Illustration by Michael Byers

How to Retire Well in Colorado

Ensure you remain healthy enough to explore all four corners of the Centennial State by following our guide to staying fit and vigorous long into the best years of your life.

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The dreaded commute. The incompetent boss. The never-ending flood of emails. They’re behind you now. Ahead: hundreds of miles of the most beautiful state in the Union, begging to be explored. Ensure you remain healthy enough to survey all four corners—and every adorable little mountain town in between—by following our guide to staying fit and vigorous long into the best years of your life.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The Land Of Golden Opportunities

Don’t let a tiny thing like aging stop you from enjoying the outdoor bounty that has helped make Colorado one of the best places in the country for retirees.

One of the (many) jokes cracked at Florida’s expense marks the Sunshine State as “God’s waiting room.” The premise plays on the millions of older residents who make the country’s southeasternmost expanse their home because—presumably—it’s the best place in the United States to spend your golden years. Like any good joke, perhaps there’s some truth to Florida being the ideal setting to sit around and await…well, whatever comes next. But that’s only because in Colorado, our eldest denizens aren’t here to pass their remaining time dotting bingo cards.

In 2019, personal finance website WalletHub named Colorado the third best state in which to retire and dubbed Denver the country’s sixth best retirement city. Both overcame high costs of living—which is fine, because your 401(k) is gangbusters, right?—by excelling in health care and quality of life. That jibes with the conclusion realtor.com recently reached when it ranked Denver the fourth most popular relocation spot for baby boomers: “The most expensive city on our list features 300 days of sunshine a year, easy access to fly-fishing spots, skiing, rock climbing, hiking trails, golf courses, and a trio of world-class pro sports franchises (go Broncs!),” the report noted. “Basically, you can do just about anything here.”

We agree, with one caveat: To spend the best years of your life enjoying the best the Centennial State has to offer, you need to stay in the best shape possible. That’s why we spoke with local experts—from retirement coaches to nutritionists to some of Colorado’s most adventurous seniors—to discover fun, engaging ways to keep your body, mind, and spirit firing during what’s going to be (we promise!) your golden age.


Money Isn’t Everything

You’re finally retired. Now what?

We’re not saying a flush retirement account isn’t the most important thing—to be clear: it is—but that isn’t the only kind of prep work you should be doing. “It’s been my observation that 60 to 70 percent of people enter retirement with no nonfinancial plan,” says Gary Allen Foster, a certified retirement coach in Highlands Ranch. His advice? Three to five years before R-Day, begin talking with your partner about what your later years will look like. (If you fantasize about daily tee times and she envisions an endless RV road trip, you’ll want to work on a compromise.) Post-retirement, it’s OK to spend a year or so reflecting, traveling, and experimenting with hobbies and volunteer opportunities. Your goal is to find pastimes that are rewarding, meaningful, and give you purpose. “You’re not being told to show up at 8 o’clock in the morning and work all day to build somebody else’s dream,” Foster says. “You can build your own dream.”


Happy Meals

Your body is changing. Again. The good news? Less acne this time around. The bad news? Your physiological power plant is slowing down, so you need to be more cognizant about how you fuel it. That’s why we asked Alexandra Georgiadis, a registered dietician at Boulder’s Essential Nutrition who specializes in seniors, to order up foods that’ll keep your body primed.

Eggs

Why: A recent study showed that 50- to 70-year-olds lose muscle mass at a much higher rate than younger people. The key to staying jacked? Protein—and there are about six grams in a single egg. But the timing of consumption is as important as the amount. “The body is good at storing extra fat and carbs,” Georgiadis says, “but not amino acids, the building blocks of protein.” That means consuming protein-rich foods at every meal, starting with the most important one of the day.
Buy local: You should have no trouble finding cartons from Denver’s NestFresh, which sources cage-free eggs from family-owned farms (many in Colorado) to sell at Whole Foods Market, King Soopers, and Costco.
Hate eggs? Any lean meat—such as a chicken breast or top sirloin—will do. Plus, Georgiadis recommends having nuts on hand to ensure your guns never go too long without ammo.

Water

Why: Your retirement fantasies probably revolve around a steady rotation of margaritas and mai tais, but don’t forget to chase them with eight to 10 glasses (for women) of H20 per day; men need nine to 12. Chances are, you’re taking more medications, which tend to dry people out, and your kidneys don’t process water as efficiently as they once did, leading to higher rates of dehydration.
Buy local: Drain EcoVessel’s new stainless steel, 32-ounce Boulder water bottle ($35, named after the company’s hometown) three times a day and you’ll always stay properly hydrated.
Hate water? Dissolve a Nuun Vitamins tablet (12 for $7) in 16 ounces of water and you’ll get 10 milligrams of vitamin C, 10 micrograms of vitamin D, and a 100 percent better taste (flavors include blackberry citrus and tangerine lime).

