Enjoying Retirement: The Ultimate Guide
When I was young I saw retirement as something people generally did at about the age of 65, and it did used to feel a bit like the beginning of the end.
Life seemed to slow down.
Images of slippers in front of the fire spring to mind.
Nowadays people seem to be retiring ever earlier, though some will still continue working to 65 or maybe even older.
Whatever your personal circumstances, however, enjoying retirement should be a priority.
In this guide, we'll investigate exactly how to do it.
Definition of retirement
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines retirement as ‘the act of leaving your job and stopping working usually because they are old.’
There is a slightly kinder variation that talks about ‘stopping working because of having reached a particular age’.
Most of us who have reached that particular age can’t change our date of birth, but I suspect that many of us certainly don’t feel old. Someone once said that “70 is the new 50!”.
For many retirement beckons as the start of an exciting new chapter. And increasingly now people often start talking about retirement in their fifties.
Why does staying active in retirement matter?
There is huge emphasis nowadays on mental well-being, and physical and mental activities both contribute to that.
We should always remember that life is for living, whatever our age, and whatever stage of life we might have reached.
There is clearly a very wide spectrum of activity and how active you are in retirement will reflect any number of things:
- What sort of job did you do?
- Was it very physical?
- Were you full-time or part-time?
- How active were you before retirement?
- Do you have any health issues?
- What about family commitments (grandchildren duties, elderly parents)?
- Any hobbies (that you might currently have, or want to take up)?
- Do you have a partner or do you live alone?
- What sort of person are you – always on the go, driven by goals, laid back, looking for new challenges, sociable, confident or lacking in confidence?
- What is your financial position – can you afford to do all the things you might like to do?
My personal experience of moving from work to retirement
For the last twenty years of my working life I had what I would describe as a “big job” – long hours, lots of challenges, a lot of travel and a large team of staff.
Fortunately, I am possessed with a boundless amount of energy and despite the hours still managed to pull in a lot of other activities – dog walking, running, travel to some amazing places, travel talks to lots of groups, gardening, cycling etc.
I dropped down to a three day week for a year – absolute bliss! I was probably still doing more than three days work but being able to go out for lunch, enjoy a long walk mid-week when I would have been working felt a real joy, and gave me a great taste of what was to come.
For my final year of work I did just one day a week on a consultancy basis – better still! When I finally left, there was a hint of sadness at leaving behind a lovely core of very loyal staff, but did I miss the job that I had given my all to for so long? Definitely not!
Within two days of leaving work I found myself churning out that old chestnut “How on earth did I have time to go to work?” I always thought it was a ridiculous thing to say until I realized just how many other things I could suddenly do with my time.
For some who were already undertaking physical activities pre-retirement, they may find they have more time to devote – improving golf handicaps; more time for walks, exploring the local area or going further afield; birdwatching. In my case, I had more time to devote to running. And yes, there are quite a lot of older people still running!
Assuming the knees are still good, older people are well able to keep up distance running to quite an advanced age. They have the mental determination that is needed.
I’m still doing half marathons despite having passed my 70th birthday and can still outrun some of my younger running clubmates! I may not be as quick as I was but that doesn’t matter. The enjoyment of just getting out and running is what is far more important.
Cycling is another great way to get out, get some fresh air, exercise, and explore. Depending on preferences, it can be a solo activity or there are plenty of cycling groups catering for the more mature cyclist.
I have several bikes but during lockdown last year I treated myself to a new electric bike. I had repeatedly resisted the messages from the man in the bike shop when he extolled the virtues of electric bikes. I kept saying I could still pedal a regular bike and wasn’t that decrepit.
Then I met a younger friend who had just bought one and was waxing lyrical about it. I decided to give it a go. The man in the bike shop lent me one for a day. His advice was spot on. “Go out and try it, find yourself some good hills, and tell me what you think when you get back, and I guarantee you’ll be beaming like a Cheshire cat!” He was right!
The short steep hill was a doddle, the long drag was equally easy – I had to slow down so as not to overtake a “proper cyclist”, i.e. a middle-aged man in lycra on a fancy road bike. I was hooked. And what it now means is that I go out more often, choose hillier routes, go further, and absolutely love it.
