THE BLOG

Exploring Retirement - The Gap Between Dreams and Reality

31/07/2014 14:54 BST | Updated 29/09/2014 10:59 BST

In the working population, the word retirement generally conjures up wistful thoughts of long lie-ins, lazy days, unlimited opportunities to pursue hobbies and the chance to finally get around to doing all of the things that you've never quite had time for. Is that really the reality of retirement though, and what can my 30-something generation expect in later life?

My mum, who retired at 70 and is now 74, constantly tells me that she is busier now than when she was working full-time. I'd say that although she has slowed down from the pace of life as it was, I know she will never be a person for lie-ins and likes to keep busy which is undoubtedly helping her maintain fitness and feel fulfilled.

Going from being a working adult to retirement is a tricky transition, and one that we are all told we should prepare for from the earliest point in our working lives. I personally have very mixed feelings about retirement. On the one hand, having free time to enjoy the pleasures in life does sound very appealing. On the flip side, retirement was the precursor to my father developing vascular dementia.

Unlike my mum, my dad never really adapted to losing his demanding daily work routine and couldn't find the motivation or interest in other pursuits to fill his time and keep him fit and healthy. Sadly I have heard of many other people, including those who have taken early retirement, who have gone on to develop a form of dementia or other long-term health problems so in my mind the risks are real enough to be taken seriously.

In my working life I undertake four different roles - Campaigner, Consultant, Writer and Blogger. I would certainly hope, health permitting, that my 'retirement' will be filled with the writing and blogging elements. I dream of having the time to write books, possibly penning fiction, something that my current schedule simply doesn't allow for.

Keeping the mind active, however, is only one part of the jigsaw of a healthy later life. Eminent medical and scientific experts have told me that physical exercise is the singularly most important thing that you can do if you want a physically and mentally healthy retirement. Since to date every exercise regime I've ever started hasn't lasted, this is something I really need to give some serious attention to. Oh, and if you are my age and think you have all the time in the world to do this, think again. A bit like the financial planning part of later life, it's vital to start the healthy habits of diet and exercise when you are young to get maximum benefit in the years ahead.

With our younger generations in mind, the increasing role retired family members - usually grandparents - are taking in providing childcare for their stressed-out adult children who are trying to juggle the demands of work and parenting shouldn't be ignored. With housing costs spiraling in London and the South-East of England, there will also be more multi-generational households in the future as different generations find it financially unworkable to live apart.

What of people who are ageing without children though? A report by the IPPR earlier this year suggested that more people will age without children in the future, tipping the balance of responsibility for care away from younger family members and towards the state. There are also the associated effects of isolation and loneliness amongst older people, which are considered to be two of the biggest risk factors for poor outcomes in later life.

Perhaps the greatest issue that worries people about retirement, though, is having enough money to survive, particularly if you are likely to be on a fixed low income. Pensions have been hit by damaging scandals leaving many people needing to downsize and possibly move to cheaper areas so that they can free up some capital in later life. If those options aren't possible, turning to part-time working or starting a business is becoming increasingly necessary for many older people.

All of which is leading to the gradual reframing of the concept of retirement. As someone who never really plans on completely retiring, I wonder if in years to come retirement - in its current format - will be seen as a rather outdated concept, with the emphasis being firmly on remaining physically and mentally active, boosting income to enable the maintenance of a familiar lifestyle and stronger intergenerational links. Dreams of those long lie-ins and lazy days may be something that will only ever be wishful thinking for my generation.