"Believe what ya like. Think what ya like. You'll be judged for what you do."
-- Tim Minton, Eyrie

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Risky Business of Retirement

     It seems that retirement can be hazardous to our health -- both our physical and mental health.

     A recent study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College concluded that delaying retirement, by itself, reduces the five-year mortality rate for men in their early 60s by 32 percent. Delaying retirement also reduces the mortality rate for women, just not as much.

     So yes, women handle retirement better than men. But retirement can take its toll on anyone.

     One study from Ross Andel of the University of South Florida School of Aging followed a number of Australians over a 20-year period, starting in their 60s. The subjects were asked to remember random, unrelated words. The tests were repeated every four years. He found that people who were retired suffered greater memory loss compared to people of the same age who were still working.

     Of course, the explanation could be that healthier people with better memories tend to keep working, while those with health or mental problems go on to retire. But the answer is more likely that while we are working we face a series of challenges that keep us engaged. We solve problems, get some satisfaction from solving problems, perhaps feel like we've done something important. We take a guilt-free period of  relaxation (the weekend) and then go back to solve more problems. And solving problems keeps our minds in gear, keeps us sharp and focused.

     At least that's the theory put forth by Andel in his TED talk Is Retirement Bad for Your Brain?

     Another study looked at twins in Sweden who retired after age 50. They were followed for 20 years. The researchers found a significant decline in thinking speed after retirement. They also found a decline in verbal ability as well as spatial awareness.

Life is a gamble. Can you improve your odds?
     I retired in my mid-50s -- not voluntarily. So I should be a blathering idiot by now. However . . . I continued to do consulting and freelance work until just last year, as a part-time job. So maybe I'm not completely baked. Just half-baked.

     So what can we do about mental and physical decline after retirement? Andel suggests keeping active and engaged by participating in your family, doing some volunteer work, taking a course, finding an interesting hobby or a part-time job.

     My sister, who as the smart one in the family is a member of MENSA, plays a lot of bridge. It's a mentally taxing game that requires memory, tactics and intelligence. And studies have shown that there is a lower frequency of dementia among bridge players than non-players. 

     I have played a little bridge, but it's not really my game. B and I go dancing (at least in non-Covid times), and I've read that ballroom dancing helps us stay alert and alive. It provides some physical activity, social engagement and mental challenge -- you gotta remember those steps!

     Others say reading keeps our minds active and alert, as we're challenged by new ideas, new experiences -- or figuring out whodunnit in a mystery.

     B and I both takes classes at our retirement center. That helps us stay awake. During Covid I've been doing crossword puzzles. B has completed several jigsaw puzzles. I don't know if either of these really helps us stay sharp. But they've kept us busy.

     One person I know suggests adopting a puppy. Training a dog is a mental challenge by itself; plus you stay active by doing more walking, and you may improve your social life by meeting new friends and neighbors. 

      Any number of psychological studies have found that successful aging is linked to living a happy and productive life. As someone once said: Anyone who limits his vision to memories of yesterday is already dead. 

     So what do you do to stay sharp, to provide the sense of accomplishment you had when you were working or raising kids?

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Rebirth or Regret?

      This spring brings rebirth in more ways than one. Yes, there are the daffodils and forsythia and other spring flowers, and the buds on the trees and the longer days and the warmer weather.

     But this year we are also coming out of the self-isolation brought on by Covid-19. Most of us have received our first vaccine, many our second. But hold on . . . not so fast.

     Despite the rollout of vaccines, the CDC is still reporting more than 60,000 new cases a day. Deaths are down below a thousand a day, for the first time since November, but the number of hospitalizations has leveled off. Some 40,000 Americans are currently in the hospital with Covid.

     Many states are lifting restrictions, which might explain why the majority are now showing increasing numbers of new cases. For example, Gov. Tom Wolf of my own state of Pennsylvania is increasing capacity for gyms and indoor dining to 75% -- despite the fact that case numbers for Pennsylvania, recently as low as 2,500 a day, are now back up above 4,000 a day.