I suppose because I am pretty energetic, many of my retired friends are the same. Quite a few long-distance cyclists, including one who marked his 70th birthday this year by doing LeJog (Lands End to John O’Groats). That would be a step too far for me but also I like to do lots of things, and wouldn’t want to spend all my time training on the bike at the expense of running or dog walking.
If all this feels way too energetic, then just going for a walk is a great way to get fit, and meet people.
Some people prefer to go out on their own – the sun suddenly comes out, you’ve finished that job, and seize the moment.
Others like walking with people – there is a discipline in having a fixed day and time, maybe someone else to lead the walk, and often a lunch stop thrown in.
There are plenty of walking groups out there – from long-distance ramblers to shorter park walks for heart and health. One of the many joys of retirement is that you have more time to check out what is available.
For me, walking is generally about going out with the dog. I like a sense of purpose so have just embarked on a long-distance footpath which is being tackled in nice bite-sized stages.
Something else that gives a real purpose to a walk is litter picking. I’ve always hated litter, and have periodically been out and cleared a grot spot.
But more recently it has become something of a mission. Armed with a litter picker and rubbish bags, it really is amazing how many people you get to chat to.
There is a great sense of satisfaction at seeing your local neighbourhood litter-free, even if you have to keep going back over old ground.
Again, it can be a solo occupation but it can also be very sociable.
There are often litter picking groups in towns, and group litter picks. (South Leicestershire Litter Picking Wombles, of which I’m a member, is now up to 3,000 wombles!)
A great chance to meet like-minded people, and another great way to get out and walk and get fit.
Gardening can be a great way to keep fit. You might like to think about getting an allotment – you’ll have time to process all those veg that you grow!
And it is lovely being able to deliver surplus produce to friends and neighbours.
You might even find yourself bartering with vegetables traded for other services.
Indulge your curiosity
Of course, retirement offers the opportunity to try out new activities that you never had time for.
Bowls is becoming increasingly popular as is petanque.
There are often beginners bird watching classes.
Or maybe something more daring beckons – that parachute or bungee jump you always fancied!
We hear repeatedly that doing crosswords or sudoku, or some of the various word games that can be found online will help to keep dementia at bay.
Jigsaw puzzles can provide good mental stimulation. As can knitting, sewing, crochet – particularly if you are following difficult patterns!
And you can even play scrabble against the computer, or online if you don’t have an actual partner.
And then of course there is always reading. An ideal activity particularly if health issues mean that you can’t get out and about so much.
My list of what I was going to do in retirement included reading many of the classics that had so far eluded me – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Dickens, etc etc.
And I still have many of the childhood classics which I have read but plan to reread – Black Beauty, Heidi, Little Women, The Bobsey Twins. Most I have to confess are still unread.
I really do prefer to be outside, whatever the weather.
If you enjoy reading and like to discuss the book afterwards, then a Book Club may be for you.
Many of them are very sociable, and often seem to be far more about the wine and nibbles than a serious discussion about the book.
Learning something new
Learning something new is a great way to keep the mind active and these days there is so much on offer.
Groups such as U3A have a tremendous number of sub-groups covering every conceivable area of interest from learning languages, to family history, to English country dancing, to poetry writing.
The fact that so many of us are now acquainted with zoom has opened so many doors.
I am absolutely loving the Mirthy programme of talks and learning so much. Recent talks have included The Great Fire of London; Esperanto, and Chloroform!
Talking about learning, if you have an inner detective in you, then taking up family history research may be one of the best, and most fascinating things you ever do.
You can while away days, weeks, months. It is so satisfying and intriguing, particularly when you come across someone in the family who was a bit naughty!
Are you a loner or a social creature?
Some people are naturally very content in their own company though can be perfectly sociable when occasion demands, while others are much more group-oriented and like to have people around them.
That may of course reflect whether you live on your own or not.
I give lots of travel talks each year to a wide range of groups – Women’s Institutes, Probus, Rotary, Ladies Luncheon Clubs etc.
I have never felt the need to join such a group, but wherever I go I see the benefits of real friendship.
I suspect that many of the members are widowed, and living on their own – certainly the level of chat at these meetings is quite impressive. Not only do the groups offer good speakers, but outings, craft activities, and the chance for some good company, and support if and when needed.
Pressure to be active?
That is entirely up to you. There is no rule book on how you should behave in retirement any more than at any other time in your life.
