The Biggest Mistake People Make Nearing Retirement

By GLENN RUFFENACH

Is there a biggest mistake that people make when approaching retirement?

This question, or some variation on it, pops up regularly. Yes, many people in their 50s and beyond are making a serious mistake—and it has nothing to do with money.

Simply put, the majority of preretirees are focused solely on their financial health. Far too few are giving any thought to their physical health. And good physical health is crucial to making the most of later life.

Put another way: A big nest egg isn’t going to do you much good if you can’t get off the couch.

o be specific: Only 42% of Americans ages 65 to 74—and only 28% of those 75 and older—meet government recommendations for aerobic activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics. Worse, only 14% of the first group and just 8% of the second also do the suggested amount of strength training. (Be honest: Did you even know there are recommendations for strength training in later life?)

Exercise isn’t just a good idea; it is critical to your well being, particularly as you age. A recent editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine sums it up nicely: “People who engage in physical activity have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, depression, cognitive impairment and functional decline.”

If you spend at least 150 minutes each week on moderate-intensity aerobic activity and do some type of muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week—congratulations. If not, start with the the CDC’s Physical Activity pages. It is the single-most-important step you can take as you approach retirement.