How to keep motivated and active into retirement

Behaviour Change Adviser at Bupa UK
19 January 2017

The way in which we work is changing and people are living longer, retiring later and doing more when they do retire. Most of us look forward to retirement and having time to do what we want. It can be a big adjustment, but retirement needn’t mean withdrawing from the world. It can be a time of activity, purpose, discovery and learning with deeper connections to others. There’s a lot to look forward to!

Lady gardening

Making a plan

Most people make financial plans for retirement, but often fail to prepare mentally. We know our jobs provide income, routine and social connections, and they can also form a key part of our identity. Certain traits that make us successful at work, like working hard and being competitive, can make it even harder to get used to being retired. If you’ve really enjoyed your career, there may well be a feeling of loss when giving it up. You may grieve for the qualifications and experience that are no longer needed. So it’s important to make sure you have other activities and structures in place to help yourself to adjust to retirement.

If possible, start planning your retirement a few years in advance. Try to develop hobbies, enrich friendships, and discuss your goals with your family. Starting to build the kind of life you want when you retire, before you retire, will make the adjustment easier.

Staying active and healthy

Being active is important not only for your physical health, but also for your mental wellbeing. Even more important, however, is to pick an activity you like and can stick to. So focus on activities you find rewarding, that you enjoy and where you can feel yourself make progress. If going to the gym is your idea of a nightmare, there’s no way you’ll be able to sustain it. Exercise can be anything from going for a walk to a game of tennis to a dance class. Going with a friend will make you much more likely to keep it up, and to have fun in the process.

Retirement is also a chance to focus on the things you may have neglected during your old ‘nine to five’. Having extra time on your hands means you could cook healthy meals from fresh ingredients and take up those all important health checks offered by your GP. Use this time to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol, get your vaccinations up to date, and arrange for your hearing and vision to be checked regularly. It’s never too late to give up smoking, or lose any excess weight either.

Learning and discovery

One of the best ways to maintain wellbeing in retirement is to pursue goals. Retirement is a perfect time to learn something new – whether it’s a language, a musical instrument or a subject which interests you. This could be through classes, university courses or self-teaching. It’s also an opportunity to travel and discover new places, whether in other countries or in your own town, without worrying about work commitments.

The key to goal-setting is to start small. Learning conversational French is an admirable aim, but may seem like a daunting task on its own. Try breaking it down into small, daily tasks – such as learning just one word a day. This will make it much more doable and you’ll be more likely to stick with it and make progress.

Do something useful

As well as a time for achieving personal goals and learning new things, retirement is a chance for giving back to the local community. Studies show that retired people who volunteer can have greater mental wellbeing and satisfaction with their lives. They are also healthier, being less likely to suffer from high blood pressure. However, much like exercise, any work or volunteering needs to be something you enjoy. People volunteering because they feel duty-bound to do so may not get the same health benefits.

Retirement is also an opportunity to work part-time or share your knowledge. Perhaps you could offer consultancy in your area of expertise. This will provide the sense of purpose and status that may be lacking when you first retire, with the flexibility of being self-employed.

Connections are important

Work provides a great deal of social interaction, which may be more difficult to get in retirement. We all know how important it is for our health and happiness to stay in frequent contact with loved ones. People with supportive families, a spouse or a strong circle of friends experience far higher satisfaction with life than those who are more isolated. Taking part in activities like classes and volunteering is also a great way to meet new friends, or a new partner. With all the technology at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. You can phone, email or Skype – or best of all, go and visit in person.

Relax and enjoy

Retirement allows you to spend more time on those enjoyable things you were too busy to do while you were working.  What that looks like will be different for everyone, whether it’s reading, watching films, gardening, travelling or spending time with your grandchildren. It’s important to have plans, set goals and keep active, but don’t forget to stop and relax too. You’ve earned it.

Juliet Hodges
Behaviour Change Adviser at Bupa UK

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