WRITTEN BY BLAKE MILLER
Retirement can be an exciting time of life for many people. And with the number of retirees growing every year—Americans retiring daily has almost doubled since 2000—there’s more information and research coming out on how to best enjoy that time. So what are the best ways to take advantage of retirement? Here are some habits to help make the most of your post-working years.
When it comes to retirement, doing exactly what you want without worry is a top priority. “I believe a key to enjoying life in retirement is staying healthy enough to do the things you want to do,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Katie M. Dodd, who is also a board certified specialist in gerontological nutrition. “A big part of that is maintaining a healthy BMI (body mass index), which is actually higher for those ages 65 and over. When BMI dips below 23, it significantly increases the risk of death. Monitoring weight and stopping unintended weight loss is key to maintaining muscle and independence, and [preventing] early death.” One of the keys to a healthy BMI over age 65 is moderate exercise, such as walking three to four times a week for thirty minutes.
Volunteering does more than get you out of the house. It’s actually beneficial to your health when everyone else is healthy too. Research has shown that volunteering lowers the rates of depression, especially in adults ages 65 and older. Plus, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging reported that people who volunteer live longer than those who don’t. “Interacting with people can lead to a more positive emotional and psychological effect to the body,” says Bunny Dachs, owner and founder of home care agency Bunny’s Home Care in Baltimore, Maryland. “Many people I know who retired from a medical field volunteer at hospitals and other places in outreach programs, for example. It gives you the chance not just to do the things you used to do but will also expose you to a more productive circle of people.”
To lead a fulfilling retirement, nurturing old and new relationships is important. According to research from the Stanford Center on Longevity, continuing to be social in retirement keeps you both physically and mentally healthy. Per the study, “socially isolated individuals face health risks comparable to those of smokers.” So hop on Facebook, pick up the phone, or text a friend you’ve lost touch with and reconnect.
GET A PET
Not only do pets provide fantastic companionship in retirement, they can also help boost your health. According to a study by the American Heart Association, pet ownership can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. “A faithful companion can relieve stress, fight depression, and keep you active,” says Dachs. What’s more, owning a dog also increases one’s activity level—a must during retirement. One study found that dog owners who walk their dogs exercised thirty minutes more per day than non pet owners.”
In addition to volunteering, joining an interest group or a group of like-minded people can have enormous benefits, especially in retirement. According to AARP, people who join a weekly group such as something in their church, neighborhood organization, a local social club, etc., are less likely to report feeling lonely.
BE WITH FAMILY
Cultivating relationships with grandchildren and nurturing the relationships you have with other family members during retirement can be wildly rewarding—whether in person or through technology. “This can be very unwinding and stress relieving. Spending time with people we love is a form of therapy that naturally neutralizes negative emotions and promotes the release of our happy hormones,” says Dachs. “Make quality time to bond, to play, and to make great memories with people close to [you].”
MAKE A BUCKET LIST
There’s something to be said about envisioning what you want to do in retirement . . . and actually checking it off your list. “It is not cliché to have a list of places you want to see and things you want to experience in your lifetime,” says Robyn Flint, MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. “We only get one life to live, so experience it on your terms. See the world, spend time with your family, go skydiving. Whatever your dreams are, you are never too old to make them come true. Plan your life by design.”
“Retirement is your time to relax and chill,” says Dachs. Do the things that most help your body relax and destress such as reading a book, meditating, practicing mindfulness, getting massages, and more. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that mindfulness meditation can help decrease anxiety and pain, therefore leading a more relaxed state.