Let’s be honest – work is an important part of a person’s life, right? It gives us a feeling of purpose and fills our days with routine and structure. When you retire, it’s a huge transition. This adjustment can be hard, and many retirees may experience feelings of depression or loss.

But don’t worry, because there are things you can do to make this chapter of your life just as fulfilling as the last. After all, you put so much into your work, and you deserve the time to focus on yourself.

So, how do you make the most of your retirement? How can you spend your time doing things that make you feel good, healthy and whole? Let’s take a look.

The stages of retirement

Retirement is different for each person, but we all tend to experience it in stages. Knowing where you’re at in your retirement transition can help you examine your needs and figure out what comes next.

  • Pre-retirement: The period before retirement when you are planning, both financially and emotionally, for the big day. This is often an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking time.
  • Full retirement: Often considered the “honeymoon phase,” this is the stage of retirement where you finally get to retire. It’s typically thrilling, filled with new activities and a feeling of freedom.
  • Disenchantment: This stage of retirement is when the initial excitement wears off, and you may experience feelings of boredom or disappointment. This can sometimes lead to depression, as retirement may not feel like it’s living up to what it should.
  • Reorientation: Often considered the hardest stage, this is when you’re most likely to start re-evaluating your retirement lifestyle. It involves asking the hard questions, relearning what does and doesn’t work for you, so you can get the most out of your retirement.
  • Stability: As the final stage, those who have reached stability find themselves settled in a fulfilling, comfortable lifestyle that meets their needs.

What to do after retirement

No matter which stage of retirement you’re in, it’s not uncommon to find yourself restless from time to time. Maybe you’re feeling a little bored in retirement or you’ve started wondering how to fill your time.

First, let’s reframe that thinking a little. “Filling” is what you do when something is empty, and your time is not empty. If anything, this is the perfect period to focus on yourself and your needs. And it’s OK if that’s hard, because you’ve spent the last several decades focusing on everything but yourself.

For many, this process starts with reflection: What are things you’ve always wanted to do? How can you take care of yourself in a way that feels the best?

Here are some things that may help.

Stay active and moving

Regular physical activity encourages better mental and physical health. It boosts energy levels, mental sharpness, balance, strength and flexibility. Exercise is also one of the best tools you have in your arsenal for keeping chronic illness and depression at bay. For people 60 and older, the CDC recommends up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week. If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, don’t worry – getting fit after age 60 is easier than you think. Step one is finding an activity that you really enjoy doing, such as:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Pickleball
  • Tennis
  • Water aerobics
  • Weight training
  • Light yoga
  • Resistance band training

If you want more hands-on guidance, consider joining a senior recreation center. These organizations typically offer a variety of fitness classes you can choose from. Plus, it’s a great way to meet other people and develop a sense of community.

For those enrolled in a Medicare plan, you might even have access to resources and fitness benefits, such as a fitness club membership or home exercise kits, that can help you during your fitness journey.

Get social with healthy relationships

Social interaction is a huge contributor to mental health. A thriving social life can often lessen the likelihood of retirement depression, mental decline and other health risks. Joining a local club or group, participating in neighborhood coffee gatherings or joining a community garden are all great options to consider.

And remember: your interests are key. Do you enjoy playing board games? You can find other seniors that meet in the park several times a week. Do you love cooking? There are tons of online groups you can join that share recipes. For those interested in learning something new, you can enroll in a community or university education program for seniors, many of which are available both online and in person.

Avoid too much web time

There’s a lot going on in the world these days. For many of us, that means staying informed and connected online. But it’s important to remember that being too plugged in can become a problem. Constantly following news and social media can be a huge source of anxiety and stress. And that stress from information overload can physically impact the body, causing fatigue, headaches and more. Try to limit your use – you’ll feel better!

Sharpen your skills for better health

Physical activity isn’t the only way to stay healthy – your mind needs its own kind of exercise, too. Learning and mastering new skills or hobbies can help maintain cognitive health. Retirement is the perfect time to explore an interest you’ve always wanted to learn, like painting, crochet, woodwork, cooking or even studying a new language. The opportunities are endless. If you’re not sure where to start, look into a local adult education class and see what’s on the docket.

But you don’t have to learn an entirely new craft to stay sharp. Keeping focused on a hobby or activity you love can help improve your mental health and memory. Some daily activities with known cognitive benefits include crossword and jigsaw puzzles, reading, card games and simple crafts.

Travel near and far

If you’re feeling a little stuck with where you’re at, maybe it’s time to get out and travel. Before getting started, make a quick “bucket list” of places you’d like to go. Maybe you want to take a weekend to visit the grandkids, explore somewhere warm during the winter or discover a place you’ve never been.

The best part is that travel doesn’t always have to be a big excursion. Even a day trip to a nearby museum, art center, botanical garden or nature walk can be a worthwhile experience.

No matter where you’re headed, it’s important to plan ahead. Many Medicare plans offer exclusive benefits for travelers, so you can stay safe while you hit the road.

Establish a daily schedule

One of the best things you can do for yourself during retirement is create a solid, healthy routine. But what does a daily schedule for retirees look like?

A good routine doesn’t have to be the same kind of daily schedule you kept while you were working. This time, your agenda can be centered around you, and the things that make you feel and function your best.

Having a schedule in retirement boasts a lot of important health benefits, too. A familiar rhythm to your day, created around your needs and health, can help you manage stress, get better sleep, and help you budget scheduled pockets during your day for exercise, social interaction, healthy eating and other important activities.

Volunteer in your community

Looking for more meaningful things to do in retirement? First, keep in mind that “meaningful” is subjective. What’s important to you might be different for other people, and that’s OK. For many, retirement offers the unique opportunity to be more involved in our communities and to volunteer our time to help those in need.

If you’re able, connect with volunteer initiatives online or through your local community center to see what you’d be most interested in. From food banks to national park volunteering, the list is endless. And the best part? Studies show that seniors and retirees who get involved with volunteer work often experience a boost in mental health, social activity and feelings of productivity.

Make sleep a priority

A good sleep schedule can make all the difference when it comes to both mental and physical health. However, as we get older, sleep can get a little more complicated, and oftentimes, the shift from working to retirement can factor into that.

But there are plenty of things you can do to encourage a healthy sleep schedule. In fact, you don’t have to deviate too much from the sleep schedule you kept when you were working. If you want to go to bed a little earlier or sleep a little later, begin transitioning your sleep schedule, slowly but surely, to meet the times that work best for you – as long as you find yourself getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

If you have trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care doctor for help.

Keep an eye on preventive health

Your overall health is important, and luckily, there are many ways you can prevent possible health issues before they begin. Don’t forget to take advantage of regular health screenings, checkups and physicals. Not only will you get the care you need, but you’ll also be able to collaborate with your doctor to create a general health plan that works best for you. This can also be a good time to start thinking about an advance care directive, even if you don’t see yourself needing one anytime soon.

During your Medicare annual wellness visit, which is included in your Part B coverage, you can discuss preventive health measures like healthy eating, physical activity, brain health and much more.

Prioritize your mental health

As we mentioned, retirement is a huge life adjustment, and you don’t have to go through it alone. Both new retirees as well as those who have been retired for years can find themselves feeling lost or stuck. It’s OK to ask for help.

If you’re feeling depressed or you’d like to talk to someone, it may be time to reach out to a mental health expert. They’ll be able to help guide you through this transition.