Retirement: Save the best for last

Tessa Mills and Edward Chapman tell Rosalind Ryan how the golden years have given them a new lease of life
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The Independent Online

Are you dreading your retirement or have you already hit that milestone and feel like something's missing? You're not alone – research commissioned by the organisers of the One Life Live event found that a staggering 88 per cent of people aged between 50 and 65 want to make a major change to lead a more fulfilling life. But where do you start? If your idea of retirement was collecting a carriage clock and dividing up your days between walking the dog and doing the Countdown conundrum, it can be hard to see that there is another world out there.

These days you don't have to wait until you're 60 or 65 to start your retirement. New figures released by the Office for National Statistics in November last year revealed that the number of people who have retired before the state pension age rose by almost 10 per cent in 2006 to 643,000. The statistics also show that men retiring at 55 years old can expect on average to live another 25 years, while women of the same age can look forward to another 28 years. Doesn't it make sense to do something fulfilling with all that extra time?

The good news is that there has never been a better time to start living an inspiring life. Perhaps you want to go back into education, do some travelling or finally finish that novel you've been working on? Many people feel just the same – the research by One Life Live found that nearly half of over-fifties would like to take a golden gap year, 23 per cent dream of starting their own business, 62 per cent would like to go back to college to further their education and 76 per cent would like to take up a new hobby. With so many "groovy greys" around, there has been an explosion in the number of businesses and services helping us to carry out our dreams.

One is Show Me The Way Travel, an agency committed to helping those well out of their teens plan the trip of a lifetime. Founded by Tessa Mills, 55, she found there was a hole in the grown-up gap year business and was inspired to help others after her own life-changing year off.

"I left my marriage after 25 years as it was going nowhere and decided that I only had one life, so I'd better start living it," she says. "I was going to buy a house or something sensible, but I thought if I'd only got six months to live, I'd feel very sad that I'd never seen the Taj Mahal or travelled first class, so I thought I would do that instead!"

Mills' two oldest daughters had both travelled during a gap year, so she knew it was possible to organise a similar trip, but was disappointed with the advice available for those in their fifties and over.

"With the best will in the world, a lot of these people were in their twenties so they didn't really have the answers to my questions," she says. "When you're younger, your whole life is ahead of you so it doesn't matter if things go wrong, but when you're older, you want advice on keeping things going back home or the practicalities of travelling in certain countries."

Despite the lack of information, Mills planned her 12-month trip and set off in 2005, taking in Canada, India, New Zealand, Australia and parts of Europe, to name a few. "I think a lot of younger people I met were quite amazed as I was essentially the same age as their mothers! I surprised myself that I was having this adventure as I'd been sensible all my life."

On her return, Mills decided to set up her own business, Show Me The Way Travel. "I went to the One Life Live exhibition last year and decided on the spot to book a stand for this year, so that's how my business came about," she says. Now, she's helping other people plan their golden gap year.

"I do all the research for them and keep their dream alive. So often I hear people say 'I couldn't' or 'I shouldn't' but I help them see that it is possible," she says.

Getting away from it all is one way you can enrich your life, but many people want to discover how to live a better life at home. Trying to find that vital work/life balance is a problem that plagues us at all ages, not just those in their twenties and thirties. Luckily, it's never to late to take care of your health. In fact, a 30-year study by the University of Texas found that even if you start exercising in your fifties, you can regain the fitness levels you had in your twenties.

One man who knows the joy of rediscovering exercise is Edward Chapman. Twelve years ago Chapman, 53, used to be a chartered accountant who was "desk bound, did no exercise and was seriously overweight" until a doctor told him to get fit, or quite literally, die trying.

"It was hard to take up a new sport but I thought jogging might be easy," he says. "When I started, I could only keep going for a couple of minutes. Then one day I managed to run for three miles and thought if I could do that, I could do a 10km race. I was soon bitten by the bug."

Chapman went on to run over 25 marathons, about 20 ultra marathons and the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara Desert.

Just as he got his health back on track, Chapman was made redundant and knew that finding a new job could be difficult. "I wanted to do something that I enjoyed, but all I really liked was running," he says. His passion led him to set up his own company, Run the Country.

"We help people by publishing off-road running maps and organising trips for people to run marathons abroad," he explains. "I've met people in their sixties and seventies who love running as it's something everyone can do. You just adapt it to your fitness levels."

Chapman is still running six days a week and is currently training for a 100-mile race in South Africa, but says his second career has given him much more than a new lease of life. "I used to suffer from migraines but since I started running I haven't had a single one," he says. "I also find I'm much better at tasks like public speaking as I'm doing things most people can't. I would never have dreamed of travelling abroad by myself either. It's been very empowering."

So, if you're not ready to put your feet up yet, there is a new challenge out there just waiting for you to accept it. Whether you want to pull on a backpack, turn your hobby into your business or spend more time doing the things you enjoy, there's never been a better time to start living an inspiring life. After all, we've only got one, so live it well!

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It's never too late to start saving for a pension

Planning to make the most of your retirement? Martin Bamford, a chartered financial planner from Informed Choice ( offers these top tips...

* Choosing a pension can be tricky; the price, flexibility and choice of where to invest your money differ widely. Speak to an independent financial advisor who can help you choose one that is best for your needs.

* It's never too late to start saving for a pension, but it's never too early either! You can start putting away as little as £20 a month from your mid-thirties, but make sure you are not investing at the cost of other short-term commitments such as repaying loans.

* The most successful pensioners have a range of retirement investments, so they may have a pension but also savings accounts, a number of ISAs or a second property they rent out.

* Exotic or alternative investments like art works or classic cars do put an element of fun into retirement planning. Anything that keeps you interested in your finances is no bad thing!

* Review your retirement plans once a year as rates may have changed or you may find a better savings account to put your money in.

* Pick an independent financial advisor by talking to your friends and family, and asking who they recommend, or visit You can also visit the pensions and financial planning clinic in the How to Retire zone at One Life Live for a one-to-one consultation.

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