Exploring Retirement


First a word of apology to our regular readers who may have been wondering why the June issue of Exploring Retirement has been a day late in appearing. The explanation is simple, my wife and I have been on holiday in Austria (Vienna and Salzburg) and have only just got back home! I hope you enjoy the June 2016 edition and do please write and let us know your thoughts on Exploring Retirement. We would love to hear from you.

"The institutions and instruments which have been created to meet the problem of ageing, are in no position to provide us with a policy for that great majority of retired people who present no problem at all"

Peter Laslett: A Fresh Map of Life.

Exploring Retirement was created for those of us who regard ourselves as, in Laslett's words, "no problem at all". 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. No one knows it all, we are all explorers in this new land. We trust that you will continue to enjoy our monthly publication and please 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

Exercise: Can you overdo it?

It is important as we grow older to counteract sarcopenia (the loss of muscle experienced with ageing). Strength training, using weights or resistance machines, is the single most effective way of achieving this. Swapping fat for muscle has many health benefits, such as

With all these positive benefits from keeping fit, it is tempting to imagine that we should be in the gym every day, but is this really a good idea?

What does the science tell us?

There are many studies which show the importance of avoiding being sedentary. Just going for a walk each day can add years to your life. However, the benefits of exercise in terms of life expectancy fall off quite quickly as we ramp up the effort. The real benefits of an active lifestyle are to be found, not in extended life expectancy as such but in improvements to our healthy life expectancy i.e. the number of years we can expect to live while maintaining our health and vigour.

Recent studies have begun to show some worrying correlations between excessive amounts of exercise and a rising incidence of health problems in older athletes. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who coined the phrase "aerobics" back in the sixties has expressed concern that there may be a link between persistent long distance running and disease. His conclusions are based on both clinical observations and research. In particular, Dr Cooper has become alarmed at the increased frequency of irregular heart beat found in highly conditioned senior athletes. He was also bothered by the frequency of prostate cancer among older marathoners and ultra athletes. Earlier studies at Dr Cooper's clinic had found that a vigorous lifestyle seemed to be protective against certain cancers, especially colon cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and breast cancer. It seems to be a case that while exercise is generally a good thing, you can overdo it by taking it to an extreme level. Dr Cooper has suggested that running long distances at maximum effort might suppress the immune system and thereby predispose to cancer.

In a German study reported in 2014, 1038 patients in a clinical rehabilitation program for coronary heart disease were queried about their physical activity at 1, 3, 6, 8, and 10 years after their hospital stay. New cardiovascular events (heart attack or stroke) were also recorded over the 10 year period.

As expected, the least active - less than 2 times a week - were twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as those in the 2-4 times a week reference group. Their overall mortality rate was four times as high!

The surprise was that the 5 or 6 times a week or daily exercisers were also twice as likely to die of a heart attack or stroke as the reference group. Risk decreased with exercise, but only up to a point. Risk turned back up as exercise frequency passed 4 times a week.

Exercise can become curiously addictive. I know people who go to the gym 5 days a week. There are some good reasons why they might do this. They may enjoy it, they may meet their friends, they might get a buzz out of setting new "personal bests" etc. However, there is no need for the rest of us to climb on their treadmill. As Dr Cooper puts it "If you are running more than 15 miles a week, you are running for some reason other than health!"

In Biomarkers: The 10 Determinants of Ageing You Can Control, the book that introduced the term "sarcopenia", Professor Erwin Rosenberg stressed the importance of both exercise and rest, to allow your body time to recover. Rest days give your muscles time to refuel and repair. It is actually during these rest periods that muscle growth occurs. Moderation in all things is still the best advice.

Featured Activity - The Good Gym

The Good Gym is a social venture that connects two unrelated objectives - encouraging people to keep fit and encouraging the active to connect to elderly and isolated residents in their local community.

The Good Gym was the brainchild of Ivo Gormley, 29, who discovered that combining a weekly run with a visit to a housebound friend of the family was just the motivation he needed to keep him exercising; it helped that his elderly friend was a former boxer who could offer training tips. As Gormley did his prescribed situps, he thought about how best to link up a series of very modern disconnects: how few people have the time or energy to volunteer and yet use gyms to burn off excess energy; and how little dialogue there is between working people and the elderly, particularly in densely populated urban communities.

"Gyms are this ridiculous invention," says Gormley. "People have got too much energy and go to these weird places where they get purged of it by machines. I thought we could channel the energy from people's exercise into something more productive."

Set up in 2011, the Good Gym encourages runners to run and do good, rather than joining a commercial gym. That might involve taking part in a "mission" - weekly groups runs culminating in a physical activity that benefits the local community, like raking leaves, planting bulbs or clearing a local park. More dedicated runners are paired with an isolated older person over 65 ("the coach"). The runner agrees to run to the older person's house once a week, stopping for a chat and perhaps delivering a newspaper or a pint of milk. Runners stay motivated in the knowledge that they are doing some good for more than just themselves.

The scheme was successfully piloted in Tower Hamlets, with 150 runners taking part, and has now been rolled out other parts of East London as part of the Olympic Park Legacy. For more information see: http://www.goodgym.org.

Here is a short video of the Good Gym in action -


Michael McSorley

Michael loves words and this month the word he has chosen to write about is is "Paraprosdokians". if that leaves you in the dark, then for enlightenment, click here.

Jeanette Lewis

Regular readers will know that Jeanette has been going through the long and difficult process of "down sizing". In her article this month Jeanette reflects on how both she and her husband are coping with the inevitable stress. Click here to read Jeanette's thoughts on coming to terms with one of life's major stressors.


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.

To read "A Summer Smile", by Philip Clarke, click here.