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Preparing for a happy retirement

Published: 26 October 2015

Staying positive about all the things you can still do with retirement it is the key to feeling happy and healthy

While retiring in the lap of luxury might sound appealing, Vanessa King, psychology adviser for Action for Happiness, says it is our attitude, not assets, that sets us free in our golden years.

“Obviously it’s key to plan financially so you don’t have to worry about money when you retire,” says psychology expert Vanessa King. “But the good news is that there are many additional factors that go into a happy retirement – and they are very easy to implement.”

“Staying positive about your life and all the things you can still do with it is the key to feeling happy and healthy as you age.”

Here are four ways to do it…

Get active

As well as all the other benefits, such as a lower risk of diabetes, stroke and cancer, exercise also reduces your risk of dementia. A Cardiff University study of five behaviours (exercise, not smoking, being a healthy weight, having a healthy diet and low intake) found regular exercise was the most effective way to improve long-term mental health.

To help get you moving, try these two tips. A Dutch study found you are 16 per cent more likely to stick to a fitness regime if it is outdoors. Lush, green nature elicits a feeling of “abundance”, so we enjoy it more.

And a Virgin Active study showed that nearly two-thirds of people who run, go to the gym or do classes with friends go more often, train for longer and burn 17 per cent more calories. So find a fitness pal and spur each other on – whether you are hitting an aqua-aerobics class or simply heading out for a stroll.

Stay sociable

While not all the retired still have partners with them, clicking with like-minded people can be just as rewarding – and have great health benefits.

A study of adults in their seventies by the University of California, Los Angeles, found that those with satisfying social relationships remained more mentally alert with less age-related mental decline. And a 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 per cent less likely to die prematurely than those with fewer friends.

Rosemary Swan, 69, a widow and mother of three from Derby, says: “Meeting up with my good friends at yoga and Indian cookery class gives a structure to my week and reminds me that there’s a lot of people out there who I can have fun with.

“To my mind, a happy retirement is exploring what makes you happy, preferably with others. After all, they say strangers are really only people you haven’t met yet.”

Keep learning

In Relate’s Reflections On Ageing, Professor John Field, of the University of Stirling, notes: “Social scientists studying adult learning have shown that it produces measurable changes in health and well-being, promotes people’s involvement in their wider community and their ability to influence and handle major changes in their lives. We also know that education can be important in delaying the effects of illnesses such as dementia.”

With the rise of ‘hub learning’, it is even easier to get these benefits. London-based organisations such as the How To Academy and The Indytute run short courses, some only a couple of hours long, in everything from blues guitar to neon art, wildlife photography, demystifying poker and exploring philosophy. And BBC learning for adults  website is still great for finding online and local courses across the UK.

Mix with younger people

John Elliott, 72, is a retired art teacher from East Sussex who spends between 10 and 15 hours each week teaching drawing to children and young adults.

Last summer, he used his earnings to pay for a cycling holiday in northern France. While he lives on only a modest pension, he believes that by working with younger people his life remains rich.

“I made a decision early on in my retirement not to mix solely with other people my age. By teaching youngsters how to draw, I keep in touch with a new generation and feel I’m still contributing to society.”

Psychologist Anne Karpf, author of How to Age, agrees that having younger friends is key to ageing happily and healthily. “Younger people live in the short term – ‘What am I doing this weekend?’ – which is energising. They also allow you to pass on what you’ve learned, so you feel you have a legacy and value – and because they’re young at a different time, they can challenge you and make you reconsider things.”

In the UK, the Magic Me organisation links young people aged eight-plus with adults aged 60-plus in creative activities. Visit


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