Don’t Just Retire: ‘Rewire’ With Hobbies, Social Activities

December 2023
hands form a vase from wet clay on a potter's wheel next to text that reads exercise your mind

You may have read the summer Retiree News article on the benefits of staying physically active in retirement. Incorporating light exercise into your daily routine can improve your life in many ways. As the temperature outside starts to drop and you begin to plan your New Year’s resolutions, take time to consider the benefits of exercising your mind.

Whether it’s picking up a hobby or pursuing a long-held goal, joining social and other group activities can support healthy aging. According to the National Institute on Aging, adopting a mentally active lifestyle offers a variety of health benefits:

  • Longer lifespan.
  • Happier outlook.
  • Sharper thinking abilities.
  • Lower risk of dementia, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.
  • Improved emotional resilience or the ability to recover from difficult situations.

VRS retiree Betty Burrell aims to gain some of those benefits by participating in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Richmond. Geared toward those 50 and up, the institute offers courses, lectures, community service projects and performing arts events.

Through OLLI, Burrell has enjoyed several in-person and online lectures, ranging from how to write a novel to a general overview of Medicare. “It’s education simply for the love of learning,” she says.

Burrell, who retired from Albemarle County in 2017 with 30 years of VRS service, views the program as an opportunity to meet like-minded seniors, and she encourages fellow retirees to try out something similar.

“I’ve learned that retirement is what you make of it,” she says. “Take chances; look for opportunities to volunteer in areas of interest to you; take care of your body, mind and soul; and don’t be afraid to go to functions and events alone. Maybe you’ll meet your new best friend there.”

Burrell is also a fitness enthusiast and trains regularly with a fellow VRS retiree. The two friends took on the Richmond Road Runners 5K in July on one of the hottest days of the year, she notes. Although they walked for some of the course, crossing the finish line felt great.

“Every day that I’m in good health with a sound mind is a blessing,” Burrell says. “I intend to use the present as the gift that it is.”

Embrace the New Year With a New Activity

  • Join a hobby group to share interests like birdwatching, painting, reading or watching films.
  • Play cards or other games with friends in person or online.
  • Take a class on a topic that interests you through your local community college or library.
  • Join a community service group through your place of worship or a local civic organization.
  • Learn or relearn how to play a musical instrument and consider joining a nearby community choir, band or orchestra.

Retiree Cyndy Graham is also seizing the moment. After stepping away from a career in various departments at Virginia Tech in 2015, she decided to pursue her passion for singing. As a child, Graham recalls watching her favorite musicals and dreaming of becoming a singer herself someday. “It didn’t occur to me at the time that I could make this dream come true,” she says.

Although she was nervous at the first open mic she attended after retiring, she says she’s now more comfortable in the spotlight, performing regularly with a friend at charity events, her local farmers market and holiday parties. Eager to keep improving, Graham also takes singing lessons, welcoming the invaluable feedback she receives.

“There are so many ways to stay healthy and express yourself in retirement,” Graham says. “Like the song says, ‘Step into your destiny. Nothing is impossible.’”