A few decades ago the word ‘retirement’ conjured up images of old people in nursing homes eating bubble and squeak, creaking around wide hallways supported by walking frames and dying their hair (if they still had any) a beautiful shade of purple. Oh, how times have changed!
Let’s explore some of the facts around retirement in Australia.
- 1.8 million people over the age of 45 years retired between 1987 and 2007
- The average retirement age is 60 years for men and 57 years for women
- Aussies life expectancy is ranked third in the world. Almost 84 years for females and 79 for males
- 30% of people retire due to ‘personal health or physical abilities’
- 31% of retirees said they’d prefer to clean their bathroom or pay bills than plan for retirement
- 49% of retirees in past 12 months spent less than 5 hours planning for retirement
A couple of things automatically hit me about the facts above.
- The average person is going to have 20 to 25 years of opportunities to explore and have fun in their retirement
- It is scary how little time most people spend on getting ready for their retirement
Transition to Retirement
The last few years I have had a number of coaching clients who wanted my support in helping them make the transition into retirement. The theme is generally the same with each person and the conversation goes a little like this.
Client: ‘Apart from helping me with my leadership team, there’s something else I’d like to talk about today. I’m planning to retire in 3 years but have absolutely no idea how to do this’.
Me: ‘What do you mean no idea? You run a very successful business and manage hundreds of people. How can you have ‘no idea’ about retirement?’
Client: ‘Andrew, I’ve just never thought about what I’m going to do after I finish full time work and it kind of scares me. At work I’ve always had structure and control. But what will I do when I have all of this freedom?’
Me: ‘Well, what excites you outside of work? What are your hobbies and passions? What really excites you other than work?’
Client: ‘That’s a really tough question. Obviously, I love my family and want to spend more quality time with them. But I don’t really have any interests that get me really excited outside of work’…
Retirement can and should be some of the best years of your life. Most people are financially independent or at the very least have a greater financial comfort than they’ve ever had, the kids have all grown up and you’ve now got all the time in the world. But what has really started to surprise me the more I work with individuals and companies around making a successful transition into retirement, is how little planning goes into exactly how people are going to spend the next 20 to 30 years of their life. Sure, nearly every one has a financial plan for retirement. But for many people, that’s about it.
Whenever I have one of these conversations, I revert to a discussion around the following questions.
- What are your hobbies outside of work?
- What other topics are you really passionate about outside of work?
- What are your main goals in the next 18 months to 3 years?
- What activities do you enjoy engaging in that increase/maintain your health and fitness levels?
- Do you have an active involvement in the community/church/sporting club/additional areas outside of work?
- Have you thought about still keeping your brain active and either consulting or working in a part time capacity? What could you do?
Answer the 6 questions in the table below and really think about how you want to spend your years after work.
Brain- Body Gap
To ensure you can flourish and really engage in life when you do retire, it is imperative that you maintain your mental and physical health. I see so many people that have thrown all of their time and energy into work and they’ve allowed their health to go out the back door. Increased weight, joint problems, high blood pressure and many of the lifestyle diseases including heart disease and diabetes become your companions due to poor lifestyle choices and decreased physical activity. But this doesn’t have to be the way. Getting into a routine of regularly training your body and brain now will pay dividends in the future.
Train Your Body
Make sure you are physically fit when you do retire. Avoid spending the first 5 years of your free time trying to claw back your health and fitness. And remember, a ‘double whammy’ occurs for most people at 65 years of age. We become less efficient at making muscle from the proteins we eat and muscle breakdown also increases. So if you don’t have strong joints and muscles by the time you hit 65, it can get even harder. Remember the old saying ‘use it or lose it’. It is so true. As a guide, stick to the following outline to maintain optimum fitness:
- Regular Cardio Vascular exercise for 30 mins plus x 3 times a week
- Vitamin D from sunlight also strengthens bones
- Strength training x 1 or 2 times a week
- Yoga/flexibility x 1 or 2 times a week
- Regular activity also has social, self-esteem and health benefits
Train Your Brain
- Training your mental fitness is just as important. Research published by the Western Australia Mental Health Institute highlights two hours of brain exercises a week can markedly improve mental capacity and help fight age-related memory loss. Engage in the following:
- Crosswords, Sudoko and Puzzles
- New languages
- Learn new skills
- Life-long learning
Snow Skiing with Frank
Recently I was in Queenstown presenting at a conference and I had a half-day to wait before my plane flew back to Sydney. Seeing it was winter I quickly hired some ski gear and caught a taxi to Coronet Peak to hit the white stuff for half a day. Now, I’d previously only skied twice before in my life, but like the typical Aussie male my belief in my ability far surpassed what my ability actually was.
