We have 10,000 people retiring per day, the swell of a great wave of aging Baby Boomers, which means there are a lot of people trying to figure out how to work into their senior years. Life is nothing if not unpredictable as market, marriage or the fates make light of our carefully planned lives. Is 70 the new 60? How can we continue wage earning well into our senior years?
Any discussion of maintaining useful vigor starts with activity. Now many are already thinking, “I made it this far without all that early morning, sweaty nonsense.” And maybe you did. But you should know, retirement has been well studied, and it is one of the most dangerous things you can do.
Retirement carries excess mortality far beyond that expected from age and health status. People who work get out of bed and move around a lot more than retired people. The simple activities associated with work, like walking and standing, add a lot to your health and longevity.
Do not underestimate the power of exercise. Wheelchair-bound seniors have given up the chair simply by doing strength training on their legs. You can be too weak to walk. Any additional activity you can manage is your best chance of remaining in the workforce. Perhaps surprising, exercise is good for what ails you. It is good for degenerative arthritis, for you heart, lungs, back and even your brain. Get a dog, it’s a great excuse for a morning walk.
Everyone fears dementia as they age. You need a healthy brain to continue to make a living. How do you do that? It is said: “What is good for your heart is good for your brain.” The brain uses an astounding amount of blood for its size, so the condition of those blood vessels in the head is of prime importance. That’s another reason to get some exercise.
But that is not all that keeps these vessels flowing. Staying clear of cigarettes is easier, as smoking seems to be dying out. Keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol under control is important. Diabetes is hard on blood vessels, but watching your diet and weight will help keep the sugars down.
People and their brains need stimulation. It is important to interact to stay sharp. Friends and family contribute to both your mental health and to your brain function. Staying social helps you keep working, and working keeps you social.
Is it a little late in the game to worry about medical care? Maintenance still counts. Some of the simple things, like a flu shot, can make a huge difference in keeping you going. Skin accumulates damage from a lifetime of sun, and skin cancers are more common with age. Skin cancer is like a little fire, easily stopped if caught early.
Your skeleton becomes a more prominent role in your well-being as you age. Bones can thin and weaken, especially in women. Calcium and Vitamin D are the building blocks of bones, but resistance training is the secret ingredient.
So you’re 65 or 75 and the kids have bounced and are back home. Retirement is overrated – it’s safer to keep working, and after 40 years you are too good at what you do to stop.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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