Engaging in social and productive activities you enjoy, like taking an art class or becoming a volunteer in your community or at your place of worship, may help to maintain your well-being.
Research tells us that people with an active lifestyle:
Are less likely to develop certain diseases. Participating in hobbies and other social and leisure pursuits may lower risk for developing some health problems, including dementia.
Have a longer lifespan. One study showed that adults who reported taking part in social activities (such as playing games, belonging to social groups, or traveling) or meaningful, productive activities (such as having a paid or unpaid job, or gardening) lived longer than people who did not. Researchers are further exploring this connection.
Are happier and less depressed. Studies suggest that adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel happier and healthier.
One study placed adults from an urban community in their neighborhood public elementary schools to tutor children 15 hours a week. Volunteers reported personal satisfaction from the experience.
The researchers found it improved the volunteers’ cognitive and physical health, as well as the children’s school success.
They think it might also have long-term benefits, lowering the adults’ risk of developing disability, dependency, and dementia in later life.
Are better prepared to cope with loss. Studies suggest that volunteering can help with stress and depression from the loss of a loved one.
Among people who experienced a loss, those who took part in volunteer activities felt more positive about their own abilities (reported greater self-efficacy).
May be able to improve their thinking abilities. Another line of research is exploring how participating in creative arts might help people age well.
For example, studies have shown that adults’ memory, comprehension, creativity, and problem-solving abilities improved after an intensive, 4-week (8-session) acting course.
Other studies are providing new information about ways that creative activities like music or dance can help adults.
Melvin has not quite felt like himself since his retirement. He misses his customers and teaching new employees the trade.
Linn used to care for her grandchildren while her daughter was at work. Now that her grandchildren are in school, she has a lot of extra time on her hands.
Melvin and Linn miss waking up with a feeling of purpose. They think joining a volunteer group might help.
Research shows that people who are sociable, generous, and goal-oriented may feel happier and less depressed than other people.
Activities to Consider
Would you like to get more involved in your community or be more socially active? There are plenty of places to look for opportunities, depending on your interests. Here are some ideas:
Get out and about
- Join a senior center and take part in its events and activities
- Play cards or other games with friends
- Go to the theater, a movie, or a sporting event
- Travel with a group of older adults, such as a retiree group
- Visit friends and family
- Try different restaurants
- Join a group interested in a hobby like knitting, hiking, painting, or wood carving
Learn something new
- Take a cooking, art, or computer class
- Form or join a book club
- Try yoga, tai chi, or another new physical activity
- Learn (or relearn) how to play a musical instrument
Become more active in your community
- Serve meals or organize clothing donations at a place for homeless people
- Help an organization send care packages to soldiers stationed overseas
- Care for dogs and cats at an animal shelter
- Volunteer to run errands for people with disabilities
- Join a committee or volunteer for an activity at your place of worship
- Volunteer at a school, library, or hospital
- Help with gardening at a community garden or park
- Organize a park clean-up through your local recreation center or community association
- Sing in a community choral group, or play in a local band or orchestra
- Take part in a local theater troupe
- Get a part-time job
When Maria was younger, she took part in rallies for local issues and even went to Washington, D.C., to hear Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.
Recently, she has been learning about problems with the environment and wants to get involved in finding a solution. She thinks it will be a good way to volunteer her time.
Be physically active
- Garden or do yard work
- Take an exercise class or do exercises at home
- Go dancing
- Walk or bicycle with a friend or neighbor
- Swim or take a swimming class