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For some, retirement is a time of newfound freedom and well-earned fun. For others, it can be a time of isolation and decline. While we often think about how we will support ourselves financially throughout our golden years, which is certainly important, we seldom discuss the other things we need to do to provide for our wellbeing. If you are thinking of retiring within the next several years, it’s time to make a retirement plan to support health and wellness, in addition to financial stability.

There are five components to health and wellbeing in older adulthood.

Nutrition. People often have an easier time following a healthy eating pattern during the workweek. On the weekends or when they are on vacation, it is more difficult to make good choices. What happens when “every day is Saturday”? Start thinking now about how you might eat differently and in ways that support both your enjoyment and your health, even when you are off. Of course, moderate alcohol consumption, and if you use tobacco, try to quit.

Movement. The draw to your easy chair can be pretty strong. After all, you’ve worked for 50 years. Rather than give in entirely, think of ways you might enjoy moving around. Playing sports, camping, hiking, skiing, golf, kayaking, and biking are a few ideas. Choose a few, so that you have different activities that coincide with the weather at different times of year. Consider building some form of movement into your daily routine.

Social connections. For many, co-workers provide valuable social relationships. Not having those connections effortlessly on hand means having to reach out. Cultivate relationships with family and friends, former co-workers or classmates, and people of different ages. Not sure where to start? Look for opportunities at the local senior center.

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Intellectual activities. Our jobs often provide opportunities to learn new things. Without that exposure, we need to find interests to explore. Developing a skill can be tremendously rewarding and comes with the added benefit of keeping your mind sharp. Local cultural and continuing education organizations have lots of offerings. Look to free weekly papers for upcoming events.

Purpose. Connect to something that brings meaning to your life. People sometimes work part time, volunteer, or pursue an encore career. For instance, you could mentor a child in need or a young professional starting out in the profession you’ve left.

Build your routine. Envision a future where your needs for nutrition, movement, intellectual stimulation, social connections, and purpose fit into your daily or weekly routine. Make a plan that integrates these activities and give it a try.

Putting it all together. Note that there are really fun and creative ways that one activity can fulfill more than one role. For instance, joining a corn hole league fulfills your need for both movement and social connections. Becoming a Habitat for Humanity volunteer would help you advance an interest in building and feel the satisfaction in the fulfillment of purpose.

Nothing is set in stone. As you try your routine, you will find areas for improvement and adjustment. When one interest fizzles or doesn’t work out, rather than spending that time watching TV, look for an opportunity to replace it with something that fulfills a similar role. Doing so will lead to a healthier and happier retirement and a longer and more fulfilling life.

Dr. Lisa Downing-Forget is an internal medicine physician at SVMC Internal Medicine, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.


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