Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stress and Disease After Retirement

Many of us blithely assume that once we retire we will be free of stress.  However, life is not that simple.  Many of the same worries and problems that occupied our minds during our working years will continue to pose concerns for us after we retire.  We may have stress because of financial pressure, marital problems, worry over our adult children or grandchildren, divorce, loneliness, grief over the loss of a loved one, the responsibility of being a caregiver, or the difficulty of dealing with illness in our own lives or the lives of a spouse or family member.

Stress can cause us to eat or drink more than we should, as well as cause us to sleep and exercise less than we should.   It can also result in the release of adrenaline and cortisol into our blood, two hormones that can increase inflammation in our body and make us more sensitive to pain and vulnerable to diseases.

The Relationship Between Stress and Disease

Unfortunately, stress can cause a variety of health issues, according to an article titled, "Stress - Don't Let It Make Your Sick," in the November, 2014 issue of the AARP Bulletin.

Listed below are common health issues that can develop when we are experiencing chronic stress:

The common cold
Weight gain
Slow wound healing
Less effective vaccines
Sleep problems
Heart disease
Irritable bowel syndrome
Ulcerative colitis
Crohn's disease
Back, neck and shoulder pain

Stress Can Create an Endless Cycle

The problem with stress is that it can start the sufferer on the road to an endless downward spiral.  The stress can contribute to one of the diseases mentioned above; then the disease adds more stress to the person's life.  The worse their health becomes, the more stress they feel.

As a result, one way to improve our overall health is to reduce our stress as much as possible and then learn how to cope with our remaining stress before it wreaks havoc with our immune system.

How to Cope With Stress in Our Lives

Obviously, it is important that we all learn how to recognize the sources of chronic stress in our lives and take steps to reduce its impact on our health.  According to "The Best and Worst Ways to Cope with Stress" from and "Stress Management" from, here are some tools we can all use:

Get outdoors regularly for fresh air and sunshine
Surround yourself indoors with plants 
Eat healthy
Cut back on caffeine and sugar
Avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs
Identify your sources of stress and start a stress journal
Set up a budget and get your finances under control
Avoid putting unnecessary pressure on yourself
Learn to say "no"
Avoid people and situations that stress you out
Reduce your "to do" list
Manage your time better
Be more assertive about setting reasonable limits
Be flexible and willing to compromise
Learn to adapt
Ask for help, especially if you are a caregiver
Give up perfectionism
Look for the positive in your life; have a gratitude list
Learn to forgive
Learn to share your feelings; call a friend
Get regular exercise
Relax - take yoga or get a massage
Keep a regular sleep schedule and routine
Maintain your spiritual life - church and prayer
Take time for fun!

Get more information on how to deal with stress at:,,20765943,00.html

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Where NOT to Retire

While not all of us have the option to retire to our "dream" locations, there is no doubt that some areas are better suited to retirees than others.  As a result, rather than focusing on the "best" places to retire, some researchers have been studying the worst places to grow old ... the locations you will want to avoid, if at all possible.

There are various reasons why one state or community might be worse than others ... lack of services for the elderly, high crime rates, low life expectancy, limited or non-existent public transportation, etc.

Based on different criteria, below is information about some of the places where you might want to either avoid growing old or take steps to minimize the problems of aging of in these locations.

Five Worst States to Grow Old

According to an article on Yahoo Homes, below are the states where the elderly have an average life expectancy of less than 80 years of age, where violent crime is among the highest in the nation, and where the educational level of senior citizens is lower than the national average (and education often translates to higher income, better health and longer lives).

1.  Mississippi
2.  Louisiana
3.  West Virginia
4.  Arkansas
5.  Nevada

Of course, even within these states, a person with a high retirement income, who feels they live in a safe community with plenty of access to the services they need, would still be able to have a satisfying retirement.  However, retirees in those states may need to do more advance planning to make sure they have taken all the necessary precautions before they become old and more vulnerable.

Cities with the Highest Crime Rate

Regardless of other factors, most senior citizens are not going to want to live in the middle of cities that have a high crime rate.  Listed below are the twenty cities in America with the highest crime rates.  If you want to see the entire list of the top 100 cities, you can use the link at the bottom of this article:

1. Camden, NJ
2.  Chester, PA
3.  Detroit, MI
4.  Saginaw, MI
5.  Oakland, CA
6.  Bessemer, AL
7.  Flint, MI
8.  Atlantic City, NJ
9.  Wilmington, DE
10.  Memphis, TN
11.  Alexandria, LA
12.  Myrtle Beach, SC
13.  Harvey, IL
14.  St. Louis, MO
15.  Newburgh, NY
16.  Cleveland, OH
17.  Homestead, FL
18.  Baltimore, MD
19.  Little Rock, AR
20.  Rockford, IL

There were some surprises on this list.  For example, I was shocked to see the popular community of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina ranked at number 12 for crime.  In addition, I was surprised that Washington, DC did not make the top 20.  (Washington is actually number 30)

Of course, many of the above communities have safer suburbs within a short drive of the inner cities.  As a result, if you have relatives in those areas and you want to live near them, it becomes a little more important to make sure you check the crime rate in various neighborhoods before you get settled.  You may be able to find a retirement neighborhood or apartment complex that is safe, or move to a nearby suburb with a lower crime rate.  What you do not want to do is ignore the crime rate until you become frail and vulnerable.

