7 pillars to successful aging

"It's no accident that I've reached age 88 in great health," says Bill Zinke, who recently launched Enrich Life Over 50, a grassroots movement that was inspired by what he calls the "greatest gift of the 20th century: the addition of 30 years to the average lifespan."

Zinke notes that he has average genes but has just taken good care of himself. He asserts that you'll increase the odds of a prosperous retirement -- and a great rest of life -- if you adhere to his seven pillars of aging successfully:

  1. Productive engagement
  2. Social connection
  3. Healthy diet
  4. Exercise/physical fitness
  5. Adequate sleep
  6. Financial management
  7. Spiritual well-being

Most retirement planning books and articles focus on financial management and health, which are certainly necessary components of a successful life plan. But recently, more attention is being paid to the first two of Zinke's pillars -- productive engagement and social connection. Recent research from the Stanford Center on Longevity suggests that working longer and volunteering may have cognitive benefits to seniors and enhance their overall quality of life.

Enrich Life Over 50 plans to form a network of 27 chapters in major cities throughout the country, with the goal of persuading Americans that people age 50 and over can be significant contributors to the nation's economic and societal evolution. A number of prominent business and academic leaders have joined Zinke in this movement, including William Webster, 91, former director of the FBI and CIA; Helen Dennis, lecturer at the USC's Andrus Gerontology Center; and Dr. Janice Wassell, assistant professor of gerontology at UNC Greensboro.

Zinke and his organization advocate that seniors shouldn't be sitting on the sidelines. "People older than 50 make up one-third of the population, own or control 70 percent of the nation's private wealth and account for 50 percent of total annual consumer spending," Zinke notes.

Zinke also says people over 50 represent "an enormous talent pool with what we call Double ESP," an acronym Zinke coined that stands for experience, expertise, seasoned judgment and proven performance.

Many people say they want to continue working in their retirement years, but it's often the case that they can't find work or don't have ready outlets to engage their productive intent. Enrich Life Over 50 can help marshal those talents and resources.

Zinke and his movement represent a welcome addition as individuals, employers and society collectively work out the implications of large numbers of citizens living to advanced ages. It's a nice problem to have, considering the alternative.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.