For a lot of us, retirement is a lifelong goal...
It's the dream of ending the grind of working 40 hours a week to spend your days doing whatever you want.
When I (Laura Bente) talk to people thinking about retirement, they imagine spending their days playing with grandchildren, traveling, and simply having time to do whatever they want. But the reality is quite different.
Many retirees face an unexpected consequence of retirement... depression. According to a 2020 review from Spain, nearly a third of retirees experience depression. In fact, folks over 65 years old account for 18% of suicides... disproportionate to their share of America's overall population.
Studies show that the "retirement blues" happen due to a feeling of loss of purpose, money concerns, or social isolation.
It's not surprising. In the "honeymoon" phase of retirement, lots of people think they'll take some time to rest and relax after decades of working and raising children. But the cycle of doing nothing with your days can be tough to break.
It's OK to enjoy the ability to do nothing... But if that becomes your daily routine, you're more likely to experience symptoms of depression: loss of interest in things you love, restlessness, irritability, and persistent sadness (just to name a few).
Recently, I asked someone who lives a retirement many would envy about the secret to really enjoying your golden years...
My grandmother – at the young age of 91 – seems to have barely slowed down as she has aged. She organizes social events for her friends, goes on trips with her children, keeps up with her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and even continues learning new skills. (Her latest is a passion for studying our family's ancestry.) I know I hope I'm as active and whip-smart as she is when I'm in my 90s.
So today, I want to share some of the advice she gave me about making the most of your retirement and avoiding the retirement blues...
1. Get social.
We've written before that social isolation is a leading cause of early death in seniors. A study from Brigham Young University found that loneliness and social isolation increase your risk of early death by as much as 50%.
Lead author in the study, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad told Medical News Today that "many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a 'loneliness epidemic.'" She explained that most social situations for adults stem from the workplace, which is why planning for retirement should also include social activities.
That means that after you retire, you need to work harder to create time to socialize.
Churches and senior centers are good places to start for senior-specific activities. If you want to do something that gets you out in the sunshine, your local parks might have special programs. For example, here in Maryland, our state parks offer special "Senior Rangers" programs for anyone 55 and older.
You could also volunteer for local athletic events... doing things like handing out water, helping racers navigate the course, or helping transport supplies. Check out Active.com to search for events in your area.
Whatever you decide to do, use friends to keep you accountable so you don't cancel plans.
2. Exercise your mind.
Continuing to learn, especially as we age, is one of the best ways to keep your brain active and healthy.
This doesn't mean you need to sit in a classroom with young people. Lots of community colleges and universities around the U.S. have classes specifically for seniors. And some colleges – like ones in the California State University system – offer free tuition if you meet certain age and residency requirements.
You can even study on your own – whatever topic interests you. My grandmother does this... She used to be a tax preparer and now stays sharp by reviewing the latest tax law changes as a hobby.
3. Create a routine.
All the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic taught us the importance of having a regular routine... When you don't have to go to work, it's tempting to sleep late, spend the day in your pajamas, and stay up late reading or watching TV. But doing this all the time will quickly ruin your physical and mental health.
As we age, it gets harder to sleep, especially through the night. A lack of sleep leaves you drowsy during the day, without the energy to spend time doing something you enjoy.
We've said before that going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is one of the best ways to improve your quality of sleep. This lets your body know when it's time to sleep and time to wake up.
A routine can help with more than just your sleep... Data suggests that anywhere between 30% and 45% of retirees get no daily physical activity. This lack of exercise leads to issues with balance, mobility, muscle mass, and bone density.
But it doesn't take much to reduce your risk of these issues... A 2015 study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that participants who used just two minutes of every hour that they spent sitting to do light-intensity activity (like casual walking, light gardening, or cleaning) lowered their risk of dying from health problems caused by sedentary behavior by 33%.
Make sure you set aside part of your day to get moving. And keep yourself accountable. For example, go for a walk after lunch. Set yourself an alarm to remind you it's time to exercise. Or, even better, find a workout buddy. So even if you tell yourself, "It's too cold, rainy, or hot outside," you'll have someone to keep you motivated.
4. Do things you like.
Boredom is a major problem for retirees. When you suddenly have lots of time on your hands, how do you fill it?
We've already talked about a few ways to battle boredom that also keep your mind and body healthy. But another important aspect of your retirement is considering what would make you happiest...
If you worked with a financial planner when you were preparing for retirement, one conversation you had was likely concerning how you want to spend your nest egg. For example, are you planning to leave a portion of your money to your heirs? Or do you plan to spend your time traveling?
My grandmother and grandfather were still traveling across the country well into their 80s. And they often joked that each big trip was another person's inheritance.
Retirement is a time to do what you want. (And none of us know how much time we have left.) You've worked hard your whole life. If you want to leave money to your family, don't do so at the expense of enjoying your own life.
Finally, be kind to yourself... The transition from working to retirement is huge. It takes time to adjust to a new type of lifestyle. Enjoy this time.
What We're Reading...
- One man is using his retirement to create a temple to '80s rock gods.
- Something different: Be ready for next week's nationwide alert system test.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Laura Bente, CFP®
September 28, 2023