During retirement: Healthy lifestyle

Now that you’re financially independent with more control over your time, it would be a shame if this “retiree duty” ended early from negligence. One of your new goals should be to maximize your longevity!

Turn that goal into a plan and execute it. After years of denial and deferred gratification, it’s tempting to spend all day in front of the TV with junk food and frosty beverages. You’ve earned it, right? When you were in the military, your chain of command ensured that you maintained a minimum level of physical activity. In retirement, however, you have to take responsibility for your own health and fitness. The good new is that you can always fall back on group exercise or a personal coach, and now you have plenty of time to try all those lifestyles and activities you’ve been curious about.

When you finished your military separation physical, you may have found issues that wouldn’t delay your retirement but needed your corrective attention. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels may have been rising over the years along with body weight, and you may even be on corrective medication. You’re probably already coping with two occupational hazards: too much stress and too little sleep. Retirement gives you a chance to figure out long-term solutions for all of these problems.

Many retirees report that their first months of retirement included dramatic reductions in stress, weight, and blood pressure. Instead of eating on the run or bingeing on fast food there’s time to redesign your routine, restock the house with healthier food and snacks, and eat smaller meals at more regular intervals. Instead of going on a diet, a lifestyle solution would be to move to a better cuisine. This is your chance to explore a high-fiber low-fat menu, more raw ingredients, fewer convenience foods, different cooking styles, and new recipes. Instead of trying to get going each morning with caffeine or energy drinks you could focus on a wakeup routine that includes better hydration and a more leisurely breakfast. Instead of “lunch hour” you could balance your body’s digestive activities (and insulin levels) with smaller meals and more frequent snacks. Instead of racing home at the end of the workday to gorge on dinner and collapse in front of the TV with “dessert”, you can add an afternoon workout or an after-dinner walk and still have plenty of time to cook. Now that you won’t be trapped on watch or in meetings, you can drink as much water as you need and even use the bathroom whenever you want!

As you recover from years of chronic fatigue, think about what physical activities you want to enjoy for the rest of your life. Decades of government-sponsored exercise and operations may have ground down some body parts, especially knees and backs, while age may also be making inroads on your physique. You no longer have to design your exercise around passing the next physical readiness test, either. You could continue sports and activities that you’ve enjoyed for years, or you could explore new ones. Try to select different ways to improve strength, coordination, flexibility, reflexes, and aerobic fitness.

After retiring, when you first visit a doctor (for whatever reason), look around the waiting room and consider how your life has changed. When you were in uniform, doctor’s visits may have occurred all too often as an interruption to your workday. In retirement they may happen annually or even less often, and you’ll have to make the most of that time with research beforehand and a list of questions. Instead of having to squeeze the appointment into your workday or field maneuvers, you can arrange a convenient visit when both you and the doctor have time to talk. If you’re at a military clinic, take a look at the patients in uniform– you used to rush around with that look on your face, too. While your vital signs are being checked, you can chat with the assistants instead of hustling through to the exam. You could even let them know that you’ve recently retired and ask them to compare your previous heart rate and blood pressure readings for improvement. The doctor needs to hear that you’re retired, too, so that you can check for the inevitable physiological changes and evaluate whatever treatments you may be continuing from active duty.

As you move toward a healthier lifestyle, take the time to make a gradual long-term change instead of punishing yourself with a training camp or dietary deprivation. You don’t have to rush it, and you want food and exercise to complement a new routine instead of disrupting it. You can’t abruptly cut off the caffeine or immediately switch to a high-fiber diet or train intensely for a triathlon. Your body will not cooperate with the change, you may even risk injury, and your suffering will kill your motivation. Research, experiment, and move slowly. Make lists of the things you want to improve and consider planning them out on a calendar for the next 6-12 months. Build up your strength and your conditioning while your body adapts to your new diet. Make one or two gradual changes a month instead of slamming yourself into a new regime. Gradually ramping up to next year’s 10K road race is much more achievable than trying to cram in double workouts for next month’s Ironman.

Here’s a final note about taking care of yourself. Once you’re officially retired, register at your local Veteran’s Affairs office and consider making them your primary care manager. One critical reason to register with them is to enable them to quickly notify you of any veteran’s health issues that you may have unknowingly been exposed to in uniform. Another good reason is to document your local residency, which lets them claim their fair share of funds to support the veterans in their service area. Federal and state governments have also invested a lot of effort and money to improve the VA’s offerings and the quality of their service. Older veterans have a certain impression of the agency that may no longer be accurate in your area. You may find that their primary-care management is even better than a civilian clinic, and they have a much better appreciation for military occupational hazards or other lifestyle issues.

Related articles:
Medical and dental exams

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About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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