     That's bad. But some states are worse. Michigan has gone from 1,200 cases a day to 6,000 cases a day. New York from 4,000 to 8,000 a day. New Jersey from 3,000 to 4,500.

     Still, we trust with vaccination comes the end of Covid. Over a hundred million Americans -- or a third of the population -- have received at least one shot. Some 60 million are fully vaccinated. And so some of us are making plans . . . not, we hope, prematurely.

     Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit asks: How are you reintegrating back into the post-Covid world? Is it Katie-bar-the-door? Or are you watchfully taking baby steps? In her post After Shelter in Place she offers her approach to travel, masks, indoor dining and other issues that will be facing us for the next few months and beyond.

      For her part, Rebecca Olkowski at BabyBoomster reports in Tiptoe Through the Tulips that she took a stroll through Descanso Gardens in Los Angeles to see some amazing spring flowers. She had to make a reservation, required for crowd control, and wear a mask, but she brought home some beautiful photos of the springtime displays -- and according to her smartphone, got in her steps as well!

     On the other side of the country Laurie Stone breathes a sigh of relief, realizing that Connecticut has survived another winter of storms, freezing cold, icicles, power outages and slippery roads. Like many of us, she thinks of spring as the real start of the year. There are so many Wonderful Things About Spring she writes . . .  but also one thing happening outside her window that makes her a little nervous.

     Down in Florida, Jennifer of Untold and Begin offers My Ongoing Story of New Things. That includes her first Covid shot and an appointment for her second. But more ambitiously she has started her own Etsy shop to sell Vision Board supplies. And if you don't know what a Vision Board is, you'd better hightail it over to Untold and Begin and find out what you're missing!

     Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin agrees that change is in the air as we welcome spring. For one thing, she says, "I shed a couple of pounds as light-weight clothing replaces weighty materials." Step over to Spring Unfolds to see how she has begun to venture out to see where she is going.

     Finally, I urge you to check out Rita Robison''s warning about Coronavirus scams on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide. It hit home for us, since we've been getting calls, purportedly from Amazon, saying we'd bought a $1,500 Apple computer,. It said to press 1 if this was not correct. And since it wasn't correct we were tempted to press 1. But, luckily, we didn't. Instead, we checked our Amazon account separately. Guess what. There was no such purchase on the account. Who knows what would have happened if we'd pressed 1?

     As Robison points out, scammers are inventing new schemes to take advantage of our Coronavirus anxiety. For some good advice on how to handle them, press over to her post How to Avoid Coronavirus Scams.

     Be careful. Be well. Get your shots. Wear your mask. We want no regrets. We want rebirth.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Can You Answer These 10 Citizenship Questions?

     We hear a lot about immigration and what it takes to come here legally and eventually attain citizenship. If you think you're so smart, try your hand at answering these ten citizenship questions. How many will you get right?

1. What percent of Americans are immigrants       14% or 100%

2. Texas is part of the United States ...                  True or False

3. Did Lance Armstrong land on the moon?            Yes or No

4. The best movie of all time is ...              Gone with the Wind or Caddyshack

5. Where would you rather live?                        Europe or New Zealand

6. Who was the greatest U. S. president?   Daniel Day Lewis or Martin Sheen

7. Is prostitution legal in Washington, DC?             Yes or No

8. Who is older  ...                                             Donald Trump or Joe Biden

9. Who won World War II ...                                 Germany or England

10. Geographic center of the U.S. is ...     Belle Fourche, SD or Lebanon, KS


1. 100% ... we're all immigrants, even Native Americans who came across the Bering Strait. 2. False. It's a different world entirely.  3. Yes, but he was disqualified for using performance enhancing drugs.  4. Neither -- GWTW is racist, Caddyshack isn't funny anymore.  5. Doesn't matter, you can't get into either one.

