Get Ready for Retirement

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Get Ready for Retirement

If you don’t plan to stay active and social in your golden years, then you could be putting your health at risk.

Ken Prue thought he had retirement all figured out. At 59, the long-time Cineplex executive had a bulging RRSP and enough money stashed in RESPs to cover university for his two younger children. More importantly, Prue had a plan for avoiding the post-retirement slump that had hit so many of his peers. As one of the world’s leading experts on digital cinema, he’d lined up a series of lucrative consulting gigs he could do from his new country home in Northumberland County, two hours east of Toronto, to which he and his wife decamped in search of a simpler lifestyle.

Everything was going great until Prue was hit with a triple whammy. His mother and his best friend fell ill, and he spent three years nursing both until they passed away, by which time he was no longer one of the leading experts on digital cinema technology. Then he split with his wife and the recession melted away what little savings he had left after the divorce. With his retirement plan in tatters, he began grasping at opportunities. “I went for the fences on a couple of inadvisable ventures,” he says wryly. “I was really blue. I was self-medicating with alcohol. I wasn’t healthy.”

As Prue found out, retirement isn’t all consulting, travelling and sleeping in. It’s also important to take care of yourself in your post-working years. That means staying active, being social and sticking to your retirement plan. If you let yourself go, numerous health issues, such as heart disease and depression, can crop up.

Retirement Research

A number of studies – including one by Dhaval Dave, an associate professor of economics at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts – have proven that a sedentary retirement can have adverse effects on people’s health. Between 1992 and 2005, Dave examined the health data of 12,000 Americans and found that those who retire completely see a five percent to 16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities in the six years after retirement, and a five percent to six percent increase in illnesses like heart disease, stroke and arthritis. “For the average individual, retirement leads to some adverse impacts across the board in terms of physical and mental health,” says Dave.

A big reason why people get sick after they retire, say researchers, is that work is one of our most stimulating activities. Most of us get the majority of our cognitive and social stimulation at our day jobs, says Dave. We also get a lot of physical activity too, even if it may not seem like it – you get a lot more exercise walking to work or even from the parking lot to the office than sitting in front of the TV. Once you take away the job, many retirees are faced with a less active lifestyle, both physically and mentally. “It’s the old adage, use it or lose it,” says Dave.

Plan to Be Busy

To stay healthy and happy, retirees need to stay active, and it’s that part of retirement planning – the keeping-busy part – that most prospective retirees forget about. In some ways, figuring out what you’re going to do in your golden years is more important than ever before. In 1960, the average life expectancy in Canada was 71. Today, it’s 81, which means many baby boomers are staring down two decades or more of retirement. “This is one of our longest life stages, yet we tend to do the least amount of planning on what that might look like,” says Eileen Chadnick, a certified professional coach and founder of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. “We’ve all heard too many stories of parents and grandparents who retire and start to wilt and fade. We need a certain amount of stress for our brains to be able to operate efficiently. When we start to feel marginal, it’s bye-bye mojo, bye-bye thinking capacity. We lose our sense of self.”

We need a certain amount of stress for our brains to be able to operate efficiently.

When Chadnick sits down with prospective retirees, she takes a page from the financial planning industry and urges them to create a “diversified retirement portfolio.” A healthy portion of this portfolio’s asset mix, says Chadnick, should be pursuits that contribute to growth and self-actualization: consulting work, going back to school, joining a corporate, non-profit or community board, acting as a mentor to younger professionals, or signing on with an outfit like the Canadian Executive Service Organization, which sends retired and semi-retired professionals to 40 countries worldwide to share their skills. You also need to include pursuits that are purely pleasure-based, like hobbies, travel, family and social activities.

It took a while, but Prue finally shook his depression, in part because he was able to get his retirement plan back on track by returning to his true love: movies. When he first moved to Northumberland County in 2003, Prue had started a film society, presenting weekly screenings of film-festival picks that small-town residents would otherwise never get to see. “I became Mr. Cinema,” says Prue with a chuckle.

That rep paid off in 2011, when the owner of the local theatre decided he wanted out of the business and asked if Prue would be interested in buying the place. Three years later, the three-screen cinema draws 85,000 customers a year, up 20 percent from when he took over. Prue, now 69, mans the ticket booth a couple times a week, scouts for movies and writes a weekly column in the local paper, reviewing his cinema’s latest offerings. “I know intellectually that social isolation is one of the very worst things for aging people,” says Prue, whose health rebounded along with his theatre’s cash flow. “I’ve beat that. I’m busy now. I have a purpose.”

His film programming has also helped other people around his age stay stimulated. The theatre is now the main social outlet for many of the seniors in Cobourg, which, with a mean age of 59.9, is the oldest town in Canada. “I’ve got people in their seventies who come to two movies a week, and that’s about 100 percent more movies than most older people go to,” he says.

Prue plans to hang onto his business for as long as he’s able to – he needs it in order to live a long life, he says. He also has some advice for fellow retirees: “Having a passion – an avocation, if not a vocation – is so important. I would recommend everyone buy a movie theatre or their passionate equivalent,” he says. “Have something you love and do it ’til you drop.”

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