When I was a Realtor, we often had people contact the police department and get the incident report for a specific neighborhood, if we had any question about the crime rate.  For example, while a general area in a city might have a high crime rate, a particular high rise condo complex or a nearby gated housing development might have a low incident report.  You will want to know both the general crime rate and the incident report before making a final decision, especially if you are moving into a unfamiliar or questionable area.

Make Sure Public Transportation is Available

Another concern for people who are planning their retirement should be public transportation.  In a study conducted by Dr. Angela Curl at the University of Missouri, many people are negatively impacted when they can no longer drive ... even if they have a spouse who still drives.  Dr. Curl discovered that when one partner stops driving, both spouses become much less likely to work or volunteer.  It also becomes more complicated for either person to socialize.

When one person becomes responsible for doing all the driving for the household, it is more difficult for either of them to maintain their outside interests and connections as they age.

While this problem may not be completely resolved with access to public transportation, it can help reduce the impact on the individual or couple.

As a result, you may not want to retire in an area that is so rural that retirees will be completely dependent on their own ability to drive ... since a time comes when nearly everyone will have to give up their driver's license. On the other hand, if you live in an urban area, you need to consider whether you will feel safe using the local public transportation as you age or whether there are viable alternatives ... such as occasionally using a taxi for medical visits or shopping. 

Proximity to Medical Facilities

We are fortunate in the United States that most communities have access to basic medical care.  However, as you age it becomes more likely that you will need specialists, particularly if you develop cancer, need kidney dialysis, or require open-heart surgery.  One factor you will want to consider is how far you might have to travel to receive specialized care, especially if you already know you have a chronic health condition.  While you may not want to live in an inner city, you might want to reconsider the idea of retiring to a remote mountain cabin or island.  When my husband and I were young, we always thought it would be fun to retire on Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California.  Now that we are of retirement age, we understand that it might be more complicated than we realized ... our children would have to take a ferry to visit us and medical facilities on the island are limited.

Bottom line:  Once you decide the general area where you are going to retire, you need to give thought to the specific locations that will be the most practical as you age ... taking into consideration issues such as access to medical care, public transportation, the crime rate, etc.  That may or may not mean that the place where you currently live will be a good retirement location for you.  Just remember that if you think you will eventually need to move, it will be a lot easier to make that change in your 60's or early 70's than it will be in your 80's.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Loneliness and Isolation During Retirement

One of the things that often happens after we retire is that we lose the structure and social life that has kept us busy and involved during our working years.  Our life changes when we no longer have to go to work.  If it is raining, we no longer have to go out.  If someone in a club or organization irritates us, we stop going.  If we get the sniffles, we stay home.  We tell ourselves that there is no reason to make ourselves go out when we don't need to.  However, all too often, retirees can end up becoming more and more isolated as the years go by.  Eventually, the loneliness can actually ruin any chance you had to have a happy retirement.

As someone who lives in a retirement community, I see this happen all the time.  Some of the people on the street where I live rarely come out.  As the years have gone by, they have become more and more reclusive.  While isolation does not have to be inevitable, we all have to take actions to prevent isolation for ourselves and the other senior citizens in our family.  Below are some of the things you need to know about isolation in retirement.

Common Facts About Isolation in Senior Citizens

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28% of Americans over the age of 65 lived alone in 2010.  The older you become, the more likely you are to live alone.

Loneliness affects your mental and physical health and can shorten your life.  It also contributes to dementia and depression.  These are all good reasons to make sure you do not let yourself become isolated.

Many retired adults do not have adult children who can take care of them.  Some never had children; others outlived their children; still others have children who are not capable of caring for them because of distance, estrangement or other problems. 

According to a study in Canada, about one-fifth of seniors do not participate in any outside activities, even as little as one time a month.

Isolated seniors are more likely to need long-term care.

Isolated people are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking too much, eating too much and living a sedentary lifestyle.

Isolation makes seniors more vulnerable to elder abuse, including verbal, physical or financial abuse by caregivers.

Finally, in those cases where a senior is being cared for by a family member or other caregiver, the caregiver risks becoming socially isolated, too.  This, in turn, may contribute to the elder abuse, mentioned above.

Loneliness Survey from the "Sixty and Me" Website
Another website, called Sixty and Me, did their own survey on loneliness during 2020, when most Americans were experiencing limitations on travel, socializing, and seeing friends or family. The results of their survey was particularly interesting because of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. They discovered that people were experiencing significantly more loneliness during the pandemic and, during this update to this article in December, 2020, many of these people continue to experience feelings of isolation. Below are some of the fact their readers reported:

Some key statistics:

87% reported feeling lonely at least sometimes which is a 12% increase from 
our 2019 survey.

