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Dr. Adrienne Herrenbruck: “Start with healthy habits before retirement”

Start with healthy habits before retirement. This is my number one suggestion for any transitioning into a new season. Having extra time on our hands is great, if we’re using that time to align with our values instead of watching season 7 of that show on netflix. To make sure and address this, consider trying […]

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Start with healthy habits before retirement. This is my number one suggestion for any transitioning into a new season. Having extra time on our hands is great, if we’re using that time to align with our values instead of watching season 7 of that show on netflix. To make sure and address this, consider trying out a few new habit before retiring. Find a friend that wants to go on weekly walks. Buy that old car to fix up. Whatever an interest is that lines up with your values (you need to figure these out first), pick a few and try them on for size so you’re not faced with a completely empty schedule on day 1 of retirement.


As a part of my series about the “5 Things You Should Do to Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrienne Herrenbruck, PhD ACSM EP-C.

Adrienne Herrenbruck, PhD serves as Associate Professor of Sports and Health Sciences at American Public University System. As a Certified Exercise Physiologist, Dr. Herrenbruck enjoys discussing the convergence of science and real-world wellness application. Through her role as both an undergraduate and graduate faculty member, Dr. Herrenbruck strives to equip the next generation of wellness practitioners to best serve their communities through evidence-based practice.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Absolutely, and thanks for having me! My career focus seems to stem from a natural progression following an active childhood and adolescence. I was consistently involved in sports as well as other lifestyle activities such as camping. When entering college, I knew I wanted to work with others to help them be healthy, and it was upon realizing that I could focus on the preventative side instead of treatment, that I really found my niche. Since then, my interests have spanned various topics in the exercise science field, but they always come back to helping people develop life-long habits for optimal wellness.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

This isn’t something that can be pinpointed to one experience, but the thing that keeps surprising me in my career is how much I learn from my clients and students. Although I’m the professional, it’s amazing how much can be observed when you really try to pay attention to behavioral patterns and thought processes. Consistently talking with clients and students keeps my mind sharp and has me searching the literature for evidence-based ways to address real-world issues.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Mistakes as a professor don’t seem super funny because they’re in front of about 30 students. But I do remember a specific time I was not prepared for one of the labs I was instructing. I knew what the plan was but hadn’t been in the lab to double check that everything was available and ready to go. It was a disaster. Since then, I’ve never entered a class unprepared. At least not that unprepared, ha!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had many great mentors along the way, but for my academic career I had a former professor really help me out. When I got my first faculty position, I remember emailing her and telling her I was overwhelmed. She invited me to her office (it was a bit of a dive, but completely worth it!) to discuss the ins and outs of setting up a class. She also gave me some great resources. No one teaches you how to be a professor, and her help, that one specific time, plus many other conversations, helped me to know where to focus my energy and how to best share my knowledge in the classroom setting.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

For Exercise Physiologists and other Wellness Practitioners I find it’s very important to focus on our own physical health. It’s very easy to work with clients all day, but struggle to find time to work towards our own goals. I also think it’s important to really develop personal connections with clients. When we know our clients well, and understand them as a person, we are better equipped to serve them and have a lower chance of burn out because our level of care is high.

In academia, I urge faculty to try and keep extra service to a minimum. Thankfully my department and university is reasonable and understanding about the role of a faculty member. However, I do know that other institutions push for almost unending service hours, which is just near impossible to follow. Instead, focus on the things that move the needle. I try to only have one-two projects going on outside of my courses. Usually, one research and one service-oriented project. Until I have a great handle on those, I try to say no to other outside opportunities.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

I personally think (and evidence from others have shown) that some of the biggest determining factors for work satisfaction are autonomy and using high level of skill. Therefore, if more leaders can provide ways to improve their employee’s skills as well as create an autonomous environment, I believe the work culture would excel.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?

There are some scary stats regarding the workplace and the life-expectancy after retirement. I know specifically, for my dad, his job had a three-year average life-expectancy. Yikes! He’s already well past this and is definitely in the category of becoming healthier after retirement.

For most though, if there are not habits and hobbies in place to keep moving once retired, there will be little reason to get off the couch. Sedentary lifestyles can set in very fast. Add that to ever-available food from the kitchen, and there are suddenly different challenges to moving regularly and eating nutritiously throughout the day.

Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize their wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Start with healthy habits before retirement. This is my number one suggestion for any transitioning into a new season. Having extra time on our hands is great, if we’re using that time to align with our values instead of watching season 7 of that show on netflix. To make sure and address this, consider trying out a few new habit before retiring. Find a friend that wants to go on weekly walks. Buy that old car to fix up. Whatever an interest is that lines up with your values (you need to figure these out first), pick a few and try them on for size so you’re not faced with a completely empty schedule on day 1 of retirement.
  2. Include mobility exercises. Exercise and movement is so important for our health at any age. However, one area that is often overlooked is our mobility. It doesn’t matter how strong someone is, if they can’t actually move well as they lift something heavy. Try doing some simple hip opener and shoulder mobility exercises before bed. This honestly goes for anyone at any age, but as we age and move into retirement, it’s especially important to stay fit in a very functional manner.
  3. Include lifestyle activity. This is what I’m personally looking most forward to when I retire. Currently, my husband and I try to add in a nice long walk to a local coffee shop on Saturday mornings. It’s about 2.5 miles to the coffee shop. We take our dog, have a nice morning at the coffee shop, and then walk back. Building movement into our lives instead of feeling like it needs to be tacked on as something “extra” can really help us enjoy an active lifestyle. Try thinking of something you already really enjoy doing and see if there’s any way to increase the activity around that fun habit. This is also powerful because you’re “habit stacking”. We already love grabbing coffee together and it’s a set in stone habit, so adding in the activity is super simple.
  4. Consider social engagement. When you read about the Blue Zones in the world (the areas where people live the longest) one of the biggest lifestyle factors that determines length and quality of life is community and social engagement. To help with this post retirement, consider finding a small group or set up weekly coffee dates with close friends. This can be anything from a study at your local church, or a fitness class at the community center. You could also find a non-profit you care deeply about and begin volunteering here and there. Having quality social engagement (whatever that looks like to you), is well worth the effort. Personally, I have a few weekly standing “dates” with friends. One is a walk with another friend who has a dog, and another is a simple phone call (that inevitably lasts 2 hours every week even though we have nothing to talk about, ha!). Make an effort to connect and you’ll be well rewarded for your time.
  5. Determine goals and outcomes to pursue during retirement. This is similar to point number one, but instead of just finding new hobbies, consider some goals you’d like to achieve. You’ll have more time on your hands than ever when you retire! Imagine what you can accomplish! This could be anything from learning a new skill (surfing is still on my list), or consistently cooking healthy meals for dinner. Remember to align these goals with your values and you’ll be amazed at how fun it is to work towards something.

As a bonus, something that ties all of these together is to remember what is important to you as a person. Identifying your core values will help you pursue a lifestyle that is in line with who you ultimately want to be.

In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

From the perspective of an Exercise Physiologist, I see several big common issues. First, many don’t realize how detrimental having uncontrolled blood sugar truly is. The rate of diagnoses for Type 2 Diabetes has significantly increased over the last several decades. Not only that, but many without a diagnosis still have less than stellar metabolic health. Even if you’re a healthy weight you can have issues with your insulin sensitivity, which creates a cascade of other negative effects in the body. While this is important at any age, it becomes more prevalent as we get older, so, going into retirement, it’s important that weight is not the only thing to watch, but that the quality of food eaten and the consistency of activity are also top of mind.

Another thing I see with clients is that they seem to downplay certain habits as “not good enough”. I think many could benefit from realizing that any action towards healthy habits is valuable. That 10-minute walk, the two stretches before bed, the getting enough sleep. All of these things add up and are good enough to make an impact on both our physical and mental health.

Lastly, I’d say it’s common that they are not prepared to fill the extra time. As mentioned in the points above, before retiring it would be helpful to create lifestyle habits and hobbies that can be pursued more fully once someone has more time. Having more time is great but understanding one’s values and what they want to fill the time with is also critical.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

An oldie, but a goodie, the four-hour work week was a great book to change my perspective on how to be more productive with my time. I read it while I was completing my PhD and several of the strategies shared helped me to draw a line between work and my personal life. And, although I’ve read many books with similar philosophies sense, and have created my own set of strategies, this book was one that spurred a new train of thought and a personal philosophy I’ve been able to hone over time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Although I could brainstorm on this for a while, the movement would definitely be focused on small steps to creating a healthy lifestyle. Far too often a prescription for a “healthy lifestyle” is given and others are expected to just follow as if it will work for them. I have found very little success with this type of approach both personally and with clients. If someone truly wants to create an automated healthy lifestyle, it needs to be one they enjoy and build themselves. A question I like to use with clients is “what’s something you could begin today that you wouldn’t mind doing forever?” Far too often I see people making huge, unsustainable changes. While these may get you results, it’s important to not forget that how you reach a goal is also how you’ll have to maintain the outcomes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I’m honestly a quote junkie, if that’s a thing, but one I really like to remember when I’m feeling sorry for myself or need a boost of motivation is from Thomas Jefferson. He said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” This completely kicks me in gear and reminds me I can make my own luck! My least favorite saying is “must be nice” when others are talking about someone’s achievements. You know what? It is nice to get awesome outcomes, and I’m proud of myself for creating my own luck.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

This may seem odd and out of the blue, but I’d love to meet Martha Stewart! I grew up watching her show and have such an appreciation for her homemaking and amazing entrepreneur skills! She clearly works hard and has built such an amazing brand, however, she still seems to care about the small “good things” in life as she would say.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Although I’m not active on social media, I do have a LinkedIn account where I’d love to connect. Just search my name and reach out!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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