These days, there’s lots of talk about living your best life. And while it doesn’t necessarily refer to the years after 50, it is certainly an appropriate description. Characterized by empty nests, successful careers, well-deserved retirement, strong relationships and an even stronger sense of self, your 50s, 60s and 70s have the potential to be the best decades of your life—if you truly embrace them. Here are a few ways to make the most of what we’re calling the new prime of your life.
Always wanted to give back but could never find the time? With a combination of more flexible schedules and a stronger sense of what’s meaningful, these years are primed for a volunteer focus. And as they say, you’ll get what you give: Giving back contributes to positive mental health by boosting feelings of productivity and providing the chance for social interaction—but has also been found to improve physical health by lowering blood pressure and reducing stress. Find an organization that’s important to you and ask how you can help. With many companies needing a wide range of assistance, you’re sure to find a way to volunteer that suits your interests, schedules and social preferences.
Mother Nature provides health benefits at any age, from reducing stress to lowering the risk of depression to improving short-term memory functions. But it turns out spending time in green spaces is especially important for people over 50. Being outside can increase your white blood cell count, boosting your immune system, and natural light has been shown to help surgery patients recover more quickly. Plus, a healthy dose of vitamin D can help stave off osteoporosis and heart disease. So whether you’re having coffee with a friend, reading a book or just looking to get up and move around, take it outside and reap health benefits while you breathe in fresh air and a scenic backdrop.
Tap your inner globetrotter and hit the road, whether revisiting favorite places or seeking out new adventures. Along with great memories—and photos perfect for both the mantel and social media—travel comes with health benefits, too. Navigating new cities, languages, sights and conversations helps keep cognitive skills sharp, while the physical activity and exercise involved in exploring a new place can help reduce stress and lower the risk of a heart attack. Want to make it even less stressful? Let someone else to do the planning. Many guided trips and tours across the globe cater to adults 50 and older, so it’s easy to surround yourself with fellow travelers in your age range.
A more flexible schedule means more time to spend with family—namely those adorable grandkids. And when you help out with after-school pickup, or invite the crew over for dinner, you’re not just helping the parents, you’re helping yourself as well. Studies have shown that older adults who look after grandkids live an average of five years longer. So offer to babysit, take the kids on a fun outing or make memories together — and then enjoy the added perk of giving young ones back to their parents at the end of the day.
Whether it’s picking up a new hobby, taking a class, attending a discussion or digging into a topic that’s always intrigued you, keeping brain muscles sharp through continued learning reaps benefits for both mental and emotional health. Studies have shown that people who keep their minds active are less likely to develop dementia, and can also lessen the chance for cognitive decline and depression—and there are the added benefits that come from staying socially engaged. Plus, you’re more likely to have an arsenal of interesting conversation topics at the ready, ensuring a return invite to any social gathering.
Family can often be the focus during these decades. But don’t underestimate the value of friendships. While family can come with obligations and well-worn roles, nurturing new and old friendships allows older adults to grow and flourish as independent selves. And it’s not just about quantity; as we grow older, friendships take on a deeper and more significant quality and are often cited as a large source of joy. Plus, keeping a strong social network has been shown to lower the risk of dementia, boost the immune system, help combat loneliness and even add years to your life—which, in turn, is sure to be filled with plenty of social engagements.
Keep an eye out for discounts, specials and other money-saving perks for the over-50 crowd. Our country’s national parks, for instance, offer special lifetime passes along with heavy discounts on activities like canoeing and camping. Many local colleges have free or discounted courses for seniors. Some airlines offer reduced fares as well, and you can also find an array of stores and restaurants serving up shopping or dining specials solely for those in their 50s and beyond. Just a little research can yield a lot of savings, perfect for putting back into your activity budget or pocketing for the future.
Climbing a mountain. Running a 10k. Eating at a renowned restaurant. Learning to play guitar. Whatever your goals in this latter half of life, putting them down on paper can increase motivation, keep you focused and get the creativity flowing, as you dream of all you can do. It’s also a way to take stock of your values and recognize what’s truly important during these years. Few things equal the feeling of crossing an item off the bucket list: That small gesture is a big way to catalog a life well lived.