Top Ten Retirement Activities

March 29, 2009

As author of The Successful Retirement Guide I am often asked if I have a “Top Ten” list of retirement activities.  I do, and here they are:

1. Eat – While eating is important at all ages, in retirement we have more time and opportunity to enjoy all the activities associated with acquiring, preparing and consuming it.

If you have not cooked and someone else has, offer to take over one or two nights a week. It will probably be greatly appreciated and you’ll have the opportunity to learn something new.

If you have been the cook drop some hints re: the prior paragraph and, for yourself, try some new things – not just a new recipe but new ingredients, new spices, new cooking methods, e.g. using a wok, a tagine, a steamer, slow cooker or a Panini grill.

Try some ethnic cooking, e.g. Cajun, Caribbean, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Spanish.

Or for eating out, try ethnic dining, healthy dining, best value dining or consider forming a gourmet club with friends. There can be all manner of intellectual, social and physical benefits associated with eating – you need to do it in any case so why not find new ways of making it a more engaging experience.

2. Drink – We need to stay hydrated so water is essential.  Low sodium vegettable juice is also good – it has lots of nutrients with low calories.  Fruit juice has nutrients but adds calories.  Coffee and  tea can be beneficial.  And there is evidence that alcohol, in moderation can also good for us.

There are many activities associated with drinking that can help keep us engaged: learning about wines, conducting wine tastings, brewing beer, concocting fruit or vegetable smoothies, learning how to make fancy cocktails, learning about and trying teas from around world.

It is like eating, we need to do it in any case so why not focus on ways to make it more healthy and interesting.

3. Be Merry – Happiness is a state of mind. Abraham Lincoln summed it up nicely when he said: “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Studies have shown that one of the most important factors in being happy is attitude. There are many things about ourselves and our circumstances that we may not be able to change but attitude isn’t one of them; we can decide to be happy. We need to focus on:

• What we can do rather than what we can’t do.
• What we have rather than what we don’t have.

It helps to:

• Allow ourselves to laugh out loud and find humor in our daily living.
• Allow ourselves to be open to being loved.
• Take time to help others.
• Communicate and don’t hold things inside.
• Keep ourselves physically and mentally fit.
• Avoid spending too much time with the (mostly negative) mainstream media.
• Learn to manage our internal critic by focusing on ways to make things better.

Norman Vincent Peale said: “There is a basic law that like attracts like. Negative thinking definitely attracts negative results. Conversely, if a person habitually thinks optimistically and hopefully, his positive thinking sets in motion creative forces, and success, instead of eluding him, flows toward him.”

4. Exercise

• Aerobic – This is the stuff that gets your heart and lungs moving. It helps to improve the functioning of your heart and lungs, lowers blood pressure, boosts good cholesterol and reduces body fat and weight. You want a rhythmic activity that makes your heart and lungs work harder.
• Stretching – Stretching increases the length of your muscles and tendons. You do this in order to increase the range of motion of your limbs and joints thus making them more “flexible.” Stretching prepares your muscles and tendons to be active; without stretching you increase the risk of injury.
• Weights – This helps you build strong muscles, bones and joints. It can also help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and improve other health dimensions. With weight training you subject your muscles to greater resistance than that to which they are accustomed and, with repetition, you build endurance.
• Yoga – Yoga exercises (asanas) will help you build flexibility, strength, balance. They can also help reduce stress and improve your breathing. If you want to also take it to a place more spiritual, that path is available.

5. Learn a language – Federico Fellini said “A different language is a different vision of life.”

There are many reasons to learn a new language. Among them:

• Broadening your cultural and intellectual horizons.
• Improving your understanding of literature, film and music.
• Building new friendships.
• Ordering food and beverages.
• Stimulating your brain and helping with conceptualization and flexible thinking.
• Connecting with people and culture when you travel.
• Reading road signs and maps in other countries.
• It’s fun!

6. Volunteer– Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

Volunteering is the chance to make a difference, to give back, to help others in need. It takes many forms from fairly structured assignments to informal helping of neighbors. With older adults living longer and healthier, many are looking for volunteer opportunities in their post-work lives. There are and many non-profit organizations, churches, hospitals, schools looking for help. Fortunately there are also groups and web sites to help bring the volunteers and those who need them together.

Two basic questions to ask:

• Is there a cause or mission I care deeply about?
• How much time do I want to spend?

Learn about opportunities by visiting the websites of, e.g. Senior Corps, Experience Corps, Civic Ventures, Habitat for Humanity (my website has a more extensive list).

7. Create – Do something creative: write, draw, paint, photograph, quilt, work with wood, tin or stained glass, craft origami, compose music, pottery, needlepoint, make cheese.

8. Learn/Study/Grow – What to study? Anything that grabs you! If you don’t have an immediate particular interest, try an introductory course in an area with which you have no experience (consider, for example, sculpting, meteorology, philosophy, Haiku, modern dance, Chinese history). You will learn something (and build some new neural connections as you do). You will probably also have fun, and you will be out and about and meeting new people.

9. Declutter – Many of us have too much stuff. Too much stuff takes up space, weighs you down, closes you in, gets in the way (sometimes literally tripping you) and is not appreciated by your heirs. Keep the good stuff, make room for new stuff and free up your life by decluttering.

What to do with it all? Sell it if possible. Gift it if you can’t sell it (nursing homes might like books; The Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries might value clothing and you get a tax deduction). Recycle it if you can’t give it away (your stuff gets a new life). Toss it if all else fails.

10. Set goals – As we learned during our working careers, setting goals is important for making progress, and assuring that things get done in a timely way and in a quality fashion. This is just as true in retirement.

What do you want to accomplish with the rest of your life?
What do you want to build or create?
Where do you want to go?
What do you want to see?
What do you want to experience?
How can you give back for all you’ve received?
What do you to want to learn?
What do you want to do for others?
Who do you want to spend time with? Doing what?
What can you do to improve your physical well-being?
Do you need to do anything to get your spiritual house in order?

While all of us will have some financial, physical and perhaps other restraints around our answers to these questions, they are important to ask. The answers give us a sense of direction about how we can remain engaged and live our lives as fully as possible.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2009 R.K. Price