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Obesity + Retirement: Yikes!

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

If you want a recipe for disaster, mix those obesity and retirement and add a lot of time.  Talk about awful!  But we aren’t talking about it at all.  Instead we just keep supersizing that soda and looking for a place with now stairs in a nice retirement community.

Today, researchers released a study that found about 18% of us–that’s one in five or so–are going to die from obesity related causes.  That is an absolutely stunning number for any age group.  I suspect it’s even higher for those of us over 60 for a variety or reasons, but even that one-in-five thought is mind-numbing.  A fifth of our nation will die because we got too fat.

We can point to a bunch of reasons for that.  And there are probably a whole lot more that we don’t even realize are part of the picture at this point.  I’m not going to run down the list.  I am going to look at one thing, and that only in the context of being retired.  The issue is how much you are active.

Yes….YOU.  Please do no try to excuse yourself because you have…diabetes…heart disease…cataracts…bad knees…..irritable bowel syndrome….grass allergies…fallen arches….gout…arthritis…or whatever.  No matter what you have going wrong with your body, you can still move something.  So figure out how to move that often and vigorously.

At the moment I am house hunting.  My sweetheart, who will be living with me, has made the following requirements:  single story, no stairs, small yard.  Nothing like buying into your own casket twenty years before you need it.

This is the same guy who can’t understand why he doesn’t do better when we go out to hike, and we’re dealing with 1000 feet of elevation. Kudos to him for wanting to hike–and actually going out to do it.  But how about setting yourself up a little better in terms of how you “train” every day by including some stairs in your daily routine?

My dad died a few days short of his 85th birthday.  He’d had problems with his heart from age 40 on.  He didn’t die of heart disease.  And he went upstairs to take his shower every night until his death even though we could have put a shower in on the first floor.  The trip to the second floor was fine with him.  He was a smart guy.

My mom died way too young.  She was 64 when cancer claimed her.  But she still had the slim figure of a teenager when she passed.  Why?  She refused to give up the exercise of hanging clothes on the line to dry.  And no, she was not a farm wife.  Mom worked her way through college to earn a degree in Intellectual History.

Last Sunday, I took myself on a morning walk in the neighborhood and stopped to talk with a guy creating a border garden in his front yard.  He was not hiring it done.  He was taking pick in hand and tearing out the turf a little at a time.  Let me assure you this is brute work.  But he was happy with the task and excited about what they were creating.  We talked about how neither of us were very good at sitting still.  Then he said he thought staying active made you look younger.  That was certainly true for him–I guessed his age as about 15 years younger than he was.  When you are active, your skin looks healthier.  Your muscles are more toned.  You look better regardless of your age.

Think about it.  When someone gets sick and has to lay around for an extended period just to get better, they look disproportionately older when you see them again after the ordeal.  When you are stuck in a sedentary role (caregiving comes to mind) you start to age before your very eyes.  Sitting around is not good for your looks or your energy level.

We need to get rid of this stupid idea that the ideal retirement is the one where you do all kinds sedentary stuff–fun vacations involving copious amounts of sitting and eating, watching TV at home, playing bingo at the casino….

We are not getting fat because we are getting older.  We are getting fat because we are not using up the calories we consume.  It’s the same equation it’s always been.  But even worse, we’re missing the fun and satisfaction of the active realm to watch garbage on television.  We can do better for ourselves.

Buy a house with some stairs.  Try gardening.  Become a volunteer coach for your local kids soccer program.  Get out and dance.  Go to an exercise class for the wheelchair bound.  Join a ski club–or a bird-watching group.  Go DO something.  Something that makes you move as much as you can.

You will be amazed at what it does for your attitude along with your girth.