Fine tuning a soundtrack for retirement

Maria stretching at the end of a run.

Maria Baade was nervous about retiring. That’s why a whisker before her 70th birthday she went out and bought a baby grand piano in preparing for her new life away from paid work.

Now 71, Maria says the baby grand was part of her grand retirement planning – a plan that ensured she would be ready mentally, physically, socially and emotionally. Having never played a note in her life, she decided she would engage her brain in learning a new skill and enrol in a piano group to meet new people, and build new social connections.

Working full time as workplace safety manager for a manufacturing company was a job she “loved”, yet Maria realised on approaching retirement that the majority of her social connections were with work colleagues.

At first I hated the idea of retiring, she recalls. It took me ages to make the decision because I loved my job, and I loved being part of the company, and being part of their ideas for improvement, and I was worried that things would go on without me – as they should – but I wouldn’t be a part of anything anymore.

Maria, who is living a rich and active life in Geelong, says retirement isn’t a check-out ticket and she strongly advises having a strategy or plan in place before retirement.

You need to take up a new interest, she says. You can’t just retire from something you have loved, and enjoyed and worked hard in and then all of a sudden stop, and have nothing. Some people do that and they fall apart. Well that wasn’t going to be me – so I thought I’ll take up music – because I love music – and then I found new friends and that led to running.

Running? Yes, Maria now runs marathons after a few 60-year-olds in her piano group asked her to join their social running group. Eighteen months after starting gradually she now runs three times a week, and made third place in the 70-years-and-above category of the Lara Fun Run last November.

If you had told me 10 years ago I’d be running in marathons in my 70s I’d have laughed you out of the room, because I never really liked running, she says. But it doesn’t have to be running, it can be a walking group, a riding group, something active that suits you.

I think some older people don’t join active groups because they feel self-conscious and have a fear of getting out there in front of people because they think they are too old, or that other people might think they are. They look at people walking or running and think I couldn’t do that – and they are not willing to try. But I have found that no one judges you. Regardless of age, limitations or appearance, I have found people encourage you all the way, she says.

And being active is so good for your health – it’s good for your blood pressure, for your heart, it’s good for everything. And it’s good mentally – you come back from a run and you think I’ve been out in the world, I’ve seen people, I’ve achieved something – and you feel great.

Between spending time with her three grandchildren, piano groups, running and the many social spin-offs from those activities, Maria has shifted her gears into another level of life.

Some people think they are old. Rather than looking at your age as a reason to hold you back, you should be asking: ‘what can I do that’s going to keep me going for the next 10 years better than if I did nothing’. You need to ask: ‘what’s good for my mind? What’s good for my body?’.

I’m going to keep what I’m doing until I can’t do it anymore – and then I’ll walk.