A Vision — create a Vision for what you want your post retirement health to look and feel like. This includes thinking about your motivations, who you are, what you want to become and writing it down.
Dr. Wright is a double boarded orthopedic sports surgeon, internationally recognized authority on active aging and mobility, and an innovator focused on optimizing personal and professional performance at every age from the backyard to the ball field to the boardroom via building physical and mental hardiness and resilience across the lifespan. An intrapreneur, building businesses inside of health corporations, she serves as the inaugural Chief of Sports Medicine at the Northside Health System in Atlanta and previously served as the inaugural Medical Director building the 185,000 sq ft UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh PA, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In addition to her surgical practice, Dr. Wright is a media content expert and regularly contributes to national TV shows including “Dr. Oz,” “The Doctors” and the “Today” show. She is frequently quoted in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today and U.S. News & World Report, as well as in magazines such as Maxim, Prevention, Fitness, Runner’s World, Best Life, and Arthritis Today and numerous online publications. She proudly serves on the Sharecare Medical Advisory Board, the Atlanta and Pittsburgh Ballet boards and is President-elect of the American Heart Association Atlanta.
Dr. Wright has written 4 books on topics surrounding active aging and precision longevity which spurred a 20 sku fitness equipment line in 500 Dick’s Sporting Goods Stores, created the non-profit, “Women’s Health Conversations” which ignited a national conversation on women’s health, is the host of the HOT for your Health Podcast and performed award winning research that is reshaping the way we think of aging in this country.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As an Orthopaedic Sports Surgeon every day is filled with stories of interesting people of all ages and skill levels working hard to harness the power of mobility to build their body, brains and bliss.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
While I see society examining how to set boundaries and re-creating the future of “work,” in my experience many people, including myself, were raised in an environment where self-sacrifice, being a martyr to work and giving all at the expense of personal well-being is worn as a badge of honor. I take great pride in my capacity to function at a very high level all the time that generates the frequent question, “how do you get it all done” often. YET I have found that in order to truly be healthy, work at my best performance and build a nourishing family and social life several things are critical:
- Say NO- the word NO is not a swear word and usually no one dies (as a surgeon that is my measure of true badness) when you do. Learning to set boundaries and say no graciously enables us to manage our time, devote energy to things that are truly important and be authentic. Saying yes when you really mean no is lying. Check out my video on IG on great ways to say no without burning any bridges.
- Save up “run away money”- some of the best advice I received in my early career was (after pay off school debt) to save up 6–12 months of living expenses so that if things ever get really bad as work and you are burning out….you have choices. Many people feel trapped in bad situations because of financial constraints and continue to live in the stress and dysfunction of poor work environments because they don’t have the financial ability to look for better opportunities. No matter what your occupation, a “run away” fund is critical.
- Plan sabbaticals- in academic university settings and many forward thinking companies, short sabbaticals are part of the career pathway. This means anything from 4–6weeks to 3–6months away from normal career responsibilities to rejuvenate, rest, envision or complete life projects or really anything you want. In most industires, however, and certaining in medicine or Orthopedic Surgery sabbaticals are nearly unheard of and yet some estimate >35% of doctors are leaving medicine after 6 years. This is not optimal for the health of the country. Sabbaticals take planning, often years in advance, but are worth it. In my experience having just finished a sabbatical, I no longer feel on the edge of burnout and while I once thought I could easily “retire” from surgery at 55yo I now am rejuvenated and my creative capacity recharged and I may never retire.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
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?
Retirement. We are taught to plan for it our entire careers from the financial planning, the career progression towards retirement of even the social planning of what to do and where to go when the big day finally comes. We plan everything in our lives and yet few people plan their health. We simply leave our health, especially after retirement when it is even more important to chance and that can lead to both a decline in both mental and physical health as we have to re-evaluate our purpose and focus. Often, after we blow through our list of retirement “todo’s” high capacity people find themselves bored and looking for the next project to accomplish. Sometimes our physical health is also impacted as the time we spend in sedentary living increases without the rush of a daily work routine. Researchers have coined the term “sedentary death syndrome” to describe the detrimental effect of sedentary living on the 33 common diseases that impact our health and lifespan.
