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Shape up for Summer

Use these simple tips to get fit for your summer adventures.

By Arianna Hermosillo

Getting ready for summer means cleaning off the grill, finding your swimsuit, and stocking up on SPF 60. But to make the most of summer, it’s also important to prepare yourself physically.

From hiking and camping to chasing little ones around the zoo, summer offers endless possibilities for retired educators on the move. Follow these simple steps to get in shape and ensure you’re ready for summer.

Find a Routine

Exercising regularly can have a huge impact on your health and energy level. Cody Sipe, a member of the IDEA Health & Fitness Association editorial board who specializes in aging and exercise, advises enhancing your muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, joint flexibility, and balance to make sure you’re ready for warmer weather. Sipe recommends a simple fitness routine including:

• Twenty to 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise five to seven days a week. The “talk test”—you should be able to talk minimally during activity without gasping for air—let’s you know if you’re working at the right level of intensity. Consider investing in cardiovascular equipment from brands that offer discounts to NEA members, such as Star Trac.

 • Three days of strength training each week. You can do simple exercises at home using your own body weight, inexpensive lightweight items, or items found around the house. Workout tools such as balance balls and resistance bands are inexpensive and may come with instructional guides.

• Balance activities. Standing on one leg or walking high-step style, on your toes, or on your heels requires no special equipment and can be done at home in a safe environment.

While the specifics will vary by individual, what’s most important is creating a routine that works for you, says Nora Howley, manager of programs for the NEA Health Information Network. “[Retirement] is really a time in your life when you can try new things.” So take that 10 a.m. exercise class at your local community center or YMCA, she suggests. Or consider enrolling in a gym if you’re looking for less structure. NEA members get a discount rate at Gold’s Gym.    

Know your body

Approximately 91 percent of people aged 55 and older have at least one chronic disease, according to the National Council on Aging. However, chronic health issues don’t have to keep you from enjoying outdoor fun.

“No matter what your injury, you can do something,” says Brandan DuChateau, operations director and membership director of the National Wellness Institute.

First, analyze your situation and look for activities that will minimize the impact on your problem areas. For example, for those dealing with lower extremity issues, Sipe recommends cycling or swimming. For other chronic diseases, Sipe recommends the following:

Diabetes: When exercising, carry a light sugary snack with you, such as juice, raisins or candy, in case of a low sugar attack. Recognize when your blood sugar is dropping and know when to call it quits.

Osteoarthritis: Focus on non-weight-bearing activities such as swimming and cycling. Exercise reduces pain and increases function for osteoarthritis sufferers.

Osteoporosis: Choose weight-bearing activities, such as walking and jogging. In this case you want to put stress on your bones because it strengthens them. However, avoid activities that put you at risk for falling and breaking bones.

Asthma: Stick to low-intensity activities like walking and swimming, and avoid exercising in polluted, cold, or dry air.Regular exercise can build an asthmatic’s tolerance for physical activity over time and reduce the chance for an attack during exertion. The American Council on Exercise recommends taking more time to warm up and cool down.

NEA members can also get a discount to T-Tapp, a wellness workout program that takes a physical therapy approach to fitness. It is designed to help people with shoulder, hip, knee, neck, and back concerns, at the same time delivering a challenging workout. To learn more, visit

Eat Right

Diet plays a huge part in maintaining energy levels and overall wellness. Sticking to a well-balanced diet all year round can help ensure that you have the energy you need for all that summer fun. DuChateau reminds us that a nutritious and balanced diet is similar for all ages. She recommends the following:

• Choose natural foods over processed.

• Eat a variety of vegetables

• Watch the amount of fats and oils in your food.

• Aim for lean proteins, such as fish and poultry.

• Eat fried food in extreme moderation.

• Choose vegetables over fruits—fruits are high in sugar.

• Opt for whole grain bread over white.

DuChateau also recommends experimenting with vegetarian meals to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Use your NEA discount to save at OliveNation, a great source for inexpensive healthy food choices and recipes.

Howley notes that perhaps as a busy educator you got out of the habit of cooking, opting for restaurants and other quick options. Retirement can offer a chance to learn new skills in the kitchen. You can also work to adjust your eating schedule, for example, by snacking more than you’re used to, says Howley, because eating smaller meals more frequently helps keep your metabolism high. But, it’s important to make sure you’re choosing healthy snacks, like carrot sticks and almonds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Quick Guide to Healthy Living, a healthy diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, seafood, poultry, lean meats, eggs, beans, and nuts. Limit your intake of foods with high levels of cholesterol, sodium, added sugars, and trans fats, which are found in foods such as cakes, cookies, stick margarine, and fried items. Also limit saturated fats, which are found in animal products like cheese, fatty meats, whole milk, and butter.

