Some people are planning ahead for their physical fitness in retirement just like they plan for their financial fitness, says one of the country’s top national diet and exercise experts. And that’s as it should be, he says.

If you start a few years before retirement, says James Hill, executive director of the the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center inAurora, Colo., you’ll be ready to go when you do retire; most people can make a lot of progress toward getting in better shape in a matter of a few months.

“We are getting more and more people coming to us to prepare for an active life in retirement,” says Hill, co-author of State of Slim: Fix Your Metabolism and Drop 20 Pounds in 8 Weeks on the Colorado Diet.

Recent research reveals that Baby Boomers know how important physical activity is for a healthy retirement. Boomers say the most important factors for maintaining good health in retirement include diet and exercise plus having interests that keep them active, according to a survey conducted for Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave.

USA TODAY talked to Hill about:

The financial benefits of being fit. Being fit can pay off financially. Research has shown that fit individuals have much less chronic disease — such as diabetes, heart disease and joint problems — and better mental health than unfit individuals, which translates into less money paid to the health care system and more for having fun.

• Physical activity trends among retirees. We are seeing that more and more retirees are envisioning an active retirement and want to make sure they are physically ready for it. Many want to travel, and when they travel they want to hike and bike and swim. Many also want to engage socially with other retirees who value fitness and active living. They realize that eating healthy is a big part of being fit as is sleeping well and managing stress.

Interestingly, while retirees know that being active is good for their health and will help them from developing chronic diseases, we are seeing more and more who want to be active because it is fun.

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