Exploring Retirement

Welcome to the February 2016 edition of Exploring Retirement! Jeanette Lewis was kind enough to forward a comment about last month's issue that she received from a reader in Florida. The lady wrote "Great website! I put a copy of "Retirement - Regrets and Resolutions" at my desk to remind me to stay focused in 2016." I must admit I hesitated to write about regrets, as I normally think of retirement in very positive terms, but I thought it was important at the start of a New Year to write about living so as to avoid regrets. Please do write and let us know your thoughts on Exploring Retirement. We would love to hear from you.

Each month we provide articles on well-being in retirement and also feature an activity to explore. Exploring Retirement is written by and for retired people, to assist active retirees make the most of their additional years of good health. In the past many people found when they retired that there was very little help or guidance available. The Exploring Retirement web site is intended to fill that gap. No one knows it all, we are all explorers in this new land. We hope that by sharing what we have learnt with you, that you in turn will want to share what you have learnt with others. We trust that you will enjoy our monthly publication and please do tell your friends about the site.

New writers are welcome, so if you are interested, please contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk. For ideas to write about, have a glance at the July 2014 issue of Exploring Retirement, available by clicking on "Past Issues" in the navigation bar on the left of this page. These are only suggestions, please contact us if you have a different topic you would like to share your thoughts on.

Writing team

We have three regular contributors on our writing team. Here they are with a brief note explaining their principal areas of interest:

John Copelton, EditorDr John Copelton - well-being in retirementMichael McSorley, contributorMichael McSorley - lively comment on sport and cultureJeannette Lewis, contributorJeannette Lewis - inspiring ideas on retirement living

Retirement - Healthy Life Expectancy

"Everyone wants to live a long life, but no one wants to grow old." - Jonathan Swift

This quote encapsulates a seeming paradox: the desire to live as long as we can but not if it means growing frail and dependent. People who live to be a hundred are often asked the secret of their longevity. Their answers, as a rule, don't provide us with much to go on and are often conflicting.

Scientists differentiate between life expectancy, which is the average length of life in the population and healthy life expectancy, which is the average time lived without any serious health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Medical researchers have been investigating what makes for a long and healthy life for many years. As a result of their studies they have come to the conclusion that the most common illnesses in the Western world (heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes) are heavily influenced by our lifestyle. The good news is that by making some simple changes we can achieve a powerful influence on our own health. The guidelines are, by now, well known -

We probably all know that it is important to keep active in retirement but how do we know if are we doing enough? A study in the West of Scotland examined the patterns of physical activity of 699 participants who were aged 60 when interviewed in 1991 and followed up four to five years later. A substantial amount of physical activity occurred at work but was lost by those who had retired, for while those who were not working were more physically active at home or at leisure than those in work, the majority of the sample did too little physical activity when retired to compensate for the loss of work-based activity.

How much exercise then do we need to take? Should we be running marathons or spending every day in the gym, for instance? For simplicity, we can divide exercise into three main types: aerobic exercise to strengthen our heart and lungs, resistance exercise to counter muscle loss (sarcopenia) and flexibility and balance exercises to help with everyday movements and to reduce the risk of falls.

It turns out that exercise is a good example of the old adage "moderation in all things". The advice to go for a walk every day will certainly help you to live longer but running marathons may be many steps too far. Running marathons requires a great deal of training over long distances with the inevitable risk of increased damage to the joints. People who run marathons regularly may be at greater risk of heart arrhythmias and a reduction in the effectiveness of their immune system. Ken Cooper, the American doctor who coined the term "aerobics" back in the sixties, has made his view very clear. "If you are running more than 15 miles in a week, you are running for some reason other than health!"

As we move into our 60's and 70's, muscle loss due to sarcopenia accelerates. Hence the advice that resistance training becomes more important the older we get. One of the defining characteristics of "old people" is that they move more slowly. This has been shown to be largely due to the loss of "fast twitch" muscle fibres. Resistance training to rebuild muscle can help to reduce or prevent this outcome, which was once considered to be inevitable. It is important to remember that you don't gain muscle in the gym, you gain muscle in the rest period afterwards. So, go to the gym by all means, but listen to your body and don't overtire yourself.

