Like many adult children, I worry sometimes about my retired parents. Then I pick up the phone and ask my 76-year-old mother and 81-year-old father what they did that day. Usually there’s some mention of a yoga class (my mom) and always a golf game (my dad), a concert or an incredible new novel. While many of their peers struggle with isolation, boredom and lack of purpose, they just have a knack for retirement. What’s their secret?
It helps that they have regular checkups and eat well, avoiding red meat and doubling down on fruits and vegetables. But I believe their success has more to do with other lifestyle choices you might not expect to have an effect on physical health, such as simply being social. And scientific research backs me up.
According to a report published by the Healthy Aging Program, funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), social and emotional support is associated with better mental and physical health. I hope you’ll find the “secrets” below as inspiring as I do.
My father plays golf most days with a regular group of buddies. He skips the golf cart, clocking about 5,000 steps over a nine-hole course. The women in my mother’s yoga class have developed into tight-knit pals. “I’m a big advocate of combining sports with social interaction, whether it’s tennis or golf or racquetball,” says John Moore, Aetna’s medical director. “It’s a great way to meet new people, and so much good stuff comes of it.” Moore recommends 30 minutes of activity a day, but sports aren’t the only way to be active. Get your neighbors together for a walk around your community. Help a friend transplant her roses. Deep clean one room in your home with your partner. It all counts.
My parents audit classes at a local college and love being part of campus life. They have befriended some of the undergrads, and enjoy dinner out with their instructors. Education feeds your brain, and there are plenty of ways to stay engaged. Sign up for a course. Take a free online class. Or exchange opinions about a book you’ve read in an online forum like GoodReads.com.
“The stimulation keeps your mind healthy,” says Moore. “Also, when you retire, you can run out of things to talk about.” Learning about subjects outside of your usual interests keeps dinner conversation flowing.
You don’t need a passport to expand your horizons. The college town where my parents attend classes is rich with discoveries, from botanical gardens to secondhand bookstores. Consider picking up a tourist guidebook for your own hometown or nearest urban center. I guarantee you’ll discover nearby destinations — small museums, walking trails — you never knew existed or just forgot about.
If you have grandkids, consider setting up a regular time to visit. You can be the rock star who brings warm bagels on Sunday mornings! Or volunteer for school pickup on a day when you can make a stop at the playground on the way home. If your grandchildren are far away, regular phone calls and video chats are a treat for both of you. These interactions can really recharge your emotional batteries. Just listen to my father, who gushes, “Being a grandparent is by far the job I’ve loved the most. Being a part of my grandchildren’s lives, seeing their achievements and watching them grow is incredibly fulfilling.”
If you haven’t noticed already, the repeated theme in my parents’ retirement is connection. They are engaging with people and ideas that make them happy. And that is a recipe for success at any age.
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Joanna Kessler is a lifestyle writer and editor based in New York. She is an avid yogi and believes this is the year she'll finally conquer the crow pose.
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