Many people are counting down the days until retirement after spending four or five decades working — but it can be a tough adjustment.
Our identity and social circles tend to revolve around work, so it’s not surprising that early retirees (between 45 and 49) report being lonelier than their working counterparts. In fact, retirees are more than twice as lonely if they don’t maintain contact with former co-workers.
The good news is that these trends tend to reverse as retirement progresses.
Let’s take a look at some actionable strategies that you can use to ease the transition between work life and retirement.
Why You Need to Prepare
It’s easy to dream about having unlimited free time when you’re forced to go to work every day, but oftentimes, early retirement lacks social interaction and a sense of purpose. Many of your coworkers may still be working for several years and it’s hard to join established groups.
For example, ask yourself three questions:
- How many non-work related friends do you have?
- How many people do you talk to outside of work?
- What activities do you do after work each day?
The good news is that, unlike loss or relocation, retirement itself isn’t a driver of loneliness among adults 45 or older. In fact, midlife and older adults report being less lonely than their full-time or part-time counterparts, according to the AARP.
The bad news is that the researchers found that there’s an adjustment period — especially for those that retire between the ages of 45 and 49 years old. And, in total, more than one-third of U.S. adults over 45 consider themselves lonely.
Loneliness takes a mental and physical toll. For instance, emerging research shows that loneliness may alter the tendency of immune cells to promote inflammation, which can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
The best way to avoid these problems is to prepare for retirement by expanding your social circles, picking up new hobbies and living a more active lifestyle before retirement.
How to Maintain Social Connection
Humans are inherently social creatures, which makes social connections vitally important for long-term happiness and wellbeing.
Researchers have found that people with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships provide love, meaning and support to increase our feelings of self-worth, while broad relationships bring a sense of belonging within the wider community.
Not surprisingly, loneliness and boredom are inversely correlated with membership in social groups, including worship, volunteer and hobby groups. If you’re not involved with any non-work groups right now, you might want to consider joining some before retirement to proactively expand your social circles.
Meetup is a popular website to find group activities. Source – Meetup.com
There are many different ways to find these groups:
- Volunteer with a Local Organization – Find a local community organization that aligns with your beliefs. In addition to filling up your free time, volunteering gives you a sense of purpose and makes you feel valued. You can even use your professional skills developed over your working years to help others better their lives and achieve their goals.
- Join a Local Sports Group – Find a group sport that you enjoy and consider joining a local club. For example, you might join a bowling or tennis league. Maybe even try Pickeball, a very popular sport among the retirement community. These are valuable opportunities to both meet new people and maintain an active lifestyle. If you don’t have experience, try taking group lessons to learn alongside others.
- Join a Meetup Group – Meetup.com is a website dedicated to helping people connect over shared hobbies and interests. It’s a great way to meet new people without the intimidation of calling up a stranger or walking into a meeting without knowing what to expect. You can even start your own local group — you might be surprised who’s interested.
Another simple way to maintain social connections is to get to know your neighbors. While just over half of midlife and older adults speak with their neighbors at least weekly, a quarter speak with them less than once a month or never. AARP researchers found that only a quarter of adults that knew “all or most” of their neighbors were lonely, while 64% of those that knew none of their neighbors reported loneliness.
Tips for Staying Active
Active lifestyles are associated with less loneliness, greater happiness and longer health spans — it’s a win-win-win. AARP researchers found that 41% of older adults that don’t exercise were lonely compared to just 32% of those that do moderate exercise. Group exercise is a great way to achieve social goals, as well as maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Some of the best ways to stay active include:
- Join a Fitness Class – Many local gyms offer classes with varying levels of intensity. Yoga and Thai Chi help improve balance, strength and flexibility, while aerobic classes help you stay in shape. Water aerobics is a great example of a low-impact exercise that’s approachable for almost anyone.
- Take Up an Active Hobby – There are many local running clubs or hiking groups that explore nearby public lands. In addition to connecting with others and staying fit, you can get a healthy dose of nature, which has also been shown to help make people happier than remaining indoors.
- Try Adventure Travel – Traveling is a great way to see the world and remain active during retirement years. While all-inclusive resorts may sound appealing, adventure tourism lets you see cities and nature in a way that encourages physical activity, including activities like hiking or sailing. You can also meet others by participating in travel groups or tours.
Finally, researchers found that sleep is highly correlated to loneliness. Nearly 60% of older adults that receive four hours or less of sleep report loneliness compared to just a third of those that receive five to eight hours of sleep. It’s important to get a good night of rest in order to be happier and have the energy available to participate in these activities.
The Bottom Line
Many people feel that they are ready to retire, but it can be a tough adjustment. Fortunately, there are many simple steps that you can take to ease the transition, such as building connections outside of work beforehand and living a more active lifestyle. Research has also shown that most people eventually report less loneliness and boredom over time.
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