Walking won’t burn calories like running, bicycling or many other types of exercise, but slowing down can open the door to an experience that’s as good for the soul as it is for the heart. I’m a runner, and my usual practice when I run is to put in my ear buds and listen to a podcast. I tell myself it’s efficient–I’m learning and staying informed while I’m exercising… what could be better? Routine and focus have their place, but with my ears plugged and my eyes on the road I know I’m missing something. That’s when I need Henry David Thoreau to kick me out of my rut.
Walking with Attitude
Thoreau believed that every step out your front door was an opportunity for discovery, a chance for peak experience. “We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.” I don’t think Thoreau was seriously suggesting that you start walking and never come home, but he was saying that if you act as if your destination is Mount Everest or the Kalahari Desert, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to see things you otherwise might miss.
Give it a try. The world is a beautiful place. Walk and imagine your eyes are seeing what no human eyes have seen before (and leave those ear buds at home). Walk heroically, like Henry David. Walk to refresh your spirit.
Creating—making something new—can strengthen the immune system, fight depression, and forge new connections in the brain that build “cognitive reserve” and ward off dementia. If you’re tired of your book club and want to add some creativity to your life, why not…
Start a play-reading group!
A play-reading group is a book club on steroids, involving less advance preparation and more real-time participation and engagement. You’ll need to recruit a group of friends willing to go a little (but not too far!) beyond wine-fueled book club palaver that all too often veers toward gossip. As the instigator it’s your job to select a play; for your first gathering, try a one-act play or one act from a longer play. Assign parts (you can assign more than one part to each participant), distribute copies at least a week before your meeting, and ask your armchair thespians to read the play and think about their characters.
Creativity and Socializing
When you get together begin with snacks and drinks to put everyone in a relaxed mood, and then… start reading! You’ll quickly get into the scene and as you proceed you’ll find yourself gaining an appreciation for the material entirely different from reading it silently to itself. You’ll exercise creativity as you bring life to your character, both your eyes and your ears will be engaged as you read along and listen to others, and you’ll be socializing, too! (Before you start reading you may want to set a few ground rules, such as encouraging readers to stop and ask for advice about how a line should be read, or to call a timeout and make a comment about what’s going on in a particular scene.) If everyone has a good time end the evening by scheduling your next reading… at someone else’s house.
Regular socializing is one of the keys to healthy aging and retirement—socializing averts loneliness, a killer worse than obesity, and interaction with others stimulates your brain cells, averting cognitive decline.
Pick up your phone and call or text a friend and set a date for coffee! (Men, this is especially important for you. For whatever reason, women are better at socializing than us, and I’ve seen married couples in retirement fall into an unhealthy pattern. Men lose the social network they had at work and become dependent on their wives both for company and to organize their social lives. The fact is, however much she loves you, your wife didn’t ask for and doesn’t want this job. It will drive her crazy and it will jeopardize your relationship.)
I have a couple of friends I see regularly for coffee. We debate politics (I believe in ignoring the common advice to avoid controversial topics), talk about movies we’ve seen, catch up on other friends and talk about our kids. When it’s over I wonder where the time went, and I always leave in a positive frame of mind. Don’t wait to get started! As the philosopher and psychologist William James wrote: “Sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny.”
The small step of meeting a friend for coffee can lead to a destiny of happiness and longevity.
Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs) are community-based learning organizations, typically affiliated with a college or university, offering classes, lectures and other activities primarily for retired people. While some LLIs also have paid staff, nearly all are strongly volunteer-driven, providing fantastic opportunities for socializing as well as for learning. Following the lead of the very first LLI founded at the New School in New York in the early 1960s, most adhere to a peer teaching/facilitation model where LLI members lead classes based on academic or professional expertise, or personal passion. Not convinced yet? LLIs are an incredible bargain, charging only nominal fees for semester-long memberships or individual classes.
How do I find an LLI near me?
Road Scholar, the educational travel not-for-profit organization, has a searchable database of more than 400 LLIs across the United States.