How long do you expect to work? Your brain, your performance and the future of business leadership

A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools. Spanish proverb

How long do you expect to work? Or, better yet, how long do you want to be a quick thinker, able to understand complex situations, efficiently find effective solutions to problems, and retrieve important memories related to current situations? If you’re a baby boomer (born between 1946 and 1964), chances are your answer to both questions is, “A long time.”

Unlike the previous generation, most baby boomers expect to work longer and later than their parents. Given the projections for Social Security in the coming years, the demise of employer-paid defined-benefit pension plans, and the promise of great life health insurance becoming a thing of the past, this generation knows they are working longer to reach retirement age. can afford.

If you’re an employer, you’re probably well aware that one of the biggest leadership challenges for companies and organizations is preparing for the so-called “brain drain,” when highly skilled baby boomers begin to leave the workforce in droves and there are no sufficient number of Gen-xers with the skills and knowledge to join. Especially critical is the related need for “succession planning” at senior levels and key roles, and most people in these roles are in the age range where they will reach retirement age in five to ten years.

Many employers estimate that 78% to 85% of key professional and managerial personnel are in this age group. It is not uncommon for 100% of executive level management to fall into this group. Not only will employers have to work hard to prepare younger staff to effectively replace these individuals, they will also have to entice selected employees to stay longer to ensure continuity and maintain a shared organizational memory. Hopefully, with some creativity of options, this will also coincide with the workers’ need for higher income and health insurance to match their longer lifespan.

Apparently, this age group expects just that. In a recent survey conducted by the MetLife Foundation, 79% of baby boomers ages 50 to 59 plan to continue working past the traditional retirement age for both pay and benefits. Think about it, that’s almost 4 out of 5 people in this age group. The question is, how fit will they be to continue to perform at their peak beyond the age of 60, or 62, or 65? Concerns about fitness, vitality and mental acuity and the maintenance of all of these functional areas may begin to emerge in many as early as the mid-1940s, or certainly by the 1950s.

According to J. Walker Smith and Ann Clurman in their 2007 book “Generation Ageless” about the Yankelovich firm’s research, “Energy and vitality are the hallmarks of youthfulness and reassuring characteristics for Boomers that they are not getting old.” Also in the Yankelovich survey, 62.8% of those in the baby boom generation worried about “not being mentally sharp” as they got older, and 84% strongly agreed with the statement, “I define myself by my ability to actively to stay and the things I enjoy.” There’s a lot at stake to stay fit and mentally sharp, don’t you think?

What if I told you there was one simple, cost-effective action step you could take that would significantly reduce both your risk, and that of those you lead, of cognitive decline as you age? What if it also reduced your risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease? What if I told you that implementing this strategy is so cheap that even the company with the smallest budget could do it and find the ROI (return on investment) overwhelmingly worth the cost?

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In fact, there is such a strategy and it is supported by numerous studies. A review of the literature presented at the 114th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in August 2006 concluded, “Exercise helps sustain mental activity as we age.” A study presented at the December 2005 annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychology found that lifestyle changes, most notably exercise, can improve memory in seniors surprisingly quickly. In this case, improvement was measurable in just 14 days. And, more recently, the August 2007 annual meeting of the Society for Neurosciences in Washington, D.C., featured a presentation concluding that “Lifelong Mild Exercise Reduces Brain Cellular Aging.” Finally, in August of the same year, an article in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience reported on a study that found, “As we age and may become less able to exercise, cognitive stimulation may help offset this, but exercise is central to memory enhancement. at all ages.”

What are you waiting for? If you aren’t already, get moving! Thirty minutes or more a day is usually recommended. Any exercise will help, but walking is often the easiest to start and stick with since it requires little equipment and can be done almost anywhere.

If your staff could use a little brainwashing, make sure they can get started too. Offer incentives, encouragement, and a community of support and camaraderie to keep them going. There’s also nothing like a little “walk with the boss” to break down barriers and help others see business leaders for the people they are.

Do you know you need to do this, but are struggling to get going? Use the coaching tips below to help:

COACHING TIPS:

1. Start todayeven if it’s just for 10 minutes, to get started.

2. Track your progress on a chart or calendar and try to do something every day. (Better to do something every day than to do a lot for one or two days.)

3. If you have a leadership role, be a leader! Model what you want others to do, “Go public” and let others know and see you “do the talking”.

4. Set a “big bold goal” and plan and announce the celebration that will happen once the goal is reached. For example, depending on the size of your company or group, you may decide to set a goal of “walking to Chicago”, or across the country, or even (for a very large group) around the world! Determine the actual distance in miles to your destination and let everyone track their mileage with a pedometer or certain distance routes. Hang up a large map (or post it online) and use real or electronic pins to track your progress on your route. And when you’ve reached your goal and intermediate goals, celebrate! Throw a big party (I know a group that walked to Dallas and had a big Texas style barbecue.) Involve everyone who participated and ask some volunteers to share their “story” of their experience with others. Make it fun!

5. Use the “My Start tool” provided by the American Heart Association to track your progress and get you moving. Go to http://www.mystartonline.org/ for details.

6. If all this sounds good, but you still feel like you’re “stuck”. or get bogged down by inertia, consider teaming up with a friend or family member for mutual support and encouragement or hiring a coach to help you move forward and keep moving forward.

This process of getting and staying fit is critical for you to master if you want to stay at your best cognitively both now and in the long run. And if you can instill this practice in your organization’s work culture, you will clearly have a financial and competitive advantage for years to come.