Spinach

Why: Many seniors don’t get enough iron in their diets, so they suffer from the energy-sucking condition called anemia. A half cup of this cooked veg stocks nearly 20 percent of a person’s daily recommended intake of iron, an integral part of the hemoglobin that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
Buy local: Wheat Ridge’s Four Seasons Farmers & Artisans Market (Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) promises to carry fresh greens during its winter session.
Hate spinach? To keep your blood pumping and your spirit surging, turn to Thanksgiving standards: turkey and pumpkin seeds.

Kale

Why: Skeletal growth is the result of interplay between bone expansion and reabsorption; as you get older, you experience more of the latter than the former. Calcium—a gaudy 90 milligrams of which is found in a cup of raw kale—preserves bones and encourages their development.
Buy local: You can’t get more local than your own garden. Sow kale during the cooler months to reap the benefits of a calcium patch right outside your back door.
Hate kale? A 4.5-ounce serving of plain yogurt from Boulder’s Noosa delivers almost 20 percent of the average daily recommended amount of calcium.


Illustration by Michael Byers

Last Horizon

A suddenly rootless senior finds his Rocky Mountain Shangri-La. —Peter Moore

My wife and I were free at last. Our sons had grown and gone, and unlike many of their peers, they wouldn’t be returning home. Before we could revel too much in our empty nest, however, my employer of 20 years announced it was granting me a different, far less exciting sort of emancipation: unemployment. I was suddenly left with no kids, no job, and—I gleefully realized once the initial shock wore off—no ties to the Pennsylvania town where we’d spent our decades of parental servitude.

Although the circumstances weren’t what we had predicted, my wife and I had actually planned for this scenario. Before I was laid off, we had visited a number of possible golden-age destinations, hoping to find a place we could spend our later years enjoying rich, active, fulfilled lives. Sadly, exploratory missions to Nice, France (deal breaker: French waiters); Key West, Florida (hurricane season); and Sedona, Arizona (too many crystal shops) had left us directionless. Then, six months before the axe fell at work, we visited Boulder.

The Aha! moment came as we were walking down the Pearl Street Mall, where we kept noticing people who looked to be about a decade past my 60 years. Yes, they were geezers—but great geezers. The men were lean with ropy forearms and cool shirts; the bright-eyed women shook out their gray tresses with pride. These were people my wife and I could aspire to be 10 years hence. Sadly, I’m not a tech gazillionaire, so we couldn’t afford Boulder. Rather, we settled in Fort Collins—and what a bargain we’ve made.

One reason Colorado ranks so highly on retirement lists is because it scores well on “physical activity,” a fact borne out by my lifestyle here. I’m enrolled in a cross-training class at FoCo’s Northside Aztlan Community Center on Mondays and Wednesdays; I recover at the same joint during Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday yoga classes; and I play hoops with a bunch of 50-, 60-, 70-, and 80-plus athletic anomalies on Friday mornings.

Sure, I could probably find gyms and pick-up games in any state. But in Colorado, I get to invigorate that regimen with a steady supplement of fourteener climbs, overnights at 10th Mountain Division huts near Vail, and bike rides on Fort Collins’ 285-plus miles of dedicated lanes and trails. Best of all, I discovered that my neighbor—a 36-year-old engineer who makes his own work hours—is my downhill doppelganger. Together, we blitzkrieg Winter Park’s and Eldora’s blue-blacks during the week, when they’re delightfully deserted.

Now, a morbid new worry occasionally infects my consciousness: Will I live long enough to enjoy everything this great state offers? But then I remember that Colorado ranks eighth among U.S. states in life expectancy, at 80.2 years (thank you, low rates of obesity and cancer)—meaning I have at least an outside shot at becoming a Centennial State centenarian.


Downtown Salida. Photo by Michael Brands.

Over The Hills

Forget early bird specials: The best parts of retirement are empty slopes during the week and the steep discounts resorts offer senior skiers. Here, a few of the best bargains.

Loveland Ski Area: Schussers ages 70 and older ski all season long for only $99; their fresher-faced friends can check skiloveland.com for sexagenarian-specific daily lift-ticket discounts.

Arapahoe Basin Ski and Snowboard Area: If you grow weary of A-Basin’s 1,400-plus acres, take advantage of your unlimited vacation days by heading to Taos Ski Valley. Skiers 70-plus get three free days at the New Mexico resort included with their $249 season pass.

