We know, we know: It’s never too early to start thinking about retirement. Honestly, though, besides a few dollars disappearing into our 401(k) accounts each payday, we saw leaving behind the 9-to-5 as a distant fantasy—some abstract destination. As thirtysomethings, that made sense. Then our parents joined the ranks of the willingly unemployed.
Society typically views retirement as “The End”—the culmination of one’s usefulness to the greater good. Thank you for your service. Please take this discounted movie ticket as a token of our appreciation. So we watched our folks approach this milestone with a certain amount of trepidation. They had spent decades building meaningful careers in offices and classrooms where they had been important, respected contributors. As such, they could afford retirement. But would they be able to survive it? Obviously, no one comes out the other side of their golden years intact (a fact we’d rather not think about). Plenty, however, struggle to find purpose. Without co-workers—who provide the regular, brain-invigorating interactions many of us take for granted—they could slide into mind-dulling social isolation. Worse, they might start meddling in their children’s lives.
You’d think we’d know our own parents better by now.
Jess’ mom has taken to Colorado’s trails like a Labrador let loose from her leash. She fills her daughter’s (and her daughter’s friends’ ) social media feeds with images of soaring peaks, golden aspens, and curious bears and recently regaled the Thanksgiving table with a tale of her harrowing pursuit of deer tracks through calf-deep Rocky Mountain snow. Spencer’s parents just returned from a three-week road trip through the Southwest, where they hiked and explored Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches national parks. At home, his dad divides his time between antique hunting and cutting the grass for a women’s shelter, and his mom is suddenly a yogi. If they were more fulfilled when they were part of the daily grind, they did a great job of hiding it.
That’s not to say the transition has been without hurdles. But they were all able to leap them (or at least sidestep them gracefully) and discover more gratifying pastimes because they’ve maintained the physical and mental fortitude to attempt most any pursuit. So while our parents weren’t actually sources for our in-depth guide to staying fit during your elder years, their influence can be felt throughout the package. They’re the ones who impressed upon us youngsters that, sure, nobody lives forever—but when it comes to savoring all that the West’s get-up-and-go culture and alluring landscapes have to offer, good health is its own fountain of youth.