And of course, it will depend on your age, and health. The newly retired person is likely to still be buzzing around as they did at work (just doing different things).
We had allotments at one point and a man took on the neighbouring plot. Newly retired, he arrived at 9 and left at 5 each day, just taking a trip home at midday for lunch, and maintaining an impressive spreadsheet of planting times and harvest yields!
Maybe after a few years of retirement you might have slowed down a bit.
Do you feel there might be pressure to do more than you want to do? Do you think a walking group would be going too far or too fast? Maybe you think the Book Club will be far too full of serious intellectuals? Maybe try it and see.
What I would say is that I think it is really important to have interests – something you can talk about to other people.
Retirement is about having fun!
We work for an awful lot of years. Many people are lucky enough to enjoy the day job, but it still takes up a lot of hours each day.
Some people are less lucky – it may be the job itself that bores them, it may be too pressured, they may have a difficult boss, a long commute, and generally feel they are on a treadmill.
In many cases, retirement gives you the chance to do what you want. If you embark on something and find you aren’t enjoying it, you can always walk away. Paying the bills doesn’t depend on you sticking at it. That is really quite liberating.
And don’t forget that image of ‘ladies who lunch’ and men too of course!
Going out for a lovely morning coffee and cake, a leisurely lunch with friends really can leave you feeling all is well with the world. Too much and you might find you are having a bit of a battle with an increasing waistline so moderation in all things!
Did you enjoy travel pre-retirement? If so, then the world is your oyster. No more fitting holidays into fixed industry breaks; you can choose whether to go in school holidays or outside of them; and there are so many holidays on offer that cater for the ‘more mature individual’.
And there are plenty of companies offering travel insurance for us oldies, though the price does go up each time you pass a significant birthday. And there are companies that will cover all kinds of pre-existing medical conditions, though again this usually comes at a price.
7 top tips for enjoying retirement:
- Consider setting yourself some goals. They don’t have to be huge or too difficult:
- What about sorting all those family photos and putting the good ones into albums.
- Think about learning or brushing up a language ahead of a holiday.
- Do you have a friend or neighbour who is less active than you and could do with some help, maybe with their garden or shopping?
- How about brushing up your computing skills – so much now is online; ordering your shopping; renewing your car insurance; ordering prescriptions; booking cinema or theatre tickets; or tracing your family tree.
- How is your cooking? Have you always fancied learning cake decorating or mastering the perfect Sunday roast?
- If you have an artistic bent, have you ever tried calligraphy?
- If you always wondered if you could run, there is a great NHS App ‘Couch to 5k in 9 weeks’ and you may find a local running club is organizing a group session. (A perfect way to build up your fitness and meet like-minded people).
- Do pace yourself particularly if life is feeling too busy or pressured. Be prepared to say no sometimes.
- Remember life in retirement isn’t a competition – don’t worry what others are doing, and it is OK to step off the ladder sometimes. Don’t just spend all your time doing your garden – do make sure you take time to sit in it and enjoy it too, preferably with a good book!
- There are lots of opportunities for helping local charities (that will be the subject of a separate article).
- Remember to take good care of yourself – eat healthily, sleep well, get some exercise and above all else, enjoy this stage of your life.”
- Don’t be like the mother of a colleague who retired and every day would phone her daughter to say “Well I’ve just got up, what do you think I should do today?”
- Retirement takes some adjustment and planning – there are pre-retirement courses, but maybe just think before you stop work what you are planning to be doing, and there is nothing wrong with procrastination. After all, there is always tomorrow!
Author: Sue Ablett
Sue has had a varied career from Russian linguist for the Government, to University research (pulling in a PhD ‘for fun’), and for the last 20 years of her working life was Executive Director of a national children’s cancer charity. She is a keen traveller and has a big catalogue of travel talks. In retirement she set up and continues to chair a literary festival - Evesham Festival of Words. She led a major fundraising appeal to restore Evesham’s iconic Bell Tower. And in her spare time she can be found out walking with her very lively cocker spaniel; running; cycling; whizzing back and forth between her two homes; gardening and, in more normal times, embarking on some amazing travels. She is also now a Mirthy speaker and writer of articles for Mirthy. Sue regards life as one big adventure and loves every minute of it!
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