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Jan presenting for AARP in Dublin, Ohio (Sept. 2013)



Change How You Think About Exercise: Change Your Life

In the secret recesses of my mind, I believe I’m immortal.  I don’t think I’ll ever succumb to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, obesity, or any of the lifestyle diseases that bedevil so many of us.  And, I like to eat junk food.  Not all the time, but much more than I should (I just devoured two large chocolate covered marshmallow cookies as I sat down to write this). 

Yet, as a mature woman, my “numbers”:  blood pressure, glucose, “bad” LDL, triglycerides, creatinine levels, and the other results from my physical and blood work are something “people would kill for,” to quote my doctor. 

I think I’ve stumbled onto the reason why I am healthy.  Yes, I know I’m blessed with good genes, and that genetics play a big role in our health.  But, there’s another reason:  I love to exercise because of what it does for me NOW, not what I think it can do for me in the FUTURE

We can all recite a laundry list of the benefits of exercise:  it strengthens bones and muscles (and of course our heart is a muscle); makes our blood vessels more pliable through the release of nitric oxide; decreases levels of harmful LDL; improves our range of motion, lung capacity, and flexibility; elevates mood and energy level; decreases our chances of getting high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, colon cancer, gallstones, and diabetes; enables better connections between nerve cells (synapses) in our brain; lowers body fat levels, including visceral fat, which is linked to disease; effectively treats moderate to mild depression; enhances the immune system; improves sleep; increases lean body mass, which increases calorie burn; relieves symptoms of menopause; and improves our appearance and feelings of self-worth. 

But, for many of us, the compelling evidence about the importance of exercise isn’t enough to change our behavior.  A third of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, don’t exercise at all.  Another 18% exercise just once or twice a week.  Why?  One of the big reasons is because exercise is often touted as a benefit for the future, not for what it can do for us now. We often don’t do things that have benefits years down the road (look at the dismal statistics on saving for retirement, for example).  In fact, psychologists have a term for this: future discounting.  We tend to discount the value of a future reward (losing weight, living longer and healthier), and emphasize short-term rewards.  

So, if you can think about the benefits of what exercise does for you NOW, you’re on the road to success.  Notice how exercise enhances your day-to-day quality of life, makes you feel more energetic, productive and happier, less stressed-out, and provides social interactions with others (if you have a walking buddy - human or not, take dance lessons, do a water aerobics class, or play a sport, for example).  Once you’ve switched from thinking about exercise as something that benefits you down the road to realizing and experiencing it’s something with an immediate pay-off, you’ll be hooked, and you’ll see exercise as something you need and want to do every day, rather than as a prescription to prevent future maladies. 

Well, time to hop on my bike and ride over to the tennis courts to play a few sets with friends.   

Send me your questions!

I'm going to be on Money Matters with @jeanchatzky soon to talk about singles and retirement - what questions do you have for me? They don't have to be about money.  Thanks.

Jan on Boomer and the Babe radio show

Interview with "Boomer and the Babe" radio show on December 6th at 1 p.m. ET: "Tips for Single Women's Retirement Bliss"


Single ladies: just because you’re living on one income, doesn’t mean you can’t achieve retirement bliss. FOF Jan Cullinane, author of The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement, shows you how.

And, married FOFs, listen up too! According to Jan, “even if you are married there’s an 80-90% chance you’ll be single at some point in your life.”

1. Separate your wants from your needs. Studies have shown that when women are asked what they ‘need’–they include professional hair coloring, vacations, buying gifts for occasions, high-speed internet. These are things that maybe our parents generation didn’t think of as needs. Really think about your needs compared to your wants as a start to your ‘lifetime planning,’ a term I prefer to use over ‘retirement planning.’ When you think of it this way, you’re less likely to put it off.

2. Pay yourself first. Say you’re divorced or widowed and have boomerang kids who return to live with you. Or, say you want to pay for your kids or grandkids education. Take care of your financial needs first–it sounds selfish but it’s not. You don’t want to become a burden on your children and run out of money. Kids have a lot longer of horizon to recuperate than FOFs.

3. Consider downsizing your home. This can be a great way to save money. Let’s say you’re living in the Northeast somewhere and you could sell your home there and live a lot less expensively somewhere else–really think long and hard about that. Your money could go a lot farther. Also, when you choose a home where you’ll spend your post-career years–make sure you can live there as long as you can. Having a first-floor master bedroom, curbless shower, comfort height toilets or non-slip flooring isn’t always what you’ll be looking for when your house hunting, but it’s important.

4. Be flexible about working. Working can accomplish a lot, and not only benefit you with money. It can give you structure, intellectual stimulation and a social life. So, working in your “retirement” years can be a great thing, even if you are scaling back. There are some part-time jobs such as a classroom aid, crossing guard, Starbucks or Trader Joes employee that provide health benefits. We are not talking about huge bucks, but the benefits can go a long way in making your retirement successful.

5. Stay healthy. By exercising and practicing good nutrition you will reduce the odds of falling ill with expensive diseases and conditions. If you do happen to become sick, if you are in good health, you’ll be in a better position to recover.

6. Delay your social security as long as possible. Some people just can’t do that, but if you can and you live long enough you certainly recoup more.

7. Practice. Practice living on what you feel your retirement income will be. Also, practice feeling resilient so that if you’re knocked down you can get back up again. Single women are great at that, because they are responsible for themselves and have developed great social support.


"CNBC Bullish on Books: The Single Woman's Guide to Retirement: New Book

What is 25 million strong and growing? It’s the number of single (never-married, divorced, and widowed) women over the age of 45 in the United States. Why the increase? I attribute this growing demographic to what I call the “5Ds”: Death of a spouse (women have longer life spans); Divorce (about a fourth of all divorces are between couples 50+); Delayed marriage (women are waiting longer to get married; Dumped (women can be on either side of this equation, the dumpee or the dumper); Don’t want to be married (many women are perfectly happy being single). And, think about this: Even if you’re happily married now, there is an 80-90% chance you’ll be single at some point, and responsible for all decisions.

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