DR Rob Gandy  I  UK

Years ago many men who retired at the age of 65 were dead within a few short years. The problem was that having spent a lifetime working hard – usually in heavy industry, or similar, in that era – they had little or nothing to do in retirement (unless they were avid gardeners or had an allotment). So many just spent their days plonked in front of the television, or reading the newspaper, maybe picking a few horses to place a bet on.

Fortunately those days are gone, with increasing longevity. Nevertheless there are still those who make being a couch potato into a fine art. So if you are one of them, and you are reading this on your tablet or computer screen, then sit up straight and start thinking about changing your lifestyle.

..being active is good for both your physical and mental well-being

Image by Sean Stratton via Urban Splash

Progressive companies anticipate their staff’s retirement by providing retirement planning sessions, so that they do not fall into the traps of their forefathers and mothers. But even if you are already retired, or have not had the benefit of such guidance, then there is nothing to stop you sitting down (!!!) with a piece of paper and jotting down lists of those things that you would like to do, and those things that you can do, even though you might not be that keen.

This is important because being active is good for both your physical and mental well-being. Of course, you can start by having a look at the Active Lives pages on this website, which will set out a wide range of opportunities for you to consider, many of which involve organised activities.

But what if you are living somewhere comparatively remote or such activities are not available locally? I thought that I might set out some suggestions for “do-it-yourself” active ageing, so that you can not only be “nifty at fifty” but also “less weighty at eighty” (apologies for this last one). Of course, there are multiple components to staying fit and well, with the most obvious distinction being between “physical” health and “mental” health. So I have drawn on this below:

….getting out and meeting others and getting your body into shape

Photograph via Maarten Van Den Heuvel via Unspalsh

Physical Health

There is likely to be a gym near to you, and this will be a great option for getting out and meeting others and getting your body into shape. But if there isn’t, or if you feel uncomfortable about going to such venues, then why not set up something in your own home? A home gym only needs to be a spare room – which many of us will have now the kids have flown the nest. (Using their old room for a home gym also makes it more difficult for them to come back ☺). This means that you don’t have to get in a car and pack a sports bag full of stuff, or look at a load of gym bunnies who make you feel inferior. This can be a fully blown treadmill or an exercise bike or just a mat on the floor so that you can exercise.

A recent popular innovation is to get a Wii and leap about like a maniac in front of the television in your living room. There are lots of games you can play and there can be no greater satisfaction than beating your teenage grandchildren at one of them (even if it is a rare occurrence). The main thing to remember is to draw the curtains before you start!

If you want fresh air in your lungs then going for a regular walk or a run may be best for you. You will be aware that many people have damaged themselves over time with a lot of road running and jogging, because of the impact on their joints. So make sure you get quality footwear, that minimises such problems, and take advice. Equally, getting a bike will get you about, and you will be able to travel much further. Given the traffic issues that we are all familiar with for cyclists, and the standard of many of our roads, it might be best to time any cycling journeys so that the roads are at their safest.

Alternatively go to your local swimming pool and get into the water. You can enjoy a good swim regardless of your age or your ability, and it benefits your cardiovascular system. And it is kinder on your joints and bones than an impact sport.

Finally, if you don’t want to go anywhere and you want to chill then Yoga might be perfect for you, as it improves flexibility and boosts levels of concentration. You can stick to the basic positions if you like, or try and work your way up to the more advanced/ adventurous ones. There are always classes available, and worst case is to buy a book or a DVD.

Mental Health

Keeping your brain working is good to help ward of dementia. This can involve simple stuff like crosswords and Sudoku, or even computer games. Playing cards with friends is also good, as long as there are not too many drinks at your elbow.

Many GBoomers start to study subjects that they always wanted to study, but never had the time to study when they were young. They might have done an engineering degree when they were young, but they always had a passion for archaeology. Some go the whole hog and enrol at a university course; there is very likely to be a university within travelling distance offering a wide range of study options, but if you prefer to stay near to home and work around your other commitments then the Open University1 might be a good choice because it offers lots of distance learning courses and adult education.

If you don’t feel like anything as structured and demanding as university, why not look at the courses that are run by the Workers’ Educational Association2 or the University of the Third Age3, where there are wide ranging course of varying lengths. This could include that new language that you need to learn before going on that foreign holiday you have promised yourself.

Of course, the longstanding option for keeping your brain ticking over is to read books. But which books might get the old grey matter churning more than others is something you might want to think about. Something scientific or abstract, or just the latest chic lit?

So, whatever you age, it will be of benefit to sit down with a nice cuppa and ask yourself what are your main interests and what you need to do to keep well physically and mentally. There are lots of opportunities, but you need to plan ahead and then make sure that you stick to the plan!