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Successful Aging: What makes for a successful retirement?

Dear readers,

I received an email in response to two columns I wrote that addressed a question from a retired scientist who was trying to find his passion.

It elicited the following response from a reader: “Some of us (have already) lived the life of fire you expect from retirees and have done enough in our pre-retirement lives. We don’t have to fulfill a fantasy of what’s meaningful. We’ve earned peace and calmness…I don’t have to be excited anymore. ”

The reader’s response was an important reminder that each of us has the right, and hopefully, the opportunity, to live a life of one’s choosing.

Millions of retirees are living out their dreams: It can be a time of no deadlines and little stress with time for travel and to be with family, grandchildren and friends. It can be a time to enjoy gardening, a hobby or playing mahjong or poker with no desire to climb the next mountain peak or run for political office. Some would argue that this is an enviable state, moving from “doing” to “being.”

Then there is a group searching for “What’s next?” Millions in this group, many of them aging baby boomers, are moving from living a life of success to leading one of significance. This group is seeking more: They are looking for purpose, meaning and making a difference in the encore phase of their life.

In general, retirees spend most of their time with leisure activities for an average of about seven hours a day. That’s not all retirees; many are working. More older Americans – those ages 65 and older – are working than at any time since the turn of the century. They are spending more time on the job than their peers in previous years, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

Some work for an employer; others are entrepreneurs. The Kauffman Foundation reports that entrepreneurs aged 55 to 64 made up for over a quarter of all new entrepreneurs in 2016. That’s up from almost 15 percent in 1996.

In addition to working, here are several additional activities that retirees embrace.

Watching television: Retirees spend more than half of their leisure time watching television averaging about four to six hours a day, depending on which research reports you read. One might ask, Are they watching that much television because they have nothing else to do? Are they bored? Are they sacrificing physical activity or do they just thoroughly enjoy the programs?

Reading: Retirees spend more time reading than any other age group. The typical American spends 19 minutes each day reading. Those 75 and older read almost an hour a day. Most are reading for pleasure.

Volunteering: In 2015 almost one out of four (23.5 percent) older adults engaged in volunteer activities. That translates to 11 million volunteers contributing 1.9 billion hours of service worth $45.4 billion according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. On a daily basis, the typical retiree volunteers or is involved in civic or religious activities for about one-half hour a day.

Exercising: For the 50 plus group, 28 percent are inactive, again depending on which research report you read. That translates to 31 million adults. Although retirees have more time to exercise compared to those employed, those age 65 and older spend on average only 22 minutes a day on exercise, a few minutes more than the general population.

Relaxing: For many, this is the best part of retirement, a reprieve from a hectic work life; a time to relax, think and reflect. For those 65 to 74 years, relaxation takes about 26 minutes a day and 37 minutes a day for the 75 plus – compared to 17 minutes a day for all Americans.

Although retirees have every right to live their life of choice, we do know certain behaviors and lifestyles lead to greater health, function and longevity. We know that brain and physical health are directly related to exercise, healthy eating, social engagement and having a sense of purpose. Yet we must be cautious not to pass judgment on those who choose a different path. At the end there is no guarantee: Life is a game of chance and probability. However, living a healthful life increases the odds to survive and thrive.

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