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.
As I said, people plan everything about their retirement, but few plan their health and wellness. In my book, Guide to Thrive: 4 steps to Body, Brains and Bliss I outline how you can build a strategic plan for your health starting with-
- A Vision — create a Vision for what you want your post retirement health to look and feel like. This includes thinking about your motivations, who you are, what you want to become and writing it down.
- Action- Take Action on your vision. If you are used to having a packed schedule at work and are good at keeping appointments you can use this strategy to put your Vision in to action by making “health appointments” with yourself to build your body through mobility hours, building your brain by learning about new subjects, doing digital brain games or maybe learning a new language on line or and building bliss by building or maintaining your social connections with friends, events, checking items off your bucket list.
- Attitude- some see retirement as the end of your most productive life but in order to optimize retirement we need to reframe this time as your next productive phase. How can you optimize your self-care, how can you use your skills in a different way, how can you pivot your time to include more social interactions with friends and community. This may be the end of your work era but it is the beginning of what for some is the happiest time of life.
- Achievement- When you have created a vision of what you want your healthy retirement to look like, put it into action with steps towards increased physical and mental health and reframed your attitude its time to celebrate and reward yourself with a meaningful treat whether that is lunch with friends, a trip or a new purchase.
- Precision Longevity- Finally, if you want to go the extra mile in optimizing your wellness, the new science of aging is now able to optimize your wellness through measuring your biomarkers of aging and building personalized plans for your best retirement.
In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
- Rest and Purpose- Take the time you need to rest and restore after decades of hard work and then find a new direction to channel your energy whether it is a new type of job, investing in your community through service or devoting more time to family. Living without a new purpose can lead to boredom, depression and isolation which are all bad for health.
- Financial planning does not simply mean saving money all your life to live off of when you retire. It can also mean planning your next job or passive income source.
- Optimize your retirement by optimizing your health in your 40–50–60’s! We are all living longer, with the median lifespan moving upwards of 80 we can have a long retirement, however, the average HEALTHspan is 62. This is the age when most chronic diseases start taking a toll. To optimize wellness in retirement we need to lengthen our healthspan by optimizing our lifestyle and medical care in our middle age!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Estrogen Matters by Avrum Bluming, MD & Carol Tavris, PhD changed my life. As women move through their 40–50–60’s the changes in estrogen levels can have profound effects on work productivity, sleep, brain power and multiple other areas. This book definitively outlines the risks and benefits of HRT and ERT and clarifies the data on using these to return to the life you envision.
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. 🙂
My career mantra since I began has always been to “Change the way we age in this country.” Even before the rise of women and the focus on aging well I have worked to spread the message that “from our first breath to our very last, aging is the MOST natural thing we do. We will age but it is HOW we age that matters.”
In addition to my Orthopedic practice, my current work focuses on two areas.
First, my company, Precision Longevity, LLC, which harnessed 20 years of research, writing, my work as a doctor and the new science of aging to build personalized precision longevity plans for our members. We are finally at a place in aging science that we can not only extend the “Healthspan” (our healthy life) with lifestyle changes but also measure our physiologic age and risks and apply molecular approaches to optimizing our aging journey.
Second, through my non-profit “Womens Health Conversations” we have founded a curated membership community of 40, 50, 60yo women in passionate pursuit of the best in life. We call it www.ajles.life /Ajles/ is spelled phonetically as change the conversation about midlife and aging from a negative- anti position to recognizing these are the most productive years of our lives as we live Ageless. Authentic. Indefinable lives.
It is the best time in the history of people kind to age. Anyone interested in our company or becoming a member of our community should reach out to me via www.drvondawright.com
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I speak worldwide on the topics of Vitality and Re-Thinking what it means to live long and prosper- at the end of every talk I quote Henry David Thoreau
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined.”
No one plans or imagines a retirement filled with illness and decline from vitality to frailty and yet without a strategic plan for our aging that is what can happen. You are worth the daily investment in your health and the time it takes to strategically plan the next phase of your life.
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 🙂
Any of the Forbes 50 over 50
Amy Hood, CFO of Microsoft
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!