Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterFall 2011

Make the Most of the Years Ahead

Bernie Hall retired last year, and is pursuing interests like a horse out of the gate.

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He is studying to be a personal trainer and a leader for Group Health's EnhanceFitness program, reading to children at a daycare center, taking classes in Spanish and conga drumming, and dancing for hours at a time with his wife. And that's just the first lap.

"I always planned to combine fitness and community service after I retired," he says. "I see my next few years unfolding as an adventure — setting goals and doing things that will have an influence on others."

What Is Meaningful to You?

Whatever your age, the time to plan for the future is now. Because we're living longer and healthier, making plans for our remaining years is something we need to do thoughtfully, because we may live well into our 90s.

"Having a life plan is the first step in ensuring that you age in the healthiest way possible," says Chris Fordyce, MD, medical director for the Healthy Aging Project. "It's an opportunity to outline how you want to spend the rest of your life, regardless of disabilities or medical problems."

One of the benefits of getting older is the ability to be more confident about what's most important to you. What inspires you? What are you most passionate about? What are your hopes and dreams? If you knew you had five more years to live, what would you want to do?

These questions often reveal what makes your life meaningful. Hall has a yen for travel, and recently went to Senegal, Africa, with his wife to renew their marriage vows. Afterwards, they raised $2,000, negotiated for 39 goats, and transported them — atop their van — to a village in need. "When we arrived, 500 people were there waiting for us, singing and dancing," he says. "I hope to continue combining travel and community service, both locally and globally."

Liz Brandzel and her husband, who live in Seattle, have always found fulfillment in volunteering. They are currently working with teens and advocating for children. They also recently created a nature sanctuary at the end of their street. "We began clearing blackberry bushes, and people from the neighborhood joined in to help plant native species and build a beaver lodge," she says. "Now we all take solace in this small space." She and her husband also take classes through the Access Program at the University of Washington.

Many people are finding that concluding a lifelong career doesn't lead to a permanent vacation, but more of an opportunity for growth and enrichment. In fact, some people never officially "retire" but decide instead to pursue a new — and quite different — career. One couple retired from academic life to start a sustainable farm on an island. Another began work on books they always wanted to write.

Peter Morgan retired early from his job as an executive vice president at Group Health to share ownership of the Methow Valley Inn in Twisp, Wash. An active bicyclist, he promotes bicycle tourism and is helping to create a trail system in the valley. "I grew up in a rural environment, and my wife and I always dreamed of moving to the Methow and contributing to the life of the valley in a meaningful way," he says. "We wanted to reinvent ourselves and take on new challenges during the next phase of our lives."

Seattleite Wendy Townsend decided to teach hatha yoga for a sliver of her previous salary. "I don't want to spend my time watching TV, doing crossword puzzles, or playing on the computer," she says. "I want to be active and engaged with other people, and make a contribution. I believe I do that with yoga because it brings such peace and well-being."

It's Life, Be Flexible

Although dreams can come true, it's important to stay flexible and embrace whatever comes because your ideas may or may not pan out. In the words of John Lennon: Life's what happens when you're making other plans.

Cathy Hopkins and her husband, who live in Spokane, had plans to travel extensively following retirement. But family obligations are keeping them closer to home. Now Hopkins is doing things she never had time for: cake decorating, quilting, playing bridge, hosting backyard barbeques, and training for triathlons.

"You never know what's going to happen," she says. "We may still make a plan one of these days, but in the meantime, we're busier than we've ever been — and very happy. There's so much to do, and I haven't even joined the senior center yet. As soon as I have time, I want to work that in."

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