It would be a brave man who would give advice on what constitutes a healthy diet but here again the scientific evidence has become very clear -

A factor that is often overlooked in considering what constitutes a healthy diet, is sustainability - will you be able to stay with this eating pattern for the rest of your life? This is were the more extreme diets usually fail. Diets that suggest you gorge on protein and fat or subsist on raw vegetables have their proponents but most people find them too difficult to maintain in the long term. Probably the most popular diet for health and sustainability is the so-called mediterranean diet that emphasises fruit and vegetables, beans and nuts. Fish is eaten at least twice a week while eggs and dairy products are taken in moderation. Red meat and sweets are for special occasions.

Your local library is probably, like mine, full of cookery books devoted to healthy eating. My own eating pattern has been evolving over the years. I like to find new recipes that are both healthy and taste good. It doesn't matter how healthy it is, if I don't like it, i won't want to eat it!

Featured Activity - Park Runs

Exercising with others can be a strong motivating factor. This is the basic principle behind a growing world-wide trend to go running in a local park on a Saturday morning. The first ever event was held in Bushy park, Teddington, UK, where 13 intrepid park runners got together on 2 October 2004. Since then the idea has spread all over the world. As of this month, over a million people around the world have participated in a park run. To find out if there is a park run in your country, click here

The distance involved is 5 kilometres, which is about three miles. The organisers emphasise that this is not a competition - you can run, jog or walk, depending on your level of fitness.

On the left is a picture of our local park, taken in the Spring. An idyllic setting for a morning run.

Park runs are free to enter. The only requirement is to register in advance. The great thing is that you only ever need to do this once. Then just set your alarm for Saturday morning and get yourself there! Runners are grouped into age categories and when you finish you are given your time for completing the distance, so you can compare your performance with other runners the same age as yourself. The run can really be whatever you want it to be, whether that's for fun or as part of a training plan. You are encouraged to jog or run together irrespective of your ability - this event is truly open to all. Some people run pushing a baby buggy! Wheelchair users are welcomed and have their own category, to allow them to compete with others. Looking at the age categories in a recent run in my local park, they ranged from 10 year olds to one gentleman over 80. Now that's what I call inclusive!

After the run the participants are invited to have a coffee together, so there is an opportunity to swap stories about your run that day, chat to other runners and just be an important part of this new running community. So whether you are a complete novice looking to get yourself started on your own "running journey" or a seasoned athlete wanting to use this as a part of your training schedule, you're welcome to come along and join in the fun! It is great to see an initiative such as this which truly welcomes all ages. To learn more about park running and find an event near you, click here.

If you think running is only for "young" people, take a look at this amazing video of 92 year old park runner, Norman Phillips, a veteran of over 100 park runs!


Michael McSorley

The BBC has been hosting a season of Russian programmes including Tolstoy's War and Peace as well as documentaries on the Russian Tsars. All grist to the mill for Michael who is fascinated by this enigmatic country. To read his latest insights into Russian history and culture, click here.

Jeanette Lewis

Readers of Jeanette's blog "postworksavvy.com" will know that she is currently going through the trauma of "downsizing". Apart from the emotional turmoil of moving out of her beloved home, she is having to cope with what to do with all the treasured possessions for which there will now be no room. Anyone who has ever moved house will identify with the sheer amount of hard work that this entails.

This month Jeanette writes about foot health, a part of our anatomy that we forget at our peril!. To read her thoughts, click here.


Reflections is intended to showcase short pieces of poetry or prose that reflect on our life experience. This month features another poem by my late friend and colleague, Philip Clarke. Here Phil reflects on how in winter we withdraw into ourselves to wait out the cold and gloom.

To read "Winter", by Philip Clarke, click here.