As you progress through youth and middle age, retirement moves from being a vague abstraction to an impending reality. How should we prepare for this major change in our lives? In addition to planning for financial security, we should consider the content of our retirement years. How will the activities we choose express our values, provide satisfaction, and  enrich our own lives and that of others? How can we develop a lifestyle that promotes our physical and mental well-being? Many people do not have a realistic vision of retirement. They think they will be “happy,” but they are not exactly sure of what that means.

The first thing to consider is our longevity, as retirement at age 65 may well last for 30 years. One study of a middle-to-upper income population revealed that, for a couple at age 65, there is a 50% chance that at least one spouse will live to age 94 and a 25% chance that at least one lives to age 98. In addition to the length of retirement, we know that age increases the likelihood of needing medical care. Among those over 85 years of age, 33% are afflicted with some degree of Alzheimer’s Disease, in addition to other cognitive impairments.

Let’s discuss a few key areas we can plan for to ensure a positive outlook throughout retirement.

Remain Active in Retirement

Your mid-life years are filled with things that you are supposed to do, so your schedule is largely pre-determined. Retirement, in contrast, is a blank slate, there for you to fill in at your own volition. However, just because you are not spending most of your time earning a living or raising a family, it does not follow that your life should be lacking in meaningful activities.

The first tip for a successful retirement is to stay active. Consider part-time work – not necessarily for financial need, but for the value it will add to your day. Look for something that makes you feel like you are contributing to the common good and giving back to your community. Teaching, volunteer work or other jobs that allow you to use your accumulated knowledge and wisdom can inspire your days with a sense of mission.

Purposefulness in Retirement

A study has found that 94% of purposeful people have a positive outlook on life. Why should there be any age limitation on having such an outlook? This article about forward-looking thinking about retirement gives full consideration to this theme. Here are a few resources you can check out, which have exciting insights about how to develop a purposeful retirement:

  • This is an “innovation hub tapping the talent of people 50+ as a force for good.” The organization provides opportunities for you to mentor and guide the younger generation.
  • The Stanford Center on Longevity. This organization’s mission is to “accelerate and implement scientific discoveries, technological advances, behavioral practices, and social norms so that century-long lives are healthy and rewarding.”

A Healthy Retirement Includes Physical Activity

For most people, aging entails an increasing need for medical care. One analysis concluded that you should have $280,000 saved at age 65 for health care alone. You do not, however, have to await this outcome passively – you can stack the odds in your favor by following a healthy diet and remaining physically active. Choose your favorites from a plethora of possible activities, such as walking, jogging, yoga, exercising at home or in a gym, or sports like tennis or golf. Don’t think you have to keep up with the 20- or 30-year olds; go at your own pace and challenge yourself. By setting realistic goals in this area, you will be motivated and attain satisfaction from your achievements.

A Stimulating Retirement Includes Intellectual Activity

“Lifetime learning” should not be just a cliché. Think of retirement as your opportunity to pursue interests you’ve always had but didn’t have the time to do. Do you want to learn a language or become an expert in U.S. history or economics? Just like physical activities, learning new things is not just for the young. Doing so will keep your brain working and your instincts sharp.

A 30-year retirement is not something to be afraid of or take lightly. Consider filling in the “blank slate” of retirement with part-time paid or volunteer work – providing a sense of purpose or mission -and complement this with a set of activities promoting mind-body health and harmony.

In the end, age on the calendar will fade in importance and each day will be exciting, challenging and rewarding.