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Life with Diabetes: The Golden Years

What do you see when you look into your retirement future?

Remember when you were a teenager and about to graduate from high school? It seemed as though every adult asked the same question: What do you want to do when you grow up? Thirty-seven years later, I’m joining other Baby Boomers in asking myself a very similar question: What do I want to do when I retire?

According to a 2011 AARP survey of 1,200 Baby Boomers, of those who retired (nearly 250 of them): Sixty-nine percent went directly from full-time work to full-time retirement, six percent worked part-time mainly because they need the income, eleven percent worked part-time mainly for interest or enjoyment, and four percent started a business. What do you see when you look into your retirement future?

In addition to thinking about and planning your financial security, as a person living with diabetes, consider how the changes in your weekly routine might affect your activity and fitness levels, food choices, and free time. Anda Stipinsgang of Whitehall, NY, decided that the combined stress of a job teaching special education students coupled with moving into a new home contributed to a variety of health issues. She took early retirement in January 2012, and says she can now “channel my energy into effectively managing my type 2 diabetes.”

Consider these four strategies to help make your retirement a happy and healthier one:

Expand on your career in creative ways that bring you joy.

According to the Corporation for National & Community Service’s 2007 report, “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research,” people who volunteer don’t just gain personal satisfaction, they also tend to enjoy better physical and mental health. Consider using your professional skills in volunteer roles by teaching classes or joining a community organization, such as the American Diabetes Association.

Stimulate your brain.

Take a class at a community college or form a book discussion group. According to the Alliance for Aging Research, intellectually stimulating activities – even something as simple as completing a crossword puzzle – may help keep your brain sharp. Or follow the example of Alan DeNicola of Dorset, VT, who retired thirty years ago and is living with type 2 diabetes. “You really don’t retire,” he likes to say, “you just reinvent yourself.” DeNicola, who worked for eighteen years at Pan American World Airways at JFK Airport in New York City, really means it. After retiring, he started a custom golf club manufacturing company, learned to play the violin and then taught violin lessons, and earned two college degrees. Currently, he is learning how to carve wooden bowls.

Improve your fitness level.

I’ve seen how regular physical fitness activity may help manage blood glucose levels and also may improve balance and flexibility, which may help you to continue doing your normal everyday activities. Go4Life, an exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, provides information on fitting physical activity into your daily life. I often recommend that my clients start with walking and simple strength training. Check with your doctor, of course, and then, if regular exercise was part of your life before retirement, consider potentially stepping it up a notch by competing in the National Senior Games; you might find the competition inspiring, even if you don’t want to take part.

Build routine into your life.

While you may not miss that alarm clock waking you up every weekday morning, remember that no longer following a set work schedule can be a major change in your daily life. I advise clients to develop a routine that gives definition and purpose to the day, such as taking the dog for a walk after breakfast, setting aside time for household chores, meeting a friend for lunch, scheduling volunteer activities, or going to the library on a regular basis. Stipinsgang enjoys “not having too much to do in too little time” and instead allows herself a slower pace with time for gardening, swimming, and preparing healthy meals. DeNicola found that eating meals at consistent times was a key for him to help manage his blood sugar level.

The median life expectancy in the United States is currently over seventy-eight years, which means that if you retire at age sixty-five, chances are you will have about 5,000 days to fill. Why not go out and seize every one?

For more stories about life transitions, visit The DX archive.

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE®, cPT is a health, food, and fitness coach; you can follow her at www.LynnGrieger.com and @healthcoachlynn. Grieger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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