – or romance.

“Marge and I went to high school together, and I remember her but she doesn’t remember me at all,” Doyle laughs. “I truly fell in love with her immediately.

I wrote her 40 love letters, all by email. We’ve been dating now for five years. We go dancing every Saturday night. We both have memberships at the zoo, the aquarium, the art museum. It’s just so great to get out and to have someone to do it with.”

Danielle DiGregorio, PsyD, says spending time with friends, both old and new, is important to maintaining a sense of motivation and purpose.

“When you retire, it can be very difficult to motivate yourself,” says DiGregorio, a geriatric neuropsychologist at NJISA. “You used to have a reason to get up and put your pants on every day. Now that you’re not going to work, you have to redefine that purpose. It’s a great idea to find that new motivation through hobbies, like joining a club or taking a class or through volunteering in the community.”

Rule #3: Eating well

Doyle says his rule about eating good food comes with a caveat. “It’s all about good food, only in smaller amounts,” he says. “When Marge and I go out to eat, we order one meal and split it.”

Chopra says diet has a huge effect not only on physical health, but also on brain function and mental health.

“One of the big points we try to make to people who are past retirement age is that they need to be eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” she says. “It’s been shown that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have less risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

DiGregorio says smaller portions of healthy food and a good balance of vitamins will help maintain cognitive agility.

“A good rule of thumb is whatever is good for your heart will be good for your brain,” she says. “All these trendy diets – the push toward clean eating – are actually really good. Preservatives and artificial sweeteners are bad for the body and the brain. There are supplements that are marketed for memory, but they’re not really proven to work. What you want are the natural vitamins you find in good food.”

Rule #4: Staying close to family

DiGregorio says she often reminds her patients’ families how important it is to talk to and spend time with their older loved ones.

“One of the mistakes people make with their older parents, myself included, is we try not to push things on them,” DiGregorio says. “A lot of people have it in their heads that they’ll bother their mother or father if they ask them to come to grandchildren’s games or recitals. In fact, involving them as much as possible in the family is very important.”

DiGregorio says people with parents who have retired should be on the lookout for warning signs of depression, particularly if their parent lives alone.

“Notice whether they’re withdrawing or staying home all the time – those are warning signs,” she says. “But you also shouldn’t force anything on them. Instead of saying, ‘Dad, go to the senior center,’ try saying, ‘I know retirement is hard; maybe we could take a ride together down to the senior center and take a look at some of the programs that might be interesting to you.’”

Rule #5: Reading great books

Reading frequently and stimulating the brain with new information can prevent cognitive decline, DiGregorio says.

“People think memory loss is a normal thing that comes with age,” she says. “It’s not. I tell people to do different things to stimulate the brain, instead of something you’ve done before. Try to always be reading something new and exciting. If you don’t use it, you do lose it. That part is true.”

Rule #6: Being money smart

While staying physically fit and mentally sound are of the utmost importance, Ted Massaro, chartered financial consultant at M Financial, says the key to enjoying your retirement is being able to live comfortably when it comes to money.

“Long before you sit down and say,‘I think I’m ready to retire,’ you need to create a plan and set an estimated timeline,” Massaro says. “The first thing you need to establish is what your real expenses will be and how you’ll be using your savings.”

“There are a lot of expenses people don’t consider,” Massaro explains. “If you’re a couple, you can anticipate between $200,000 and $300,000 in healthcare expenses in retirement. You have to plan for that. People also don’t think about what sort of long-term care they’ll require, maybe 20 or 35 years down the line.”

Stan Molotsky, president and CEO of The SHM Financial Group, says that the main goal of your financial plan is to provide you with income during your retirement.

In his new book, Exit Strategies for a Secure Retirement, Molotsky says, “Some people will have the luxury of maintaining or improving their lifestyle, while others may have to make decisions about what they need versus what they want during their retirement. How much money do you need? While this amount will be different for everyone, the general rule of thumb is that a retiree will require 70 to 80 percent of their pre-retirement income to maintain their lifestyle.”

October 2015
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