Monarch Mountain: Monarch’s $359 pass for ages62 to 68 (it drops to $20 after that)is almost as gratifying as the fact that you get to avoid rage-inducing traffic by traveling south—to Salida via U.S. 285—instead of navigating I-70’s perpetual pileups.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Gray Anatomy

A guide to keeping your head, shoulders, knees, and toes—and everything in between—prepped and ready for the adventures ahead.

Joints
Anyone who’s ever swung open an old fence door understands that as things age, they start to squeak. In fact, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Aging Research showed that flexibility in the shoulders and hips decreased by about six degrees on average per decade between the ages of 55 and 86. From mobility to positivity (as in, recharging your chakras), yoga does wonders for seniors. If you want more focused attention, however, look into assisted stretching. At StretchLab, a national franchise that opened outposts in Cherry Creek, Cherry Hills, LoHi, and Parker this past year, flexologists lead clients through 25- or 50-minute one-on-one sessions of PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). According to local owner Dina Silverman, PNF’s combination of stretching and contracting muscles “helps increase mobility in seniors, enabling them to move better, easing everyday life tasks.”

Muscles
It’s not our place to tell you how swole—or svelte—to get. But we did ask Robyn Phelps, a personal trainer and owner of Denver’s Senior Functional Fitness, to help us put together a baseline for where seniors need to be, strength-wise, to ensure they’re in good muscular health. She advised a daily regimen of body-weight squats (which work your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves), pushups (triceps, pecs, and shoulders), and rows with cables or dumbbells (upper and lower back). “My recommendation would be to start out doing 10 repetitions and gauge oneself based off the 10 reps,” Phelps says. “Ideally, you should be able to do at least 20 repetitions of each.”

Skin
Calcium can’t perform much bone-building (see “Happy Meals,” page 41) without vitamin D, which helps the kidneys process the mineral. But as skin grows older, it turns thinner, making it more difficult for your epidermis to absorb the sun’s ultraviolet B rays and transform them into vitamin D. Long story short: You need to load up on vitamin D supplements. Dietician Alexandra Georgiadis of Boulder’s Essential Nutrition advises her older clients to find out how much they need by getting vitamin work-ups, which are often included in routine blood tests.

Lungs
In 2018, Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) introduced My Denver Prime, a program that grants Mile High City residents 60 and older free memberships to every city-run recreation center and pool. That means unfettered access to treadmills, bikes, and fitness classes. If you’re looking to get in on the latest cardio trend, however, you’re in for a pretty sweet dill—er, deal: Over the past few years, DPR has embraced pickleball, a tennis offshoot in which players use wooden paddles to smack around a Wiffle ball–like orb. “It’s the new craze for older adults,” says Laura Conway, senior recreation supervisor for DPR. There are designated drop-in times at 18 city rec centers as well as tournaments, which DPR fittingly dubs “blasts.”


Friends With Benefits

New Colorado State University–led research suggests socializing is the key to keeping your maturing brain nimble.

After 40-some years of work (and making small talk with co-workers), you could be excused for wanting to retreat from civilization and spend the rest of your days in a Howard Hughes–ian cocoon of seclusion. But social isolation doesn’t just lead to depression and poor health, says Deana Davalos, a cognitive neuroscience professor in the psychology department at Colorado State University; it also impairs brain function. That’s why, in 2015, Davalos and her colleagues at CSU started their own adaptation of the B Sharp Program, which gifts patients with dementia-related disorders and their primary caregivers tickets to a season of the Fort Collins Symphony’s Masterworks concerts. Yes, the researchers hoped the patients would enjoy the music, but they really wanted to understand how interacting with larger groups affected people. “With dementia, we expect it to get worse,” Davalos says. “Stabilization is what we were really hoping for. We got changes in most patients—they not only stabilized, but they improved.” Hopefully, memory loss, increased confusion, and faltering concentration aren’t problems you’re dealing with at the moment. Nevertheless, Davalos says social interaction stimulates anyone’s mind and is integral to maintaining brain health as we age. At the same time, you don’t want to spend your days hanging out with folks you don’t like, so we put together this guide to finding your new BFFs.

If you prefer the Star Trek set, try the Senior Planet Center, which is a Lowry-based facility—launched this past October by the national nonprofit Older Adults Technology Services—that teaches free tech classes to anyone who’s 60 or older. Start here: New courses begin every quarter; past selections have included everything from a 10-week introduction to computer basics to a five-week study of digital culture.