78% said COVID-19 (and social restrictions) amplified feelings of 
48% said they've used video calls for the first 
time during the pandemic.

68% reported that exercise and getting outdoors is their number 1 way to 
tackle feelings of loneliness.

How to Reduce Isolation after Retirement

Because of the negative impact that isolation has on your life and health, it is important that people take steps to prevent it as soon as they retire.  Below are suggestions to help you have a full and enjoyable life after you stop working:

Make sure that convenient public transportation is available where you or your loved ones live.  Good transportation is necessary for retirees so they can participate in activities even after they can no longer drive.

Living in a senior community tends to reduce social isolation, especially since most of these communities offer a wide variety of activities and services.

An alternative to living in a senior community is becoming active in a senior center in your neighborhood.  Most mid-size towns and cities in the United States have at least one.  Senior centers provide low-cost hot meals, arrange trips, organize bridge groups and other clubs, and offer a wide variety of classes that stimulate the mind or provide age-appropriate exercise.

Volunteering can help people feel needed, connected and involved in the world around them, as well as reduce their loneliness.

One of the most effective ways to reduce isolation is to take a class.  Education and training stimulates the mind and has beneficial social aspects, as well.

Group physical activities have also been shown to reduce isolation.  Not only is physical exercise good for your mental health, but exercising in a group also has a social aspect.

Joining clubs with members who enjoy activities that interest you is another way to avoid isolation ... whether the club is for hikers, photographers, sailors, or bridge players.  You can often find clubs through your local community or senior center.  Websites like can also help you find groups of people who enjoy going to movies, eating out, reading books, or participating in a wide variety of activities.

For seniors who are fortunate enough to have relatives living nearby, it is important that they invite the seniors to participate in family activities as often as possible.  A friend of mine has a living 109 year old grandmother who lives in an assisted living facility not far from her home.  She and her daughters pick up her grandmother every Sunday and take her to church and lunch.  They also visit her regularly throughout the week.  This helps keep her from feeling lonely and isolated.

Technology can also help retirees stay connected with the outside world.  Whether it is getting a hearing aid, learning to Skype with distant relatives, or using special telephones for the hearing impaired, modern technology can be a useful part of a plan to reduce loneliness.  AARP has also found seniors benefit when they learn to use social media, like Facebook, to stay in touch with family and friends.

For your health and longevity, it is important that recent retirees immediately begin to take steps to prevent loneliness and isolation.  The quicker they get involved in new activities to keep them busy and engaged with other people after they stop working, the less likely they are to become reclusive as they age.

If you are retired or planning to retire soon, you need to remember that it is up to YOU to make sure that you are staying in touch with friends and family, participating in clubs, and joining groups that interest you.  This is the best way to avoid becoming isolated and lonely as you age.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dean Ornish Tips to Reverse Heart Disease

There has been a lot of controversy lately over whether or not it is healthy to eat a diet that is high in saturated fats, including butter and steak.  While some diet gurus, such as Dr. Atkins and Nina Teicholz, have insisted that people can lead a healthy life while eating a high fat, meat-based diet, renowned cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish has touted his more austere diet regimen for decades and has been able to show impressive results.

Benefits of the Dean Ornish Diet and Lifestyle

In the June, 2014 AARP Bulletin, the "Your Health" column discussed the results of recent research that was reported in the journal Lancet Oncology which showed that men who were on the Dean Ornish regimen increased the length of the telemeres, the DNA on chromosomes that regulates how fast your cells are aging.  The longer your telemeres, the longer you are likely to live.  Until recently, scientists did not believe that anything could be done to make your telemeres longer.  This is the first research to prove that aging can be reversed on the cellular level and lives can be extended.

In other research, the Ornish program has also been shown to reverse type-2 diabetes, heart disease and some early stage cases of prostate cancer.

The most significant effect of the program has been the one it has had on heart disease.  The results are so dramatic that Medicare and some other health insurance plans will pay for patients to go through the Ornish 72-hour lifestyle intervention program.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield estimates that they save about $17,600 over a three year period on the medical care of every heart disease patient that has gone through the program.

Basics of the Dean Ornish Program

If you wish to try to change your own lifestyle so that it conforms more closely to what Dean Ornish recommends, here are the basics of the program:

Eat a plant based diet that is low in sugar
No more than 10% of your calories should be from fat
Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
Take the stairs when you can
Accept that some days it will be easier to stick with the program than others
Eat mindfully - Pay attention to what you are eating
Practice Yoga or Meditate - Even if it is just a few minutes a day
Build connections to your family and friends
Volunteer to help others - You will feel better about yourself

In other words: slow down, get a little exercise, reduce your stress through yoga or meditation, spend time with friends, help others, eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables.

Those are the keys to a longer, healthier life.

If you want to know more about the Dean Ornish program, you may also want to order his book from Amazon using this link:  Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease.

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