6. Trick question: Daniel Day Lewis isn't even American.  7. Duh ...  8. Joe Biden. Biden is 84; Trump is 14.  9. Look at Germany, look at England. You decide.  10. You always learn something new at Sightings Over Sixty, because this one is for real ... no April fooling! Counting Hawaii and Alaska, the geographic center of the U. S. is near Belle Fourche, SD. If you're thinking just the lower 48, then it's Lebanon, Kansas.

Happy April!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Art of Doing Nothing

      Some of us can go a whole lifetime before we find our real calling. And now I realize: thus it has been with me. I've spent most of my life waking up to an alarm and rushing off to school, to work, to drop the kids off at various activities.

     Even after I retired there were pressures. For example, I sometimes had to get up, get breakfast, get out of the house, and head over to our local college for a class at our Center for Learning in Retirement. And I had to do it all by 9:25 a.m.!

     But wait. It gets worse. From spring through fall, for six months of the year I had to roust myself out of bed as early as 7 a.m. so I could down a cup of coffee, drive to a golf course and find the first tee . . . all while still half asleep.

     No longer. Now we're a year into self-isolation. And I think I've discovered my real talent: The Art of Doing Nothing.

     I wake up . . . whenever I want. I go to the kitchen for my coffee, and then I look around. What do I have to do?

     Nothing. And so I sit and read the paper, or crack open my book. There's no rush. I can read until I get tired of reading, and maybe even take a nap. I never used to take a nap; but now there's no reason not to.

     Eventually, I make myself some breakfast. Then it's time to go into my room to stare at the computer for a while. What do I look at? It doesn't matter. I'm only passing the time. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? The news or sports scores? Read some blogs? Check my email? How long does this take? I dunno. I'm not on any schedule. Haven't been for a year.

     I do have a Zoom meeting a couple of times a week. But I can handle a meeting at 10:50 a.m. -- because I don't have to shower and dress ahead of time. Whew!

     Sometimes I go out for a walk. My wife walks almost every day, first thing in the morning. I go a couple of times a week, at my own pace . . . my own pace means I get around to it about 4 p.m.

My one constructive act of the day 
     Whether I walk or not, 4 p.m. seems to sneak up on me, almost every day. Where did the time go? I'd better get in the shower and do my back exercises before I'm called to dinner. 

     And yet dinner seems to go by so quickly. I think about it all day long, look forward to the meal and some conversation with B. Then, it seems, as soon as we sit down . . . suddenly it's over! Then I do the dishes.

     Lately, we've been reading A Short History of Wisconsin aloud to each other after dinner, one chapter at a time. We're planning a trip to Wisconsin in August. Of course, we planned a trip to Wisconsin last summer, and it never happened. I wonder if it will be different this year.

     Yes, we've started talking about coming out of our cocoon. We're even considering a trip in May, and beginning to think about what we're going to do for Thanksgiving. We're anxious about getting out of the house after all this time, making plans and talking to people about possibilities.

     And yet . . . even when we're fully vaccinated the CDC is still recommending against traveling. Airports, hotels, restaurants are all considered hotspots for the virus. So we wonder, with the vagaries of the vaccine and the possibility of new Covid strains  . . . is it even worth it?

     Besides, we've become so lazy, even one trip seems like an enormous undertaking. 

     After dinner and the dishes and reading about Wisconsin, we make the long trek from the dining room to the den -- almost 20 feet -- and plop down in front of the TV. We've already watched a number of shows: Schitt's Creek. Borgen. Episodes. Call My Agent. The Queen's Gambit.

     We just saw the movie Manks (overrated) and Laurel Canyon (pretty bad). Now we're watching the Australian series Offspring which we love . . . and we're looking for some others. 

     But all we do is read, watch TV, putter around the house. We have brought the idea of doing nothing to a high art. Yet we know we are running out of things to do, things to watch. And now that spring is here, we can go outside and work in the yard. Will I be playing golf again? Are we really going to travel? See our children?

     It will be a major transition for us. We have over time embraced the lifestyle of doing absolutely nothing. Can we now develop the Art of Doing Something?