If you prefer people who enjoy the finer things, try the Lone Tree Arts Center, which is a Douglas County venue that offers cultural fare targeted at those who don’t have to play hooky to catch a matinee. The facility, for example, stages full productions of its theatrical performances on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. Start here: On February 12, the center is hosting the Denver Dolls as part of its monthly Arts in the Afternoon series ($19 per ticket). The World War II–inspired vocal trio will perform songs from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

If you prefer walking and talking outside of malls, try the Happy Hikers Club, which is a collection (started in 1988) of mostly 45-and-older trekkers who organize group hikes—as well as snowshoe, canoe, and cross-country ski outings—of typically moderate difficulty around the metro area. Start here: The club’s leadership meets every three months to plan hikes for the following quarter; check out the group’s excursions by visiting its website (prospective members should apply though membership@happyhikersclub.org).

If you prefer furry friends, try the Black Canyon Animal Sanctuary, which is a ranch in Crawford that’s been turned into a 40-acre refuge for abandoned animals. Its Silver Whiskers Program matches elder cats and dogs with seniors and will even waive adoption fees and pay for pet food and vet bills if necessary. Start here: Any Fido, Spike, or Lassie will do: A recent study found that regularly interacting with animals lowered seniors’ feelings of isolation and loneliness. Black Canyon designates a volunteer to check in with each pet parent regularly; if it doesn’t work out for any reason, that volunteer will foster the animal or Black Canyon will take it back.


Coloradan Idols

Hero worship might seem like a childhood affectation—one you discarded along with your Barbies and Beatles posters. But no matter your age, it’s always helpful to have role models who inspire you, which is where these three adventurous Centennial State seniors come in.

Photo by Dave Albo: Lane 1 Photos and courtesy of Roger Sayre

Roger Sayre: 61, runner

Why He’s Idol-Worthy: Not only is the Golden resident America’s fastest 60- to 64-year-old road runner, but he also won gold in the half marathon (and two other medals) at the 2019 World Masters Athletics Championships in Poland.
On Staying Fit As He Ages: “I focus on the aerobic part of it. The main theory right now is you have to do a lot of high-intensity intervals. I don’t. I just do an hour-plus of aerobic training—running easy for an hour—and mix in faster days occasionally.”
On Recovery: “New runners want to plan things out. But don’t be too rigid in your schedule. You’ve got to listen to your body. When you’re younger, you can just go 10, 12 miles a day and keep going. As I get older, I have to take a couple of recovery days each week.”
Words Of Wisdom: “It’s always good to have a goal. So think three months, six months, or even a year-plus in advance. What do you want to be doing? I’m one who likes to race, but it doesn’t have to be a race if you’re not competitive. It could just be a fitness goal.”

Photo by Jeff Wolfe, courtesy of Wendy Skean

Wendy Skean: 75, mountain biker

Why She’s Idol-Worthy: In 2016, Skean became the oldest woman ever to finish the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.
On Why She Retired in Nathrop: “Moving to Colorado was a huge benefit. I did live in California at 4,000 feet of elevation, where I had some mountain roads to train on, but they were nothing like here. Colorado has just been a godsend for getting better. There’s lots of variety of trails, lots of steep climbing—and I really like to climb.”
On Ageism In The Outdoors: “I don’t really see it. But sometimes when I ride by people, I get this look like, Oh, that’s an older person.
Words Of Wisdom: “I was just at a restaurant and someone was saying, ‘I’m 50-something years old. It’s too late for me to start mountain biking.’ And I said, ‘No!’ I didn’t really get on a bike and begin riding until I was 45. It’s just getting out there and doing it as often as you can and going a little bit farther. Push yourself. Believe in it and you can do it.”

Lee Sheftel. Photo by Elizabeth Flournoy.

Lee Sheftel: 73, rock climber

Why He’s Idol-Worthy: The Carbondale accountant still regularly sends 5.12 routes, a very challenging sport climbing grade.
On Managing Expectations: “I have to lower my sights in terms of what I climb and what I expect from myself, which is hard. I’m used to climbing a certain level, and I see people come out and climb those routes and I realize I can’t do that anymore. So, to stay motivated, I have to readjust my brain and my emotions. But I still love climbing—I love the movement, getting out, and it’s a big part of who I am.”
Words Of Wisdom: “What I say to older athletes is don’t limit yourself because of age. Just remember that you need to take care of your body—you have to stretch and warm up, and your technique will probably change—but that doesn’t mean you can’t get stronger and you can’t do certain things. Never let age stop you. Just let age be a guide to how you approach something.”

Correction: 1/8/20: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported how the Happy Hikers Club selects its excursions.

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