Don’t retire from living a healthy life!

In 1985, I gave health talks in retirement communities. The audience members were independent adults with an average age of 70. I started out by saying, “What is your 10-year plan? What do you want to be doing when you are 80 years old?” There were a lot of surprised, quizzical faces looking back, and inevitably someone would stage a whisper, “I hope I’m still breathing!”

This always got a chuckle, and then I’d ask, is that really all you want to be doing — just breathing? No matter what age you are now, many people are outliving their projected life expectancy. In 1980, the expected life span of a woman at age 65 was 83 years old. A recent study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reports that a 75-year-old woman without chronic conditions today will likely live another 17 years. Statistics for a man are slightly different but still add an increase in lifespan. This unprecedented increase has been referred to as gaining a bonus decade. To some, it doesn’t feel like a bonus.

The bad news is that if people retire from taking care of their physical, mental and spiritual/social needs, there is a greater risk of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, lung conditions, cognitive impairment and neuromuscular diseases. Inactivity alone can lead to loss of balance, decreased strength, falls and things like not being able to get up from the floor.

The good news is that the power to grow healthfully into older age residents, in large part, with the individual. Developing and maintaining good health habits, which is an individual choice, and taking action now can minimize, delay or prevent full-blown chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases, diabetes, heart diseases and mental health illnesses.

It’s becoming clear that choosing a healthy lifestyle now, wherever you are in your lifespan, can improve or prevent many chronic illnesses and reduce disability later in life. Of course, life can throw curve balls and unexpected events happen, and the perfect plan for health must be rewritten. We always need a plan, but what if we are going to live until we are well into our 90s — are we going to be satisfied with just breathing?

Peter Attia points out in his book, “Outlive: The Science and the Art of Longevity,” there is a big difference between actively living life and simply still breathing. He uses health span to describe the length of time one lives without disability or disease, and lifespan as years left in life. He points out that older adults are in the driver’s seat to extend their health span for their entire lifespan. Attia’s well-researched data indicates that mindfully choosing a healthy lifestyle extends active years and health in great age.

Plan A sounds like I will have my health, purposeful activity and a meaningful life for my entire life span. And “meaningful” is the linchpin. What I learned from listening to the older adults in retirement homes is that they didn’t want to just breathe. They wanted to be doing things that were important to them — playing the piano, traveling, doing volunteer work, gathering with their friends and families, being independent. Living a meaningful life.

Kori Diehl, PhD, asserted that changing behaviors and goal setting must be based on what is important to the individual. Kori introduced the concept of ReTimement, something people around retirement age can use to take charge and thrive now, into the bonus decade and beyond. It involves identifying the values ​​that are meaningful to the individual, creating a vivid picture of living those values ​​and feeling the pull to achieve goals starting today. Breathing is necessary for a long, healthy life, but what else do you want?

As Michael Jordan said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

Lin Simon, PhD, RN, is a wellness coach specializing in helping people create space for change to occur. People working through ReTimement and others wanting a healthier lifestyle are perfect clients. Simon uses mindfulness, guided imagery and hypnosis in his coaching depending on the client’s goals and preferences. To make an appointment, call 571-236-4741. Simon’s office is located at Shore Wellness in Lewes. For more information, go to