A sure way for retirees to extend their "life"

Planning a retirement budget

If you could add more than two years to your life during retirement, would you be interested? That's a provocative possibility suggested by an insightful report titled "The State of Retirees: How Longer Lives Have Changed Retirement," prepared by the advisory firm United Income.

Is this feat of life extension the result of the latest advances in medicine and science? Not quite.

During the the past 40 years, retirees have more than doubled the amount of time they spend in front of the TV, according to the United Income report. They're now watching TV an average of almost three hours per day. This time represents a missed opportunity when retirees could be strengthening social connections and leading more fulfilling and healthier lives.

Suppose you are an average retiree who watches TV for three hours per day. Instead, you could decide to reduce your TV viewing to one hour per day, watching only your very favorite shows. That would free up 730 hours per year, which instead could be devoted to activities such as:

  • pursuing a hobby that interests you
  • volunteering in your community
  • spending more time with friends or family
  • working for pay if you need extra income

Increased TV viewing heightens people's concerns about personal safety, health and financial security, the research found. Those who watch more TV also have lower morale compared to people who don't.

You'd also have more time to boost physical activity. For example, the United Income report found that retirees spend less than one hour per day on physical activities. According to research cited by the report, increased sedentary activity is associated with a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death from all causes.

You could also research how to improve your nutrition, which could lead to improved health and longevity. According to the Stanford Center on Longevity's (SCL's) Sightlines report, only about one in four Americans eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

900 days of life

If you assume most people are awake for about 16 hours per day, then freeing up 730 waking hours per year adds the equivalent of about 45 days of "life" per year. If you're retired for 20 years, that can add up to 900 days of "life," or almost 2-1/2 years.

The United Income report also found that the amount of time people spent volunteering has hardly changed over the past 30 years, even though retirees have never been more able -- physically and financially -- to give back. The SCL's Sightlines report, for instance, found that fewer than one-third of Americans between 65 to 74 are volunteering.

And you wouldn't just be helping others: There's a substantial amount of research that supports the idea that volunteers enjoy benefits to their own health and even financial security, while making a substantial contribution to their communities. 

This research is documented in a report titled "Hidden in Plain Sight: How Intergenerational Relationships Can Transform Our Future," prepared by the Stanford Center on Longevity. There are many causes and needs retirees could address, such as enhancing the nurturing and education of children, reducing poverty, improving the environment, increasing social justice or supporting your favorite local community cause.

"Retirees have tremendous civic potential to help address the needs of the nation," observed Matt Fellowes, co-author of the United Income report.

Laura Carstensen, founder of the Stanford Center on Longevity, noted, "Many people say that older adults are the only natural resource that is actually growing."

It turns out that the secret to longer life might be right in front of us.