A Successful Retirement Needs This

I’ve never forgotten that conversation with my neighbor. It happened more than 30 years ago. Mrs. Fox, who lived next door, was telling me about another neighbor a few doors down who died a couple days earlier. It was a heart attack. It’s what Mrs. Fox told me next that made this conversation stick. This neighbor had just retired and Mrs. Fox said, “She and her husband had all these plans.”

I’m looking forward to retirement. What excites me most about the next season of life is Time Freedom and all the opportunities this represents. I get a taste of this while I’m on vacation.

But, recently, I noticed something I’ve been doing. I look at my future through my current reality. When I think about retirement and what life will be like it’s through the lens of how I feel today. In other words, I don’t factor in the aging process. In my future fantasy, I’ll have all this time freedom and the ability to enjoy it exactly how I feel right now without any of the effects of aging.

Kind of dumb, right?

After I realized I was doing this I started noticing older people while I was out. Not every older person, just those whom aging seems to have hit a little harder. What really strikes me is their lack of Health Freedom. They probably have all the Time Freedom I dream about, but don’t have the Health Freedom to enjoy it.

Those two things, that long ago conversation and my recent observations, have coalesced to dramatically change my perspective about retirement planning.

In 1966, five healthy men volunteered for a research experiment in Dallas. They were each 20 years old. All these guys had to do was lay in bed for three weeks. This probably sounded like the easiest science project ever.

But, when the three weeks were over, the researchers found devastating changes in the physiology of these five guys. Their blood pressure was up while their heart’s pumping capacity was down. Perhaps ironically, their resting heart rate was higher…which is not good. Additionally, the men also had an increase in body fat and less muscle strength. In just three week’s these 20 year old guys had developed a lot of physiologic characteristics of men TWICE THEIR AGE.

The conclusion is obvious. When we don’t use our bodies bad things happen…like speeding up the aging process.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the experiment. The researchers then put these five young men through an intense 8-week exercise program. All the bad effects of laying around were completely reversed, and some measurements were even better than before the experiment started.

That still wasn’t the final chapter of this research. And, this is where it gets really good.

The researchers reconnected with these five men 30 years later. They were now 50 years old. All five were generally healthy, but three decades of aging had changed them. On average, they were each 50 pounds heavier. Their body fat was twice what it had been when they were 20. Their blood pressure was up and so was their resting heart rate.

This is not abnormal. Here’s what happens as we get older:

  • Our heart pumps less blood. At age 25, our heart is pushing 2.5 quarts of blood every minute. Forty years later it’s only able to handle 1.5 quarts a minute.
  • Our blood gets thicker which makes it harder to pump through the body.
  • Physically inactive people can lose as much as five percent of their muscle mass each decade.
  • Our metabolism slows 1 to 2 percent per decade after age 30. This often leads to weight gain of about 1 to 2 pounds a year, on average.

The researchers did not ask these 50 year old guys to lay in bed for three weeks. That could have been a disaster. Instead, the men were eased into a six-month program of walking, running, and cycling. The researchers wanted to see the impact of exercise later in life. Here’s what happened:

  • The men lost about 10 pounds each.
  • Their resting heart rates, blood pressures, and maximum pumping abilities all returned to their 20-year old baselines!

The conclusion of the research is that exercise has an impact on how we age. That’s great news. Even better, we don’t need an intense hour-long daily workout. The experts say the key is regular activity like a brisk 30 minute walk every day.

If you’d like to read more about the study involving these five men you can find that HERE. This article from Harvard Health seems to waver between focusing on the impact of exercise on men and looking at the broader gender neutral impact of exercise on aging. It’s an interesting read if you want to dive a little deeper into the research.

Last year, Ava and I spent some time in Myrtle Beach with her dad and his wife. About five years ago they retired and moved from Maryland to South Carolina. They bought a house in a new community about three miles from the ocean.

While we were there I got up early each morning and walked about a mile to get some coffee. I sat at a small table outside the cafe enjoying that first cup of the day. When I finished I’d head towards the beach. On my way, I was able to watch the sunrise. I’d walk on the beach for awhile before heading back to the house.

What a great way to start the day. I’d love to do that every day. It’s part of my future retirement fantasy.

Those who have gone before me say a successful and vibrant retirement needs three things. If any of these are missing, your quality of life will suffer after you leave full-time work.

The first thing is money. Obviously, you can’t retire without it. That’s why the financial part of retirement usually gets most of the attention.

The second important part of retirement is purpose. Once you can afford to retire, what are you going to do? If walking to the beach every morning is my only purpose I’m going to have a problem. On this side of retirement I might be able to convince myself that was enough, but those on the other side say the “retirement fantasy” gets old pretty fast and you need a deeper purpose.

The third is your health. If you have saved up all the money you need for retirement and have a plan for how you will spend your time, but don’t have your health you’re facing something completely different. I suspect, few would disagree with this. Yet, the actions of many indicate otherwise.

Sadly, the typical approach to retirement is to dream of the fantasy, save a little money, and do very little about fitness and health. And, I’m not making this up. You’ve seen the headlines lamenting how many Americans are not saving enough for retirement and the other headlines about the overall lack of activity for the average person.

Thankfully, it’s never too late to make changes….especially to your health. The research involving those five men indicates even if you’re close to retirement, or already there, you can begin a fitness journey and start to slow down the aging process.

My fantasy retirement includes walking to get coffee every morning followed by a walk on the beach. And, if I don’t keep investing in my health that’s all it will be.

A fantasy.


If you don’t have a daily Fitbit goal, I want to challenge you to give it a try. It will help you create a fitness habit which creates fitness momentum and eventually leads to fitness transformation.

I recommend The 30 Day Fitness Challenge. This free guide will walk you through how to get started. It’s very easy.

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. This is the Fitbit I use to track my 20,000 steps a day. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.


(By the way…if you use the links in this article to make a purchase this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)

This blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. It’s sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions to Win at Fitness.

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  1. I agree 100% with today’s blog. If your health is not good, your retirement will be much less enjoyable and much more expensive.

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