Your Life is in Your Hands

2910 YPGyour life big150x
2910 YPGyour life big150x

Quality living in old age means taking charge of your retirement and employing common-sense, effort and a sense of purpose. Here's what you need to do.

Gone are the days when retirement meant an armchair ride through what little was left of one's life.

Today people are living longer. The 2006 New Zealand census figures showed 537 people aged 100 or beyond (399 in 2001) and 128,904 aged 80 or more (109,748 in 2001).

And, not surprisingly, in adding years to their life people are learning how to add life to their years. Retirement is beginning to evolve into a rich 'third act' that can embrace a heady mix of activities – work, education and leisure pursuits.

There's no secret about how to achieve this. Growing old is inevitable, but poor health in old age is not.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is important if you want to increase your chances of staying physically and mentally active and maintaining your independence.

Studies in the United States, Europe and Asia all indicate that a healthy lifestyle is governed by just three broad factors: diet, exercise and attitude.

Here's what's involved.

1. Diet

Eat a variety of foods, but cut down on those that contain a lot of fat, sugar or salt.

Go for lean meats, poultry and fish, as well as a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods.

Diets that include ten servings of fruit and vegetables a day can help prevent age-related damage to cells and provide a bulwark against such killers as cancer and heart disease.

Have plenty to drink, but go easy on alcohol. And remember, no matter how good your diet is, you'll be undermining its benefits if you smoke.

2. Exercise

Like a healthy diet, regular physical activity reduces obesity and the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes and even Alzheimer's.

Physical activity in old age also keeps the mind sharp. A recent United States study showed that exercise improves mental fitness by building new cells in an area of the brain linked with memory and memory loss.

(Work being done by New Zealand's Neurological Foundation tends to support these findings.)

Most experts recommend exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Walking, swimming, cycling, gym workouts, dancing, gardening and even housework can help you stay fit and active. And it's never too late to start.

3. Attitude

If you really want to live longer, start with your attitude. Your way of thinking can not only impact on the quality of your life but how long you actually live.

A US study in 2002 found that optimistic people decreased their risk of early death by 50 per cent compared with those who were inclined to be pessimistic.

For people not naturally sunny that will mean working on creating a can-do attitude. A US study of centenarians showed many were either born with a happy-go-lucky personality that had helped them through the inevitable stress that life brings, or they had developed coping mechanisms along the way to help them weather upsets such as a death or a divorce.

Social interaction and peer groupsupport are keys to a good quality of life. Staying connected to others is important to happiness – participating in activities you enjoy, being with people you like, doing things you feel are worthwhile all combine to make your retirement years invigorating and fulfilling.

It's important to try to make time to do things that make you feel good and not put yourself under unnecessary pressure.

That means you must resist the negative. Seeing or hearing gloomy stories about what it is like to be old can make people work more slowly, hear and remember less well, and even affect their cardiovascular systems.

Quick Tip

Your fitness regime should be grooved into your daily routine so it becomes as natural as cleaning your teeth. Do that and the benefits will be considerable: you'll look good, feel more alive, have more energy, have reduced stress levels and be more mentally alert.