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How to stay fit in your 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, and stay active in retirement

Dr. Arnan Sisson, PT | November 3, 2022

Tips for how to stay fit in your 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s… this a regular topic talked about at Sisson & Associates. Patients often ask us…

  1. “How do I stay fit in my 50s and beyond?”
  2. “How can I stay active in retirement?”

Most of the problems I see as a physical therapist, such as back pain and knee pain, do NOT come as a result of being overly active, as people might think. More often than not, they come on as a result of doing nothing.

So, let’s talk about the possible health risks of an inactive lifestyle when you are aged over 50, plus my tips for how to stay active during retirement.

Do you think retirement could be harmful to your health?

I may be wrong, but I think many people fail to prepare for what could be the single most inactive period of their life –retirement and when you are over 60.

If you’re in your fifties, it’s highly likely that you’ve thought about what to do in your retirement – many times over. Maybe even dreamed about it. But here’s the problem: most people only ever consider the financial aspect of retirement. They fail to consider the other big, important aspect – what to do with the gaping time hole it creates.

So how do you go about filling the huge void that is created every day of every week, when your 9-5 working day is history? If you haven’t yet considered that aspect of retirement, then let’s do so now.

Start by considering how you feel about taking a break and going on vacation. Most people love the thought of having two whole weeks to do nothing, but then, about 10 days in, they start to think about getting back home and returning to their everyday routine. You see, doing nothing all day but lie on a beach isn’t always as exciting as it first seems.

Many people secretly get to a point well before the 14 days of their holiday are even up when they begin to realize they want to get home. Your home routine is appealing simply because you don’t have to think about what you’re going to do to fill your day. It’s happening because doing nothing other than sleeping, eating and drinking doesn’t always make you feel as great as you thought it would. Somehow, the routine that you were so keen to get away from is the very thing you crave by the end.

Have you ever noticed after your trip how long it takes to switch your brain back on at work and be able to do things as easy and as effortlessly as you could pre-vacation?

And your exercise habits are affected too. Think how long it takes to get going again with a simple fitness routine, or to pick up the after-work walks, with friends. Getting back into these good habits after a trip often takes much longer than people think – if they think about it at all. It’s not uncommon for three or four months of healthy exercise habits in the build-up to a family vacation to be lost completely when the return flight touches down at the airport.

So, what has this got to do with your retirement?

Well, think about it – if 14 days is too long a time to do nothing, what will it be like with the 20 or more years of inactivity which is coming your way in retirement? How will you cope when you’ve got all that time on your hands and you’re not sure how you’re even going to begin to fill it? Sure, the monthly income may be taken care of, but have you thought about the amount of spare time you’re going to need to fill?

There’s not a day goes by, at Sisson & Associates, when we’re not involved in a conversation about this topic with a client. Although retirement is a long way off for me personally, because I’m familiar with the health issues caused by inactivity during retirement, taking ‘early retirement’ is something I encourage people to think long and hard about. To be more precise, they may need to reconsider it.

Why? First of all, the health benefits of being active are endless. For some people, in fact I’d say the majority of people, being forced to get up and go to work is likely to be their only source of activity. And besides, it’s a good thing to have some reason to get up on a morning and go and do something worthwhile.

Now, of course, I’m not suggesting that at 67 you should be on a building site carrying bricks. But what I am hinting at is finding something to do, or a different place of work, or even a role within your current company that lets you have an excuse to get up on a morning and go and do something productive with your day.

The reason I say this is that most of the problems I see as a PT, such as back pain and knee pain, do NOT come as a result of being overly active, as people might think. More often than not they come on as a result of doing nothing.

Muscles weaken and joints stiffen, leaving the person with the big problem of trying to figure out why, despite having done nothing, they’re suffering and in pain!

Retirement offers a platform from which you can do a great many things that you’ve spent your working life wishing you could do, as and when you like. But I get the impression that in retirement many people just end up with a void. They have somehow been tricked, or tricked themselves, into thinking they’re going to be doing all these wonderful things (and going to all these places) and health and happiness will follow.

Worse, the reality for most people is it takes them years to figure out that this new, wonderful way of living in retirement is not actually happening. I’ve heard it said many times by people who have retired that the hardest thing about being a retiree, and the one thing they really didn’t see coming, is the difficulty of filling that void with something productive and worthwhile.

It seems that if you’re not careful, inactivity reigns supreme when you’re retired. And, because this is a conversation we have a lot with patients at the clinic, I’ve taken to reading countless studies on this topic of health and retirement.

One of the most interesting studies suggests you’re 40% less likely to suffer clinical depression, and 60% less likely to suffer a physical health condition such as back or knee pain, if you remain at work for a few years longer. It doesn’t surprise me. This is because being active, even if that just means being generally ‘on the go’ all the time, as most people are when they’re at work, helps keep your muscles and joints flexible – not to mention releasing those endorphins, the chemicals that make you feel good.

Now I accept that some people will disagree with what I’m suggesting. But I suspect that most of those people come from a position of not enjoying their work enough to want to consider staying on a little longer. That’s a very different question to whether or not it’s good for your health.

You see, from a physical point of view, the real problem with getting older is that every day you wake up, you’re getting more and more stiff. You’re losing the flexibility of vital muscles and joints, a process which started at the age of about 40, and as this happens, you’re more and more likely to suffer from back, knee and shoulder problems.

Keeping active, even by going out to do some kind of work, can help slow down this ageing process.

So, if you’re in your 50s or 60s and starting to think about retirement, it’s important not just to consider the financial implications of your departure from work but the options available to you to keep yourself as active as possible.

Here are a few suggestions you might wish to try, whatever your age, today…

It’s always a great time to start something like a Pilates or yoga class, a daily swimming routine or join a walking, golf or bowls club – chances are there are some close by you.

All these will help keep muscles and joints supple and most importantly, keep your mind active and sharp.

The blunt reality is that most people put good things like this off, thinking there’ll be plenty of time to start when the retirement day finally arrives. But that’s really not the best way to do it. Habits are rarely formed so quickly as to kick in the day retirement finally arrives.

My tip is simply this: try to get into good, healthy habits as quickly as possible – starting today, in fact you’ve picked one up already by reading this blog! In doing so, you’re going to give yourself the best chance you can of being active, healthy and happy, not only in your 50s and 60s but deep into your retirement.

P.S. Are you dealing with some aches/pains and not even retired yet? If so, feel free to give us a ring  at (804) 493-3256 or click here to set up a free in clinic consultation where we work together to try to figure out the best ways to get you moving well and enjoying an active pain-free life with family again.