Gloves, boots, goggles, ski pants, ski top, beanie, skis and stocks. Check. ‘Ok, time to carve up the snow’.
Now, a smart person would have either booked a lesson to get their legs back (my last time skiing was 7 years ago) or at the very least started on the green run. ‘No way. I’m not doing that’ my inner voice exhorted. ‘straight to the blue run for me’.
As I slid off the ski lift at the top of M1, I began a disastrous slide down to the bottom of the mountain. Picking my self up and dusting ice off literally every part of my body, I made a pact to do it again and this time ‘I was going to nail it!’
On the way back up to the top of M1 I shared a ride with Frank. Frank was a mature looking gentlemen who had an amazing energy and I couldn’t help but be drawn into conversation.
Me: ‘Have you been skiing for long’
Frank: ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been skiing for years now. How about you?’
Me: ‘Only been a couple of times before so feeling a bit rusty’.
Frank: ‘A couple of lessons then a few days on the snow and you’ll be a pro’.
Me: ‘Yeah, I’ve only got half a day but will definitely book a lesson next time. So, how old were you when you learnt to ski?
Frank: ‘Oh, let me think. Um, I think I was 78, no, 79 actually!’
Me: ‘What the? You only learnt to ski at 79. That is incredible. Do you mind if I ask how old are you now?’
Frank: ’87 years. And to be honest young man, I feel like I’m still in my 50’s’.
At that moment our ride up the mountain had ended and Frank and I slid off the chair lift and down towards the top of M1. Frank stoped calmly to adjust his equipment and I took off down the mountain like a giraffe on roller skates. About 1/3 of the way down the mountain and after numerous attempts to ski on my arse, Frank slid gracefully beside me and asked ‘do you want a few tips?’
‘Would love some please Frank, my backside is getting more action than my skis’. I spent the next few minutes learning some tips on turning, balance and weight distribution from my spritely ski instructor. At the bottom of the mountain I thanked Frank and arranged to meet him in 45 minutes time so I could shout him a hot chocolate to say thanks for my impromptu lessons.
Lessons in Life with Frank
The 30-minute hot-chocolate conversation with Frank was one of the most engaging and inspiring lessons I’ve had in my life. Frank’s wife had died when he was in his mid 70’s and he said he decided that even though she was the absolute love of his life, he was still going to go out there and get amongst the world and learn new skills. At 79 Frank lived in the French Alps for 6-months and had skiing lessons nearly every day. He told me how it made him deeply sad that many of his friends had worked so hard on their careers but then poor health and fitness really let them down when they retired. Most of Frank’s really good mates had either passed away or were in nursing homes living very restricted lives.
‘If I can give you one bit of advice young fella (Frank had grown fond of calling me young fella throughout our conversation), stay healthy in your body and stay healthy in your mind and retirement can be the best time of your life’. We finished our steaming hot chocolates and Frank took off for another run, leaving me in his snow-dust for the last time that day…
The Best Years of Your Life
With the continued increase in life expectancy, improved medicine and technologies, plus more research into optimum functioning of the human body and brain – the rules around retirement have changed! Grey nomads are taking over and surfing, skiing, canyoning, hiking, biking, strolling and exploring all over the world.
I hope when I’m 87 and skiing down the M1 on Coronet peak I too have the opportunity to help an egotistic 37-year old to actually learn how to ski as well. Start planning now and look after your body and brain and just like Frank, retirement should also be the best years of your life as well!
By Andrew May