Exercise Your Mind

According to DuChateau, the emotional aspect of wellness is highly undervalued. She emphasizes the importance of staying mentally active year-round, noting that depression is a huge factor in why people aren’t well. “Volunteer, be active in your community,” she says. “Achievement drives your overall happiness level.”

“Retirement is a major, major life transformation and all changes like this can be stressful,” Howley agrees. “When you retire, ‘teacher’ may no longer be your first identity.” It’s helpful to find your new identity with activities like tutoring, or getting involved in your faith, community, or family in new ways.

Regular outdoor activities like gardening can promote overall wellness, says Sipe, but it’s important to avoid long periods of bending or stooping. “Be aware of how you’re doing it. If you’re bent forward at the waist, keep your back in a neutral position and work on pulling and lifting strategies.” Practicing yoga or tai chi can benefit your physical and emotional wellness by helping with balance and by reducing emotional reactivity.

Howley says she often hears that people are “actually busier in retirement,” because they’re doing all the things they’ve wanted to do for years. Take advantage of all you want to do this summer and in the years to come by exploring your options for exercising, eating right and living better now. Retirement is your time—no matter the season.

Summer Travel Tips

When you’re feeling great, you may get the itch to travel. Here are a few tips to help you stay safe and healthy during your summer adventures.

On the Road

When you’re on a long road trip, stop to stretch every two to three hours to reduce fatigue and keep your focus sharp. Spending hours on the road can cause a lot of neck and back strain, so keep an eye on your posture and try to sit up straight when driving to reduce neck, back, and shoulder pain.

Eating healthy is also important if you’re going to have enough energy for everything on your to-do list. It’s easy to get lax about your diet when you’re on the road, and it can be difficult to find nutritious food at highway stops, but it’s not impossible. For example, instead of pancakes, opt for fruit, whole-wheat options, and healthy egg dishes. Snack on nuts, pretzels, or fruit to fuel up between meals and avoid fast food by stopping at a grocery story to buy the fixings for a healthy lunch. Stay hydrated by drinking water rather than sugary sodas and energy drinks.

Off the Grid

Camping connects you to the outdoors and lets you enjoy the simple life. But it’s important to make sure you have access to clean, safe food. If you won’t be near running water, carry disposable wipes to wash your hands before preparing and eating food. Double wrap raw meat or poultry in plastic bags to avoid the bacteria from its juices spreading to other foods and stock your cooler with a block of ice, instead of ice cubes, to keep food colder longer. Be sure to carry bottled water, or boil or filter water that you find from natural sources. 

To ward off possibly dangerous animals while you’re camping, keep your campsite clear of garbage, don’t bring foods with strong smells, and keep pets on a leash. For personal safety, choose to camp on popular campgrounds, carry a form of protection, such as pepper spray or mace, and be wary of other campers.

If you go hiking, dress for the weather, preferably in layers. Avoid fatigue by carrying only what you need, staying hydrated, and resting frequently. Listen to your body and know when to call it a day, no matter what others are doing.

Going abroad

When you venture abroad, make sure to sign your passport and fill in the emergency information. Leave copies of your itinerary and passport information with family and friends. Look into overseas medical insurance coverage and, if need be, supplemental coverage.

If you’re traveling with medication or related items through a U.S. airport, they will be X-rayed. Keep them in a carry-on separate from your other travel items. Label any non-liquid or gel medications to speed up the process. If your medications need to be refrigerated, make sure your hotel room will be equipped with a mini fridge

While country hopping, read up on the laws and cultural practices of your travel destinations to avoid misunderstandings. It’s also smart to invest in a money belt or garments with hidden pockets to keep your cash secure. Wear simple clothes and leave expensive jewelry and accessories in the hotel room while you’re sightseeing, and carry a dictionary to help with translating.

In case of emergency

Tailor your emergency kit to your individual needs, but also consider where you’ll be traveling. Here’s a list of things to bring along during your summer travels:

• Basic first-aid kit

• Extra supply of medication

• Emergency contact card

• Extra money for unexpected expenses

• Compact flashlight

• Pen and notebook

• A map of the area or country where you’ll be traveling

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