Happy in Retirement: 6 Tips for Staying Active & Healthy

Happiness in retirement isn’t as simple as finding a spot on the beach for your recliner. Explore these options for finding purpose and staying happy, healthy, and motivated during retirement.

During the course of your career, you likely spent some time imagining your life in retirement. Whether your vision included a globe-trotting adventure, a hobby finally getting the time it deserved, or an endless string of afternoons spent relaxing, you’ve likely developed a set of expectations for your golden years.

But being happy in retirement isn’t a guarantee. While studies show that many retired people experience an improved state of well-being, many other retirees report they are more unhappy than when they were working.

For most people, a fulfilling retirement is within reach, but achieving it may require effort and discipline in a few key areas.

Keep a routine

One of the most enticing aspects of retirement is the prospect of freedom from your workday schedule. In the weeks just after you retire, flexibility can serve as a sort of decompression therapy. After a while, however, you may discover a lack of routine can lead to a sense of purposelessness.

That’s one reason many experts advocate a phased retirement, in which you gradually scale back your professional obligations. As phased retirement allows you to experiment with post-career activities and interests, it can help you through the transition. Phased retirement may also provide financial cushion by allowing you to temporarily supplement your retirement income.

According to research by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 15% of workers participate in formal phased-retirement programs, but demand is considerably higher. Even if your employer doesn’t offer phased retirement, you can replicate many of its benefits by choosing activities with similar features. A part-time job or formal volunteer position, for example, can convey some of the professional responsibilities and camaraderie that you might miss if you make a clean break from a full-time work schedule.

There’s also value in creating – and sticking to – a schedule. Keeping a consistent schedule around daily activities such as sleeping, eating, exercising, and hobbies can help protect against the feelings of retirement drift.

Stay in touch

According to a University of Chicago study, extreme loneliness can increase a retiree’s chances of premature death by 14%. Retirement can take us out of our social networks, removing the day-to-day human connections we make at our places of work. For people who retire and relocate to a new place, the potential loneliness can be even greater.

To counter feelings of loneliness, take special care to maintain your relationships with coworkers, friends, and family even if it requires more active work. In addition, you may find it helpful to pursue new relationships, including group affiliations. The University of Chicago study found that both relationships and a sense of belonging to a group are important to overall well-being. Retirement can afford you plenty of time to join new groups, whether they’re centered around a hobby, volunteer commitment, faith community, or an exercise group.

Remain active

It’s easy for people in all stages of life to get out of the habit of regular exercise, and retirees are no different. But staying active is vital to your well-being and happiness, particularly in retirement. Not only will it help ward off an array of potential health problems, but exercise can improve your mood and boost your energy.

For retirees, there’s also the very practical matter of maintaining the core levels of physical competence necessary to pursue your hobbies and maintain an independent lifestyle. While it may not seem like stretching exercises now will contribute much to your happiness in retirement, it’s part of a routine that could enable you to stay active for years to come.

Experts at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommend an exercise program for retirees that incorporates four different types of activities: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. The NIA’s website lists a variety of exercises accessible to people of all ages that offer physical and mental health benefits without requiring specialized equipment.

If you haven’t been exercising much but are interested in stepping up your fitness routine, the NIA also has resources designed to help you find an appropriate starting point and build from there — even if you struggle with physical limitations.

Remember to eat

Nutrition is a critical part of staying happy in retirement. As our bodies age, we require fewer calories but just as many nutrients. That means a healthy diet for an older person features more nutrient-dense foods and fewer high-calorie treats without a corresponding nutritional benefit. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends limiting your intake of sugary drinks, along with bread, rice, and pastas made from refined grains. Likewise, they advise using liquid fats like olive oil instead of those that are solid at room temperature, such as butter. The NIDDK also suggests preparing and freezing a few healthy meals so that you have a healthy options available when you don’t want to cook.

Cutting back on unhealthy foods doesn’t have to make retirement miserable. Consider this: a 2017 study indicates that healthy food choices actually have a stronger correlation to happiness than unhealthy foods — and vegetables ranked first of all food categories.

Train your brain

Oftentimes, retirement provides the flexibility and space to learn something new. You may have achieved mastery of career skills long ago, but it’s possible you haven’t pushed yourself to acquire new skills or areas of expertise in a while.

The mental exercise of learning something new can be fulfilling on its own merits — as you enjoy the sense of progress in pursuing new projects or areas of study — and also because it may keep your brain function and memory strong, according to Harvard Medical School experts. These pursuits can be individual; reading qualifies, as do retirement activities such as painting and putting together puzzles. But there’s also an opportunity to hit multiple goals at once by joining a group that’s organized around a shared intellectual or artistic pursuit, as you’ll forge new social connections and establish a routine while stimulating your brain.

Keep an eye on your finances

You don’t have to be flush with cash to be happy in retirement. In terms of well-being, it’s important to minimize the potential for financial anxiety or crisis, and that means being knowledgeable about the state of your finances and budgeting accordingly.

Regions has a variety of free resources designed to help you create a retirement plan and budget that will enable you to navigate many of retirement’s hidden obstacles. By making a clear-eyed plan and sticking to it, you’ll be acting to ensure that your retirement is enjoyable and satisfying, even if your lifestyle is modest.

A happy retirement is within your reach, but it’ll take some effort and planning. By making careful lifestyle choices and valuing routine, relationships, and consistent physical and mental activity, you’ll set yourself on a fulfilling course.

Counting down the days until you retire? Use our retirement calculator to find out how far your savings will stretch.


This information is provided for educational and general marketing purposes only and should not be construed as a recommendation or suggestion as to the advisability of acquiring, holding or disposing of a particular investment, nor should it be construed as a suggestion or indication that the particular investment or investment course of action described herein is appropriate for any specific retirement investor. In providing this communication, Regions is not undertaking to provide impartial investment advice or to give advice in a fiduciary capacity.