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Retired? It's Time to Join the Club

Congratulations! You're retired, the kids are grown and at last you can do what you want. So what are you going to do with all that spare time?

"We encourage people to plan financially for later life, but do very little to help them plan their 'life portfolio,' which includes their time, energy, interests and ambitions," says Jim Hinterlong, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Florida State University. "Ironically, there is plenty of current research showing that meaningful activity is mentally and physically healthy for older adults."

One way to find an activity is to join a club, group or class. "Joining a group provides another avenue for social stimulations, in addition to the activity itself. Plus, social interactions and a sense of belonging to a group enhance the probability that the activity will be maintained," says Denise C. Park, Ph.D., codirector of the Roybal Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

To find out which groups suit you, list things you've always wanted to do. Perhaps you'd like to sharpen your computer skills, join a theater group, sign up with a walking club, help out at a pet shelter, learn how to tango, become a tour guide, visit the land of your ancestors or take a class.

"Consider whatever would be fun, such as quilting, gardening or photography, and then see if a group that caters to this interest exists," says Dr. Park. "The local newspaper is probably the best way to find interesting groups and activities in smaller cities, and the Internet may be useful for larger cities." And don't be shy about trying something new. In the 21st century, there's no such thing as "you can't do that at your age!"

"The key is to find something that stretches your mind, including activities that are novel and stimulating," Dr. Park says. "For example, a book-reading group might be less stimulating to an English teacher, but much more interesting to an engineer who has not engaged in such [leisure-time reading] groups in the past."

What if you've never been a joiner?

"All individuals have the capacity to change, and as you grow older and your life circumstances change—it can be motivation for you to become involved," says Dr. Hinterlong. Adds Dr. Park: "Trying a group might be the most novel, stimulating thing a 'nonjoiner' could do."

Look at groups that are open to all ages. "Older adults shouldn't feel shy about joining groups that are not exclusively for seniors," says Dr. Park. For example, if you love movies, call your local theater or community college and ask if they have a film group.

"Sit down and ask yourself what's really important to you and what are some new avenues you'd like to explore," Dr. Hinterlong says. "Your age is irrelevant—people of all ages want to feel part of something that is important."