A 63-year-old explains how Blue Zones helped him rethink his retirement plan to avoid his 'biggest fear' of loneliness

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A 63-year-old explains how Blue Zones helped him rethink his retirement plan to avoid his 'biggest fear' of loneliness
Ed, 63, not pictured, is taking steps to ensure he isn't lonely when he enters retirement.keithsutherland/Getty Images
  • Ed, 63, hasn't retired yet, but he wants to ensure he won't be lonely when he does.
  • Describing loneliness as his "biggest fear," he plans to volunteer and pursue hobbies upon retirement.
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Ed, 63, was recently rewatching a documentary about Blue Zones — and it led him to rethink his outlook on retirement.

Blue Zones are regions in the world where people are believed to live the longest, healthiest lives, and people who live in those zones have traits that include living with purpose and maintaining relationships with friends starting at a young age. Ed — who requested his last name be withheld for privacy but whose identity is known to Business Insider — said there's no reason he can't incorporate those ideals into his own life.

"Those people were actively engaged in their community, they were doing things, they were gardening, they were actively involved, they had good mobility. They didn't suffer any of the degenerative ills that we as North Americans suffer," Ed said, referring to Blue Zone residents.

"So I think that's part and parcel where some of my insight comes from, that I think to retire and to suddenly stop and to say, 'Well now I'm going to do nothing,' is going to kill you," Ed said. "I'm absolutely convinced of that. I think being sedentary and not engaged is the worst thing that you can put upon yourself."

Since moving from Connecticut to Ontario, Canada, in the 80s, Ed has worked in the manufacturing industry, and he's not sure when he'll officially retire. But he's making plans for when that day comes to avoid what he said is his "biggest fear": being lonely. He hopes that upon retirement, he can pursue his passion for bas-relief art, which is a type of sculpting to create three-dimensional figures mounted on two-dimensional surfaces, like the figures on certain coins.

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He also plans to volunteer at nonprofit organizations and shelters to ensure that retiring from his job doesn't also mean retiring from social interactions.

Of course, for some older adults, it's not always that easy. US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared loneliness an epidemic last year, alongside data showing poor social interaction could increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia among older Americans.

Ed said there needs to be a brighter spotlight on this crisis because "being alone has got to be the worst thing."

"And there are a lot of people that are suffering from loneliness simply because they don't have contacts, their children aren't paying attention to them, or they're estranged from them for whatever reason or another," he continued. "So being alone is something that does concern me. And I've always said to my wife, 'Geez, I hope I go before you do because I don't want to be left.'"

'I needed to do something'

Ed said he found himself thinking negatively about his retirement outlook and the way his job defines who he is — and he knew that if he wanted to avoid loneliness, his thought process needed to change.

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"I started to think of myself in terms of not being relevant," Ed said. "If you're working day in and day out, you're contributing, you're providing, and suddenly that stops, the thing that looms in the distance is a matter of relevancy because we all tend to identify with what we do for a living."

"I was thinking in terms of whether or not I'm still even valid, and I came to realize these are not good thoughts and I needed to do something," he said.

While Ed is proactively planning for when he no longer has his job, BI has previously spoken to some older adults who were experiencing loneliness post-retirement and took matters into their own hands.

Joe Lamy, a 75-year-old retiree in Seattle, decided to address his loneliness by starting a group at his senior center where people can simply gather and chat. He called it "a lifesaver," because similar to Ed's concerns, leaving his job cut "off a huge flow of people."

And Rick Grossman, a 70-year-old who battled loneliness throughout his life, found a solution through a "senior village," or community that connects older adults in the same region to resources and activities.

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"There are a lot of times when I would've just stayed home alone, and now I will do some of the things I wanted to do before, like go to the movies or to dinner," Grossman said. "It's like a family."

'The necessity of being engaged'

Given the significant mental and physical impacts of experiencing loneliness, Ed said he believes the "systemic issues" of lacking social interaction need to be addressed nationally.

"If I'm not careful at this stage of my life, my life expectancy will diminish," he said. "My overall well-being is definitely tied to my family and my relationships, and that's where the currency is. It's about the simple act and the necessity of being engaged."

Along with Murthy's efforts to bring awareness to the loneliness epidemic, some lawmakers are hoping to address the issue in Congress. Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy and Bob Casey introduced a bill in December — called Addressing Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults Act — to establish grants and training for community-based organizations to help address loneliness in older adults.

As federal efforts progress, Ed wants to ensure loneliness among older people is a concern that all age groups work to address.

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"We have an indebtedness to the people that raised us, the generation that came before, and we cannot discard them," Ed said. "And I think that what we're looking at here in North America, Canada as well, too, is a systemic occurrence where we don't want to make the time. And that's part of the problem."

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