Exploring Retirement


Welcome to the eighth edition of Exploring Retirement! This month we continue to look at what is known about living a healthy lifestyle by focussing on what constitutes a healthy diet. One of the joys of being retired is that you have more time to "get creative in the kitchen!" Our featured activity is allotment gardening which combines growing your own food with being outdoors in the fresh air, plenty of healthy exercise and a safe environment for the whole family, grandchildren included!

Feedback from readers is welcomed, whether you want to add your thoughts on healthy eating or share a favourite recipe or two! Write to editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

Feedback from our readers

Roger and Desney Cromey have been in contact to tell us about an upcoming event at the Corrymeela Centre, Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. Entitled "Slowing Down to Meet Yourself - A Retreat for the Retired", this one day reflective programme is intended for the retired or those who live/work with the retired. The course will explore identity, relationships, opportunities and spirituality in retirement. The date for your diary is Tuesday 24th September and the course runs from 10.00am to 4.00pm. Cost £30. You can view the details by clicking here.

Health and food

"The medical establishment is working to find ways of keeping alive those people that the western diet is making ill. How much easier it would all be if people simply ate intelligently in the first place!" Walter Bortz, MD.

Judging by the amount of space devoted to food and diets in our libraries, we would appear to be obsessed with what and how we eat. There is certainly no shortage of advice on what constitutes a healthy diet. Despite the proliferation of guide books, the scientific view on what we should be eating is very consistent and changes only very slowly, as new research refines our understanding. Here are some of the main pointers -

  1. Eating a healthy diet is much easier if you cook food you have bought and prepared yourself. Ready prepared meals and takeaways are usually loaded with fat, salt and sugar in various forms. Your body requires only a little fat, a trace of salt and has no need at all for processed sugar.

  2. Eat more fruit and vegetables. In the UK the recommended minimum is five portions per day. Studies in the UK show that we are nowhere near consuming this quantity. Average intake is about two per day. So lots of room for improvement. As Christiaan Barnard, the heart surgeon put it, "Stuff yourself with fruit and vegetables!"

  3. Eat less red meat. High meat consumption has been associated with various medical conditions from heart disease to cancer and processing all that protein can cause kidney problems. It is quite easy to reduce the amount most of us consume without really noticing much difference in terms of taste or satiety. It is worth noting that there is now a strong warning about the link between eating burnt meat (e.g. barbecues) and various cancers.

  4. Eat fish at least twice per week, especially oily fish such as salmon.
  5. You should get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs from eating fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Also there is no danger of toxicity from overdosing. Nutrition should come from the farm, not the pharmacy!

  6. If you eat a diet high in fruit and vegetables you do not need to take antioxidant pills as well. According to the Human Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University, there are of the order of 20,000 different antioxidants in a good diet. No pill comes close!

A recent study by researchers at Queen's University in Belfast has helped shed some light on why eating fruit and vegetables is good for us. They recruited 83 volunteers, ages 65 to 85, who ordinarily ate only two servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Half were randomly assigned to increase their produce intake to at least five daily servings. At the 12-week point, participants were given a standard pneumonia vaccine, which triggered an antibody response in the body. At the conclusion of the study, those in the five-a-day group showed a significantly greater response, measured by the presence of antibodies, to the pneumonia vaccine. Since cancer is considered by many researchers to be a failure of the immune system, the significance of this study cannot be overstated.

Featured Activity

Allotment Gardening

Gardening is one of the most popular pastimes in the UK. As well as providing plenty of exercise and fresh air, it can also provide a good supply of fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices. Unfortunately, not all of us have access to a decent sized vegetable plot. That is were this month's activity comes into its own. Many local councils and communities offer access to allotments, small plots of land where you can grow your own food and make friends at the same time! Allotment gardening encourages sharing (advice, tools, plants and produce).

An allotment is an area of ground that has been divided into plots which you can rent to grow your own fruit and vegetables. A community garden is a shared project where people from all age groups, abilities and backgrounds come together to grow their own fruit, flowers and vegetables. There are five allotment sites and seven community gardens in the Belfast area alone.

The benefits of having an allotment include:

  1. an affordable source of fresh fruit and vegetables
  2. you decide whether to use pesticides or go organic
  3. gives you fresh air and healthy exercise
  4. helps reduce stress and provides a sense of achievement
  5. can be very sociable and can involve the whole family (or not!).
  6. good for the environment, providing green spaces and wildlife habitats

Getting your allotment

Contact your local council to find out if they have allotment sites and for application details. If there are no council allotments in your area, your council may be able to supply details of privately owned allotment sites.


Facilities will vary, but there are some basic things that you can normally expect:

  • safe and secure access for all users (main paths should be kept clear)
  • an accessible water supply (the cost is often included in the rent)
  • adequate security measures against vandalism, like good fences and hedges

    Some allotment sites may also provide:

  • toilets
  • huts that serve as a meeting place
  • sheds for plot holders (you may be charged extra for these)

Allotments Video

Here is a short video on allotment gardening, that will give you an appreciation of what is involved. Ards Allotments is a private venture set at the tip of Strangford Lough, beneath the shadow of Scrabo Tower. The glorious scenery should be enough to tempt anyone to pick up a spade and get digging!

Useful Links

The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens has links to regions within the UK, including Northern Ireland - click here.

Landshare is a virtual meeting place that unites people who want somewhere to grow plants with those who have spare ground. There are a number of sites within Northern Ireland - click here.