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Retiring in the UK

When people retire in the UK they are often encouraged to remain active. A common habit is to become embroiled in ceaseless activity. This can take many forms.


People become frenetic and competitive. Manic activity can result in high blood pressure, heightened stress and anxiety. The quest for relevance and personal validation often does more harm then good.

Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. The chair is out to kill us.

(Professor James Levine, The Mayo Clinic)

Punishing the body

Some people attend the gym having never exercised before...
They are given a dumbbell for the first time in their life and persuaded by a 20 year old personal trainer to perform a series of strenuous exercises.
The activity is mentally unstimulating, the 'motivational' music is too loud, their body is unaccustomed to gym work.
If they are fortunate the individual becomes bored and stops training. If they persist they may get a rotator cuff injury.

On the road

The same trend can be seen with running or cycling.
Instead of learning (from an expert) how to run in a healthy, age appropriate manner... the pensioner launches clumsily into a regime that punishes the body, aggravates the knees and harms the spine.
Most cyclists can be seen using off-road bicycles on the roads, peddling hard but getting nowhere.

Push harder?

A modern folly is to push harder when an obstacle is encountered. This attitude is applied to aging too. People retire from work only to find for themselves an abundance of new work.
Remaining active is advisable, but pushing/over-doing it is foolish.


In the book The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking an alternative is suggested: instead of pushing harder, try something else. Change. Whilst intelligent, this is hardly new.
Taoism and tai chi have advocated this same approach for centuries.

The drawbacks of exercise

Not all forms of exercise are necessarily good for you. For example, running may improve cardiovascular health but is also very hard on the joints.
Lifting heavy weights can cause significant tension to accumulate and - if the muscles are large enough - adversely affect the skeleton. Most forms of exercise have pros and cons; especially sport.

Ideal form of exercise

According to the book The Blue Zones it is important to think of exercise in terms of what you can reasonably do long-term.
The ideal form of exercise is moderate enough that you can do it for the rest of your life. It needs to be joint-friendly, provide a gentle workout and be sustainable.
This sounds rather like tai chi, doesn't it?

Tai chi can help

Avoid/offset the common problems associated with modern life:

Memory loss
Stiff neck
Lack of mindfulness
Low energy
Reduced sex drive
No peace of mind
Diminished brain activity
Poor focus/concentration
Sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging)
Reduced joint function
Bad circulation
Heart problems
Respiratory problems
Poor lower body strength
Imbalanced body use
Reduced stamina and endurance
Deeply-held muscular tension
Poor awareness
Poor sleep
Limited flexibility/suppleness
Bad coordination
Not relaxed
Bad poise and posture
Too much sitting
Reduced mobility
Back problems
Knee problems
Poor condition
Loss of manual dexterity in the fingers
Lack of ambidexterity
Sports injuries

Medical research has proven that a small daily commitment to tai chi practice can produce tremendous results over time. The training is concerned with re-energising the body.

Understand rather than accumulate

Another Taoist approach adopted by The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking is to look deeper into things. This runs contrary to the attitude of acquisition.
Understanding ensures interest. It encourages curiosity and can be the wellspring for new ideas and unknown directions.

Know thyself

A trend for Western retirees is global travelling. In contrast with this, Taoism advocates seeing what is right in front of you. Rather than do more and more, begin to see.
It will serve to keep the brain healthy. Having genuine wisdom is better than boasting/bragging/self-promotion. Insight is worth more than commodities/experiences.

Immaturity is the craving for greater and wider experience.



Not many people in the UK live to be 100 years old but in Asia it is far more common. How come? Asia sees aging differently to the UK.


In ancient China, Taoist sages searched for different ways to prolong life, maintain youth, fitness and vitality. They developed a wide variety of anti-aging exercises.
Tai chi is a product of this quest for rejuvenation.


Not too much, not too little... Rather than adopt a frantic lifestyle, the ancient Chinese advocated a healthy, modest, varied diet. Activity was measured, calm and relaxed.
Mental health was encouraged through constructive study, meditation and contemplation. Emotions are settled; with an avoidance of stress and extremes.

Little and often

Instead of hammering the body with harsh activity (exercise or physical labour), the Taoists learned to move more gently and carefully.
Controlled, balanced, intelligent use of the body encouraged longer life. Little and often was the mantra rather than "no pain, no gain".


In modern times Japan has more centenarians than any other country. What do the 100 year old Japanese people do?

  1. Moderate daily level of exercise (often tai chi or yoga)

  2. A lot of everyday walking or modest cycling

  3. Psychological and emotional wellbeing is highly valued

  4. An active family/community life

  5. No smoking or drugs

  6. Low alcohol intake

  7. Health conscious

  8. Hygienic

  9. Balanced mental attitude - not getting stressed about things

  10. Interested in things

  11. Pace yourself

  12. Not competing

  13. Balance activity and rest

  14. Purpose/reason for living

The ancient masters understood mystery.
The depths of their wisdom were unfathomable,
so all we have are descriptions of how they looked...

Careful, as if crossing a frozen river.
Alert, as if aware of danger.
Respectful, like a guest.
Yielding, like melting ice.
Simple, like a valley.

Trying to understand
is like straining to see through muddy water.
Be still, and allow the mud to settle.
Remain still, until it is time to act.

Those who follow Tao don't seek to arrive anywhere,
so their journey is never over.

(Lao Tzu)

Japanese eating habits

The natural, healthy diet of Okinawan Japanese people is modest and simple by Western standards:

  1. Primarily plant based diet (though not necessarily vegetarian)

  2. Eating a diverse selection of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and pulses

  3. Only eat until 80% full

  4. Eat a larger meal earlier in the day with smaller meals as the day progresses

  5. Low salt intake

  6. Low sugar intake

  7. Low dairy intake

  8. Low calorie

  9. No processed foods

  10. No additives

  11. No preservatives

  12. If you have just eaten and still feel hungry, allow time for the food to settle

  13. Organic food is preferable

  14. Raw food is preferable

  15. High water intake

  16. Only eat when hungry

  17. Take your time when eating; chew slowly and thoroughly

  18. Keep meal times regular

Daily exercise

Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day.
The three doctors who wrote The Okinawa Program maintain that tai chi - with its ancient origins and incredible health benefits - is the ideal form of exercise for modern people.

Page created 8 May 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023