by Roger Whitney ContributorRetirement – Forbes 25 Oct. 2019
You are your habits. Every single one of us has habits that impact our lives, but they’re not always good ones. Smoking cigarettes is a habit, after all, and so is watching television for hours on end. These bad habits can prevent us from reaching our potential, but they can also cut our lives short.
Of course, the opposite is also true. The good, positive habits many of us have — habits like exercising regularly, eating nutritious meals, and meditating — can make our lives better in immeasurable ways. This is especially true if you’re old enough to see why habits matter but still young enough to make your positive habits count.
As you age, you will rely on your habits more and more. As our physical and mental abilities ebb and flow with age, our habits takeover as an autopilot. Build great habits and those will be the autopilot you’ll rely upon to remain healthy, active, and engaged.
Here’s a good example of positive habits at work.
Recently on my retirement podcast, we profiled a listener who was navigating a health crisis (her husband has cancer). You can hear her resilience radiate during the show. Their habit of being proactive has helped them continue to live even with the difficult situation. The couple loves cycling, but his condition has made him weak. But with the aid of an electric mountain bike, he is still able to hit the trails. That attitude has served the well.
Build poor habits and your autopilot can lead you to a constant struggle to maintain altitude. Here I think of an older client named “Roxanne” who smoked for decades, never exercised, and has a poor relationship with her children. Roxanne now a widow in her early 80’s who struggles to get out of bed every day. Her bad habits dictate how she sees the world and her view of the power she has in it.
The Best Habits to Help You Live Well in Retirement
If you’re in your 50’s or 60’s, you may have twenty, thirty, or even forty-plus year of retirement ahead of you. This simple fact means that the habits you’re able to pick up and stick with could make a marked difference on your physical health as you enter the final stretch of your life on this planet. When it comes to your longevity, also consider recent research published in the Journal Circulation which shows that around 60% of early deaths can be attributed to lifestyle factors, including those bad habits we talked about.
Based on my observation, even if someone doesn’t die early from their bad habits, their joy in life is diminished. To put it more bluntly, they live just as long but don’t get to enjoy life the way the rest of us do.
On my retirement podcast, I am constantly talking about how retirement shouldn’t be about survival — it should be about thriving and enjoying life during a season when you have the time — and hopefully the money — to live the way you want.
Longevity may be the underlying goal, but what about the quality of your existence? Even if you’ve had not-so-great habits in the past, now is the time to establish good ones. Here are some habits that could lengthen your lifespan and help you rock your retirement now and later:
1. Regular Exercise
Plenty of research shows that regular, vigorous exercise is crucial when it comes to maintaining your physical health as you age. This means you should go out of your way to take part in difficult, uncomfortable exercise that feels like work. In other words, you aren’t helping yourself that much if you hop on the treadmill and watch. The Price is Right while you walk at a snail’s pace.
In addition to strength and endurance training, your exercise habit should also include stretching. In my eyes, stretching is a lot like flossing because everyone knows they should do it but few people actually do.
The less flexible you are, the more likely you are to fall, break your hip, and wind in a nursing home like Aunt Karen. Make sure you’re exercising and stretching your body because that’s the best way to protect yourself against preventable injuries and the physical signs of aging.
Do Something Meaningful
Having a purpose in life may be more important than people realize, but your “purpose” doesn’t have to be something over-the-top or mind-blowing. For some people, their purpose is being an awesome grandparent, volunteering for an organization that matters to them and hardly anyone else, or maybe even learning skills like woodworking or gardening. It doesn’t matter so much what your purpose is as long as you have one.
On the flip side, not having a purpose can lead to bad habits that can affect your longevity and your mood. Think of it this way: when you have nothing to do, you might wind up sitting in front of the tube all day, or worse, diving into the pointless void of social media.
Train Your Mind
As you get older, training your mind is just as important as training your body. Your body carries you around, but your mind also needs training to stay in great shape.
Constantly learn and challenge yourself so you can stay sharp and potentially even avoid diseases like dementia. While brain-engaging activities like Sudoku or puzzles can help, learning anything can make a positive impact.
Consider this: research analyzed by John Hopkins Medicine recently showed that staying in school longer reduced the prevalence of dementia in the United States, particularly among those ages 65 and older.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Eat well and pay attention to the food you’re putting in your body. Take special care to consume foods that support your mental health and spiritual well-being while staying away from empty calories and foods that make you feel unwell. (I’m looking at you, refined sugar!)
A recent article from Catharine Paddock, Ph.D. in Medical News Today also suggests keeping your body mass index (BMI) under 25% if possible.
Cultivate a Positive Mental Attitude
If your glass half full or half empty? Your current outlook on life can play a huge role in how well your mind and body hold up. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who embrace positive stereotypes about aging are more likely to recover from a disability.
Improve Your Mood
Depression and anxiety can become rampant as we age. Do anything you can to improve your mood whether that includes exercise or stimulating mental activities. Go for walks in the park, get back out in the dating scene, or volunteer for a cause you love — or basically anything that will make you feel better about yourself and the world.
If you don’t have an expansive social network, you may wind up having one by default — your family. This can be a good thing if your family members are happy and successful, but not so much if they aren’t.
If you find your default social network is overly negative, look for ways to build a new one. Try to make friends with younger people who may have different interests than you, and be sure you continue cultivating friendships you already have or may have had in the past.
Remember: who you allow in your inner circle matters just as much as who you don’t allow.
Own Your Life
Finally, take steps to be a participant in life, not a spectator. Stay out and about instead of sitting at home and watching the world pass you by.
This can be a difficult feat in today’s internet age where we can see what other people are doing on the hour without even leaving the couch. But sitting on the sidelines won’t help you maintain optimal physical or mental health.
Make sure you’re not just watching other people’s stories; get out and create your own.