Active pensioners are changing the sedentary picture of retirement

Retiree Jeanne Loeb goes to the gym four times a week. After working out for two hours, she does laps in the shallow lap pool. She takes yoga and tai chi classes, attends several concerts each month and frequently shops with her friends.

"I think a lot of retired people want to stay active," says Loeb. "No one wants to just sit around and wait to die."

Loeb represents a growing number of retirees who are bucking the trends commonly associated with retirement, including the notion that seniors are less active than other age groups. Gone are the retirement community brochures plastered with photos of elderly couples playing shuffleboard. According to a study by the National Association of Home Builders, jogging trails have replaced golf courses as the No. 1 amenity seniors seek when choosing a retirement community. In fact, golf courses were mentioned as a desirable offering by only 29 percent of survey respondents.

Although many self-described "active adults" are already in their 80s, their numbers are expected to mushroom as the nation's 78 million baby boomers begin to reach retirement age. According to the National Association of Counties, a baby boomer turns 50

every seven seconds. Although the average age for retirement in the United States is 60, many boomers are already planning where and how they want to spend their retirement, and early studies indicate that the trend toward a sedentary lifestyle is just one of many they're breaking.

With 5.3 million people older than 50, Florida boasts the country's largest percentage of seniors, but a new study by home builder WCI Communities Inc. suggests that relocating retirees are increasingly choosing other locales. The state's extremely high influx of senior citizens has resulted in increased housing costs and a backlog of requests at the Department of Elder Affairs. Additionally, some retirees find being around so many old people just plain depressing.

"We were looking at one senior community and there was an ad for mortuary services on the brochure they gave us — I think that pretty much says it all," explained one retiree.

This trend of fewer retirees relocating to the Sunshine State has Florida politicians worried. The state's retirees boost its economy by approximately $1.4 billion each year. In addition to direct financial benefits, such as increases in property and sales taxes, locations with large populations of retirees stand to gain in other ways as well. Retirees consume goods and services, lowering unemployment and stimulating local businesses. They often hold part-time jobs, contributing to family incomes and bringing greater economic diversity. Additionally, retirees often enhance community services by volunteering with local schools, churches or other organizations.

The many benefits of retiree attraction have not gone unnoticed by other states, which may be a contributing factor in Florida's declining numbers. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas, to name a few, have implemented aggressive retiree attraction plans, hoping to snare some of Florida's senior population. Additionally, many rural areas have focused on attracting retirees to help offset the population loss they suffered over the past 25 years. And California, of course, has a number of thriving retirement communities, including Rossmoor in Walnut Creek.

Another way in which aging baby boomers differ from past retirees is in how financially prepared they are for retirement. While their parents retired with a safety net of pensions and Social Security to provide income, many aging boomers have been forced to manage their retirement savings on their own. This independence has resulted in both positive and negative outcomes.

"I'm seeing a polarization in how financially prepared people are for their retirement," said accountant David Ward, partner with the San Diego firm Massey and Ward. "On the one hand, I have clients who have taken advantage of 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement savings plans, and who are very prepared to retire with the resources to enjoy the lifestyle they want to live. On the other hand, many people decided that the extra $20 or $50 each month was more important to them than contributing to a retirement plan and today they are in a pretty bad situation."

Ward notes, however, that the government has recognized the problem of aging boomers who are not prepared for their retirement and has created additional incentives to help them save. For example, the annual limits imposed on contributions to both traditional and Roth individual retirement accounts are higher for people over 50.

"I wasn't financially able to start saving for my retirement until I was 40, so I have a bit of catching up to do," says baby boomer Cathy Sang, who works part time in public relations. "On the other hand, I don't see any reason why I should have to retire in the near future. I enjoy what I do, and as long as my clients feel that I am providing value, I may never retire."