Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When
I was sixty-five, I still had pimples
-George Burns, Comedian

If I asked you what you believe might have the greatest negative impact on your health, what would you answer? You might say it would be pollution, the Swine Flu, the high-stress environment of work, or maybe global-warming? The answer is – retirement.
How could that be? Isn’t retirement what many people work so hard to achieve? When you retire, don’t you get to go to all those places you have always been dreaming about visiting? Won’t you now have the time to read those best-sellers that have accumulated on your book shelf? And, after you retire, won’t you have the opportunity to play endless rounds of golf? Maybe – but, then again – maybe not. In fact, retirement could be deadly to your health.
A study by Shell Oil Company found that people who retired at age 55 had almost “twice the risk of death compared to people who retired at age 60.” Another well- documented study of retirement and health observed more than 16,000 men in Greece and discovered that retirees had a 51% increase in their risk of death, and most of that was limited to heart disease and cardiovascular health. Maybe that’s why magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes said, “Retirement kills more people than hard work ever did.”
Does this mean you should avoid retiring? That depends on how you view retirement or even if the word fits into your vocabulary.
There are places where the concept of retirement doesn’t even exist and where people remain active and healthy into old age. For example, in Okinawa, Japan, Pakistan’s Hunza Valley and Vicabamba, Peru, you will find 90 year-olds walking miles per day, visiting relatives, working in the garden or spending time with their grandchildren. These extreme seniors don’t experience long, drawn-out periods of disablement or suffer the effects of chronic illness. They just keep on ticking until – they don’t.
How does this apply to your life? A recent experience brought it home to me.
My wife and I just returned from Scotland where I played a role in a movie. I was a tap-dancing, guitar-strumming, mandolin-playing Texas preacher in “The Wicker Tree,” the sequel to the 1973 cult classic “The Wicker Man.” It’s written and directed by an 80 year-old Brit named Robin Hardy, who has overcome numerous false starts and disappointments with this project. He has wisely surrounded himself with his former partners: 70 year-old former British Lion Films chief executive, Peter Snell, and 80 year-old producer, Peter Watson-Wood. They form a powerhouse of energy and, as Peter Snell told me, “I’m out of retirement. Thank God!”
When asked his opinion about retirement, the late Walter Cronkite put it another way, succinctly replying, “Don’t.” So, is this one long diatribe to convince you never to retire? Not at all. It’s a loud shout to encourage you to rethink your life and – refire!
My younger brother, Dave, formally retired from teaching four years ago. Since then, he and his wife, Laurie, have taken a course given by their church on how to be ‘of service’ to others. They are constantly on a mission to help others in need. That’s the filter through which they view the world and, as my brother told me recently, “We have never been busier or happier.”
The problem with “retirement” may be with the concept itself. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines retirement as “withdrawal from one’s position, occupation or from active working life.” There are many who go into retirement kicking and screaming and others who welcome the fantasy of possibility. The challenge is that fantasy is very seldom reality, which is why the American writer Ernest Hemingway said, “Retirement is the ugliest word in the language.” My belief is that we should change the word “re-tirement” to “re-firement!”
The bottom line is that you should examine the present quality of your life. What’s important for your health is what you are doing for your body and your mind – now. If you retire, sit around all day, numb your mind with television and eat a lot of red meat, potato chips and ice cream, your health is going to deteriorate. If you challenge yourself, stretch your mind, have a good social network, exercise and eat a diet bountiful with fruit and vegetables, your health will improve. It’s really your choice.
Keep in mind that health, in all its aspects, is what allows you to re-fire and live an exceptional life. Here are some tips to help you do just that:
1. Pay attention to your diet. You need to eat between five and nine servings of vegetables and fruit daily. Make this nutritional mission a priority. Start by adding three servings a week until you work up to your optimal daily requirement.
2. Exercise every day. Be creative and keep in mind your present health and interests. You should to do a variety of exercises to build flexibility, strength, balance and cardiovascular health.
3. Work your brain. Thinking is a form of exercise too. Stimulate your brain by trying new things, doing crossword puzzles, writing, painting or learning to play a musical instrument. You are only limited by your imagination – and limit the amount of television watching to two hours a day.
4. Get enough sleep. Avoid taking more than a 20-minute nap in the afternoon and make it a priority to get between eight to nine hours sleep every night.
5. Relax. You don’t want to take the stress from your former work environment and carry it over into retirement. You want to structure a way to relax. It’s really easy to learn a simple relaxation exercise or meditation.
6. Build your relationships. There is no doubt whatsoever that your relationships with others will help you live longer. Interacting with people helps you manage your stress and emotions. Pay attention to and nurture your family and personal friendships. If you don’t have family around you – volunteer. It’s a great way to make new relationships and reap the health benefits of those relationships. Don’t wait for others to reach out. Be proactive.
So, if you are facing retirement or already retired, I want you to take just a little time today to discover how you can increase the quality of your life and remember – Don’t Retire – Refire!