KEEPING ACTIVE – DAVE BERNARD – If things go as hoped my plans for retirement include living where I want in the house of my choice for as long as I can. I value my independence – the freedom to do what I want when I want and in this case, where I want. It has taken a long time to get here and now that I have arrived I want to make the most of my second act. As long as I am able to maintain my garden and keep up with maintenance on the house and safely exist without jeopardizing myself or others I am going to retire in place.

That said a retirement community has certain advantages. Those living as part of a senior community benefit from regular scheduled activities, near proximity to everything from gyms to pools to golf courses, plenty of people to interact with, and a certain safety in numbers. I am not saying I would never consider it just given the option and based on where I am today I prefer to live independently.

If we hope to stay independent in retirement there are a variety of considerations to address. Not all are within our control but we are able to influence our destiny in some cases to at least some degree.

Stay healthy and aware – No one debates the importance of good health not only to remain independent but also to experience a quality of life. Maintaining a good diet, working out, avoiding things that are bad – I think we all get it. But it is also important to be smart when it comes to tuning into a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is good but we should also pay attention to our body. If something hurts stop doing it. Contrary to the old no-pain-no-gain motto that drove us to extremes in younger days, as we get older our recovery capabilities are reduced. If it hurts we may be doing damage.

Likewise if something feels off or not quite right, don’t ignore warning signs. No one knows our own body better than each of us. Chest pain, numbness, dizziness, confusion all are examples of the body trying to tell you something is amiss. Tune in to what your body tells you and pay attention – it just might save your life.

Look ahead – As we change with age so does the road ahead. Planning for what will be helps keep us ahead of the curve. For example if you make changes or improvements to your house and surroundings keep in mind the aging you and your needs down the road. During our recent kitchen remodel we added easily accessible drawers to store plates rather than the customary overhead shelves. It’s easier to lift plates at waist level than struggle with those stored shoulder height or above.

Little things matter when it comes to convenience and safety. Handles are easier to manage than knobs. Adding sliding drawers to shelves and closets allows you to make full use of space and access things previously lost way in the back. Good lighting, minimal stairs to climb, whatever you can think of to make your retirement safer and less physically challenging is worthy of consideration. The more we can do to make our lives easy and safe the better our chances to stay where we are.

Get to know your neighbors, not just their names – Being comfortable with the people living in your neighborhood not only enriches life but also provides a safety net in the event of emergencies. Beyond friendship, beyond someone to borrow a cup of sugar from, there is great peace of mind knowing those around you watch out for you and you for them. When you are out of town it is good to have multiple sets of eyes keeping watch. If you need assistance moving new furniture help is a door knock away. And should anything out of the ordinary occur, neighbors who know your habits and lifestyle are often the first to notice and take action. The reality is you can help assure your own independence by learning to depend more on those around you. Asking for help should not be considered a sign of weakness.

Stay on top of your game mentally – It is unfortunate but as we age some of us will have a harder time when it comes to our mental state. It is entirely normal to experience a slowdown as we get older. If we want to remain independent we need to stay as sharp as possible. I am not sure of the benefit of playing memory games beyond making you better at those games. And although I see advertisements about wonderful drugs that improve memory I figure if they really worked as promised none of us would have any problems.

I do think there are things you can do to help stay more alert and with it mentally. If you brain is a muscle then working it out should be beneficial. Here are some things I add to my routine in efforts to keep the old brain cells firing:

– I have always been bad at remembering names (not exactly a plus in the career of a sales guy!) Now when reading a book I do my best to remember each and every name. Before resuming my read I mentally review as many of the key players as I can come up with. I am actually getting better – at least a little.

– I was never into geography while a student so as a retiree I make up for lost time by memorizing all the countries across the globe as well as the US states. Every few days I take a mental trip around the world reciting the name of each place while visualizing it in relation to neighboring lands.

– While listening to history DVDs I do my best to remember specific events and associated dates. Then as I take my walk I run through the centuries trying to remember as much as I can.

One nice thing about brain exercises like these is you can do them wherever and whenever – driving down the road, waiting in line, sitting through mindless 5-minute long advertisement slots on TV or walking your favorite park trail. This convenience allows for a quick workout.

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