Active Leisure: A Worthwhile Retirement Goal

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There was time when retirement meant fast rocking chairs, slow bingo games and lots of time on our hands. When Del Webb built the first retirement village, called Sun City, golf and tennis became part of the American retirement culture. But that was about it.

Boy, have times changed.

Check out my blog “How To Find Bliss after Retirement,” decrying the cult of “busy” during retirement. And do not think life gets laid back after 80. When the folks at the Lakeview Village in Lenexa, Kansas, were asked to fundraise, four of them ages 80 to 95, jumped out of a plane from 14,000 feet for their charity.

The Lakeview 4 certainly had their “PERMA on.” PERMA is the compendium of traits that make you happy, as identified by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, founder of positive psychology. It stands for Positive Emotion…Engagement…Relationships…Meaning…and Accomplishments—all of which can be fulfilled by leisure activities that bridge the gap between doing nothing and doing too much.

A Spanish proverb says, “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward.”

Age gives us the right to be happy by doing less work. Or, to be more accurate, by doing more play. Our greatest moments of inspiration and wellness are likely to come during leisure, with its accompanying peace and contentment. Big things spring from such tranquility. If we see our children and grandchildren having little time for each other, for us and sometimes for their children, we can look back at the pace we set for them as they grew up and take some responsibility for today’s frenetic world.

So, if there is a war on leisure, let us counterattack.

If you need proof that leisure is good for your health, look no further than the major “English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.” The study declared social detachment a public health issue and found that subjects with greater enjoyment of life were more likely than other participants to be alive nine to 10 years later, as paraphrased in a BBC news item. Of participants in the highest third of enjoyment levels, over 90% were alive after 10 years. Of people in the lowest third of enjoyment, only 71.2 % were alive.

The Play(ing) Is the Thing

And if we plan to play, we are best off playing with others. “The Longevity Project,” started in 1921, followed 1,500 people from childhood and concluded that social relations are essential to good health. Staying active in middle age is more important for healthy aging than athleticism in your youth.

Four Great Ways to Play While Relaxing…or Relax While Playing

#1 Birding: It is no coincidence that one of the fastest-growing outdoor activity in America is birding. Check out my earlier blog on the joys of birding. You can bird in your back yard and make the experience a community event. Every February, the National Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count connects neighbor and stranger in a joint effort to chronicle our birds. (Please check that website for COVID-19 updates for the February 2021 count).

#2. Fishing: Fishing may be the ultimate in isolated indolence. But, today, fishing, like birding, is also a line to new friends. My Fishing Club, a fishing club network, will hook you up with fishing clubs where you live.

#3. Gardening: Perhaps the ultimate in happy pursuits is gardening, or as it is now popularly called biophilia. Whether you are a one-pot wonder or designer of community gardens, there is something for you in gardening. Biophilia (meaning love of nature) focuses on humans’ innate attraction to nature and natural processes. It suggests that we all have a genetic connection to the natural world built up through hundreds of thousands of years of living in pastoral settings.

#4. Nature walks: Not only is gardening an excellent and popular source of leisure activity, but biophilia is of ever-increasing importance to our health and well-being. So much so that a new field of study, called Biophilic Design, has emerged. Using the ideas of “back to nature,” biophilic design uses these principles to create a human-centered approach that, when applied, improves many of the spaces that we live and work in today, with numerous benefits to our health and well-being.

Stop and smell the roses with friends you make at events held by the American Horticultural Society or through the American Public Gardens Association.

Get Your Gerotrancendence On!

Social psychologists have identified a final stage of life in our 80s and 90s to be a time when we look back over our lives to find meaning. Geroscientist Lars Tornstam coined the term “gerotranscendence“ to describe this stage and developed it into a full-fledged scientific theory.

A fulfilling leisure activity prompts us to do that, while also causing us to stay in the present. We cannot take our eye off that bird…that fishing line…or that tender seedling. We must connect with them and with those who share our interests. But, part of sharing is telling stories of rare bird sightings from decades past…the fish that got away… the prize tulips from our childhood garden.

In defense of leisure, there is nothing sweeter than sharing the things you love to do with others.

Perhaps it is not too late for us to become masters of slowing down, and beacons to illuminate the joys of health-giving passive and active leisure. Leisure is a conduit to connection and commitment, without which love does not start or stay.

The ultimate reward in creating your own experiences of pleasure and engagement is its potential to meet new friends and stay infinitely interesting to all whom you meet along the way.

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