How to Have a Longer and Richer Retirement

Last Updated Mar 11, 2011 12:22 PM EST

A report published recently by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences added to the mountains of accumulating evidence that regular exercise can extend your lifespan and your healthspan -- the period during which you're healthy and active. And exercise should also help you save money on medical bills in your retirement years -- something we'll need to do.

The findings were determined after scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario genetically programmed mice to age more quickly than normal. Then they divided these mice into two groups -- the control group that didn't get any exercise, and a group that exercised regularly. The control group of mice deteriorated rapidly and died prematurely, as expected. And the group that exercised regularly lived much longer and remained youthful and active.

Of vital importance to both young and old readers is the fact that the sexual organs -- the gonads -- of the control group of mice shrunk rapidly, but the gonads of the exercise group remained normal for a much longer time. They say that sex sells, so if you won't exercise to improve your health and longevity, maybe this new information will give you the necessary motivation! (If you want to read more about the study, here's a detailed summary from The New York Times.)

So what kind of exercise should you actually be doing? The National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health have developed an informative and simple website with information and ideas for improving the health of seniors. Their website recommends that seniors get the following four types of exercise:

  • Endurance activities, like walking, swimming, or riding a bike. These improve the health of your heart and your circulatory system.
  • Strengthening exercises, like lifting weights or resistance training. These build muscle tissue and reduce muscle loss.
  • Stretching exercises, such as yoga or the stretches you should do before exercising. These will help keep your body limber and flexible.
  • Balance exercises, including walking, tai chi, and yoga. These will help reduce the chances of a fall, which can produce serious injuries that trigger a downward spiral in older people.
For one more dose of inspiration, consider Jack LaLanne, the famous fitness guru who recently died at age 96. LaLanne started out as an ordinary guy with not-so-good genes -- his father passed away at age 50 from a heart attack. But Jack kept fit and trim well into his 90s by pursuing a life-long, extremely active lifestyle. The good news is, you don't need to exercise as much as Jack did -- even moderate exercise will give you tremendous health benefits.

Gotta run now. I'm going for a swim -- and I'm taking my wife!

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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.