Exploring Retirement

"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.

Welcome to the September 2016 edition of Exploring Retirement, the on-line magazine 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.

This month we have a new feature "Photo Gallery" which showcases some wonderful wild life images from our North coast. Any aspiring photographers who would like to see their work published on our site, should contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

New writers are welcome. This month we are featuring an article from Ronnie Carser from Belfast U3A, on the controversial topic of assisted dying. If you are interested in writing for Exploring Retirement, 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

Vitamins, Antioxidants and Health


Vitamins (vital minerals) are substances which we obtain from food that are essential to our health. If we don't absorb them in sufficient quantities then we will become ill. Most of the vitamins were identified, analysed and synthesised in the period between the first and second World Wars. Scientists were motivated by the belief that producing these essential trace elements cheaply in the laboratory would lead to an improvement in the diet of the poor. The improving standard of living after the second World War rendered this largely unnecessary for most people.

The idea that we need to take large doses of vitamins, is usually attributed to Nobel Laureate, Linus Pauling. Pauling came to believe that mega doses of vitamin C could shorten the duration of the common cold and might have a preventative effect in the development of cancer. Large scale clinical studies however have failed to uphold either of these hypotheses. On the other hand, we now know that it is possible to overdose on vitamins, particularly A and D, which can make you sick and even cause death in extreme cases.

Observational studies in current and former smokers, as well as in people who had never smoked, found that higher intakes of carotenoids as well as fruits and vegetables, were associated with a lower risk of lung cancer. However, major clinical trials in the United States have shown that supplemental beta-carotene and/or vitamin A did not prevent lung cancer. In fact the studies found a significant increase in lung cancer risk among study participants taking beta-carotene supplements. This result was so significant that the studies had to be stopped.

Most people get adequate amounts of vitamins from eating a healthy diet, rich in fruit and vegetables. Supplements cannot change a poor diet into a good one. The main exception to this advice may be vitamin B12 which is extracted from our food during digestion in the stomach. Some elderly people suffer from low stomach acid and may not get sufficient quantities of this vitamin from food. A simple blood test can reveal whether or not you are low in B12 and should take a supplement. The other possible vitamin deficiency in older people is vitamin D which is normally manufactured in the skin through the action of sunlight. If health problems prevent you getting outside, then your body may not be making enough of this important vitamin, which is involved in keeping our bones strong and preventing fractures.

Medication enters the picture here as many therapeutic drugs have nutrient blocking side effects.The risk of this happening increases as a person takes more drugs simultaneously or takes a drug over a long period of time. For this reason you would be advised to speak to your doctor about possible nutritional deficiencies if you are on long term medication.

Other than these examples, there appears to be no case for taking expensive supplements which have no effect. As Walter Bortz, MD pointed out in Dare to be 100, much medical research is aimed at finding ways of keeping alive those people that the western diet is making ill. How much easier it would be if people simply ate sensibly in the first place!


We are awash with promotional material for antioxidant supplements to combat the ageing effects of free radicals in our bodies. These advertisements conveniently ignore the fact that a diet high in fruit and vegetables is laden with all the antioxidants we could possibly need. The Antioxidant Laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Centre on Aging at Tufts University in Boston has identified 20,000 different antioxidants in a good diet! No pill exists that can match that.

A 2007 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed mortality rates in randomised trials of antioxidant supplements and found a 5% increase in mortality among the groups taking the supplement. Nobel Laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, points out that the vast number of nutritional intervention trials using the antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium have shown no obvious effectiveness in lengthening mortality. In fact, they seem to slightly shorten the lives of those who take them. Somewhat tongue in cheek he goes on to say "blueberries are best eaten because they taste good, not because their consumption will lead to less cancer".

Featured Activity - NANA Comfort Food Café

In the UK, NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), created the Ageing Well Challenge Prize, calling for ideas to reduce social isolation in old age. In 2013 NANA Comfort Food Café won the grand prize of £50,000 for demonstrating the biggest effect in reducing isolation among older people.

NANA is staffed by older ladies who work voluntarily at least five hours each week. After three months of work, the volunteers become part of the NANA partnership and receive a percentage of the profits depending on how many shifts they have worked.

The Nana Comfort Food Café is the brain child of Katie Harris who's own Nana, Eileen Lipscombe, was the inspiration for the community café. "My Nana has something planned every day and a strong clique of friends. But if you don't have that, you need to find another way to reach people," Katie said.

NANA launched as a pop-up café in a pub, in Clapton, London, in November 2012. The pubs landlord allowed the cafe to open from 10am to 3pm each weekday. The pop-up concept proved so successful that they began looking for somewhere to launch NANA as a permanent café. Since then it has been given it's own space by the Clapton Improvement Society, in refurbished public toilets. The Society restored the building, even keeping the 1953 original hand dryer. The café occupies half the space, including the rooftop terrace, and the other half remains public toilets.

Now that NANA Café is up and running in Clapton, Katie said she hopes to spread NANAs across the UK by expanding as a franchise. "I've had so many ladies get in touch with me looking for a way to get involved. With the franchise, we could give out starter packs and support new NANA Cafés that way," Katie said.

To learn more about the Nana Comfort Food Café, watch this short video -

Photo Gallery

This month we are introducing a new feature - Photo Gallery. I received these marvellous wild life photos from a friend who lives in Ballycastle on our North Coast. He took these amazing shots while out for a stroll along the beach. We would love to make this a regular feature. If there are any aspiring photographers who would be willing to share some examples of there work, do get in touch. Contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.
OtterThe sea otter is a native species on our North Coast. He is pictured here with a crab he has caught for his lunch!
stoatA stoat holding something tasty he found in a local rock pool..


Michael McSorley

Last month Michael wrote about his concerns about "Brexit". Time, as they say, is a great healer and this month we find him in lighter mood as he considers the possibility of English being adopted as the official language of Europe! Click here to read Michael's views.on Euro English.

Jeanette Lewis

This month Jeanette muses on the Global Positioning System that lies at the heart of our SatNav devices. Do we have something similar within our own bodies that acts as a guidance system when we need to make important decisions? Click here to read Jeanette's article.

Ronnie Carser

Ronnie got in touch with me a few weeks ago to ask if we would be prepared to publish an article on medically assisted dying, a subject he feels strongly about. While Exploring Retirement is very much about living, nevertheless I felt that this was an important subject we should not shy away from. To read Ronnie's thoughts on how we should approach the end of life, click here.


Reflections is intended to showcase short pieces of poetry or prose that reflect on our life experience. This month features a poem by my late friend and colleague, Philip Clarke. This poem was written shortly after Phil arrived in Belfast and reflects the feelings associated with making a new start in a new place. To read "Clouds", by Philip Clarke, click here.