Sunday, March 21, 2021

It's Not as Bad as You Think

     In her current bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, Isabel Wilkerson compares America to Nazi Germany and says that the state of race relations in the U. S. today are about where they were in the 1880s. Yes, the 1880s, not the 1980s.

     Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction argues that due to climate change we are facing the very extinction of the human race as we know it.

     And surely you know -- as we do -- somebody's grownup kids who have said that they're not going to have kids themselves, because they don't want to rear children in a declining white nationalist nation, or bring children into an overpopulated world that's already choking on its own carbon dioxide and industrial waste. 

    It's enough to make you want to get away from it all and move to Mexico or Madagascar . . . or Mars.

     But then I read How I Learned to Understand the World, a memoir by Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and bioethicist who spent several years taking care of poor people in Mozambique and later went back to Africa to help put out the fires of the Ebola epidemic. He died in 2017 at age 68, but even his early demise did not dampen his optimism.

     Rosling is best known for his series of TED talks and the book called Factfulness. He says we hear about all the terrible things in the world from the media, and so we leap to the conclusion that the world is getting worse. What we don't hear about are the slow, ongoing improvements in health, longevity, education, non-violence, that go on year after year not just in the U. S. but all around the world.

    The media report on the rise of nationalistic and authoritarian governments around the globe, from Russia to Turkey to Venezuela. They report on the rise of racism and religious hatred. They search out examples of economic inequality. They report on the nuclear threat, the endless wars. They focus on global warming and even tell us we're running out of water.

     None of this is wrong. It's just one-sided, looking at the problems not the progress. To get a more balanced -- and more accurate -- picture of the world today, Rosling tells us, we have to look at the facts. And the facts demonstrate that the world has improved dramatically over almost any time frame you consider.

     So for example:

     Life expectancy: If you were born in 1900, you would have had a 23% chance of dying before age 20 and a 38% chance of dying before age 45. Kids born today have about a 1% chance of dying before age 20 and a 4% chance of dying before age 45.

     Modern Conveniences: When our grandparents were born, virtually no one had electricity ... or telephone or indoor plumbing. They didn't have a car and couldn't fly in an airplane. Today, 85% of the people in the world enjoy the benefits of electricity. And two-thirds have a cellphone.

     Poverty: Twenty years ago 29% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Today it's only 9% . . . and the rate is still falling.

     Crime: Violent crime has been on a downward trend in the U. S. since 1990. Almost 14.5 million crimes were reported in the United States in 1990. By 2016, with a larger population, that figure was down below 9.5 million.

     Retirement: Some 90% of 65-year-old American men who were still alive in 1870 were working. Today only about 20% of 65-year-old American men are still working ... and many of them are working by choice not necessity.

     Safety: Americans became 95% less likely to be killed on the job over the last hundred years. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have brought down auto fatalities from 50,000 a year in the 1970s to about 37,000 today, despite more cars on the road. The auto fatality rate per 100,000 people has dropped from 25 to 11 -- less than half what it was in the 1970s.

     Disease: In the past century, vaccines and antibiotics have brought miracles to modern medicine. Just since 1990, the control of infectious disease has saved the lives of an estimated 100 million children. Or consider the development of the Covid-19 vaccine. They couldn't do it in 1918. But we did it in 2020.

     Food. Between 1961 and  2009, the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12%, but the amount of food grown has increased by 300%.

     Climate change. The world was getting dirtier and dirtier until the 1970s when the Environmental Protection Agency was established and people started to care about the environment. The world is still getting dirtier. But at a slower pace. And with the development of solar and wind energy, of geothermal and tidal and possibly hydrogen energy it is entirely possible that we will be smart enough to overcome even this latest and most serious problem.

     If you don't believe Rosling, turn to Bill Gates, the computer wizard who now focuses on world health. He tells us: "Headlines are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline and gradual improvement is not." So next time someone corners you to drone on about how bad the world really is, tell them: "It's not as bad as you think."