Retirement can be a shock to the system. The job that once kept you busy at least 40 hours a week is gone, and with it — for some — your sense of purpose. If you don’t find fun things to do when you retire, you can find yourself feeling lost, lonely in retirement.
In my book “Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger, and Happier,” I recommend that retirees make a “retirement hobbies list” that blends socializing, moving, creating and thinking — building blocks that have been shown to correlate with high scores on standard measures of successful aging and cognitive health.
We surveyed over 1,000 retirees to find out what hobbies for seniors they have taken up in retirement, and we used their recommendations to build this list of top hobbies for retirees. These retirement pastimes are all rich in two or more of the four key dimensions that came out on top in our poll. Are any of these a big part of your life? What other hobby ideas for newly retired folks should we add to the list?
Mobility issues, travel restrictions, budget or time constraints may make your opportunities for international learning and travel a challenge. But you don't have to leave your front door to continue your journey of lifelong learning in retirement! There are countless online lectures, educational programs and courses designed for seniors that you can take to occupy and expand your mind even when you don't have the ability or budget to learn about the world in person.
Check out our collection of Online Learning Opportunities for Seniors!
One top retirement hobby is volunteering. It’s good for the soul, highly social and comes in a thousand forms. Work in a museum, and you’ll have daily opportunities to learn something new. Take part in a service role where you can help others. Or volunteer at an arts center where you can have (often free) access to performances. One retiree told us that his hobby is working in a men’s prison in California counseling inmates on career development and says he has learned a lot from his students while deepening his commitment to prison reform. Another is a volunteer docent at the National Underground Railway Freedom Center, where she enjoys conveying the important lesson about “how courage, cooperation and perseverance on the part of mostly unsung heroes brought about positive changes.” You can even combine your service with an educational learning adventure on a Service Learning program.
Or check out our Top Volunteer Opportunities for Seniors Blog!
Participating in a Book Club
Love to read? Make your reading even more rewarding by joining a book club as one of your hobbies in retirement, and you can deepen your understanding of both books and people. One Road Scholar retiree belongs to four book clubs and is starting a fifth. “I enjoy the reading and the insights, friendships and other viewpoints that come from club discussions,” she said. Joining a book club in retirement can also encourage you to read books you otherwise wouldn’t read and can open doors to new experiences!
Another idea for the newly retired is walking or hiking. Both pastimes comes with fresh air and a quickened pulse, a chance to observe nature and, if you walk with a friend, a dose of the socializing that’s so important to healthy aging. Add that all up, and in a 45-minute walk you’ve helped your brain more than you would by doing a crossword puzzle. One Road Scholar retiree writes that walking takes her back to her childhood: “I grew up in a small town and, when the weather permitted, we would take long walks on Sunday afternoons. It was always a special time to enjoy the beauties of nature and to greet those we would meet along the way. We returned home refreshed, happy and filled with thanksgiving. Although I am now 82 and live alone, I still walk and inwardly feel the same as I did then. A good way to begin my day.”
With abundant Internet resources and the advent of other digital tools, genealogy has perhaps never been more popular, making it one of Road Scholars’ top hobbies for retirement. Genealogical detective work is a great pastime for your brain and might even introduce you to distant cousins you otherwise would never have met. One newly retired Road Scholar wrote that research she thought would take three months has taken her on a time-travel trip through history for the last eight years. “I am amazed by my ancestors and have found out about their lives and written their stories,” she said. “It has changed my life and my knowledge about this country and Europe. Some of my genealogy trips included areas my ancestors have lived in. It has made the trips come alive with history, and the trips are then so personal and touch me to my core being.”
Would you like to learn to see in a completely new way? The great photographer Alfred Stieglitz wrote that “in photography there is a reality so subtle it becomes more than reality,” and several of the retirees we surveyed made similar observations. One wrote: "Photography has enlarged my ‘mental’ eye to see beyond the photo. It’s a constant learning process." Photography can also give you a way to utilize and develop the artistic side of your brain as you age.
Gardening is good for the body, the brain and the soul and a great idea for retirement. It’s also a great hobby for seniors to do at home. Add this popular pastime to your retirement hobbies list, and you’ll get exercise and, if you grow vegetables, eat more healthfully. One retiree wrote: "I am a biologist by training, and the biology of a garden is always a learning experience," while another writes that “communing in nature enhances the spiritual side of my being.”
I can’t add anything to what this Road Scholar writes: “I used to be a fairly strong hiker, but as I got older I started to slow down, not just because I was aging, but because I no longer saw the need to complete a hike in a quick time. I started to notice more and became a birder.” Birding is a perfect activity for older people – you get outside and walk, you can go by yourself or with a group, and you exercise your reflexes in focusing on the bird and your mind in trying to identify the bird. Birding is an excellent hobby for any senior or retired person.
Foreign Language Study
Another fun thing to do when you retire is to learn a new language! Don’t fall for the trap that learning a foreign language is only a young person’s game. While youth has some advantages, older people bring something special to the task, namely, focus and a genuine commitment to learning that children often lack. Still don’t believe me? Listen to this Road Scholar retiree: “I have gone back to school (I am almost 82 years old), and I am earning a bachelor's degree. I am studying Latin and Greek.”
Erik Erikson, the eminent psychologist who carefully mapped the stages of human life, wrote that the seventh stage is marked by conflict between stagnation and generativity. “Generativity” means leaving something of value to future generations, whether by changing the world or by passing on stories and lessons to one’s children and grandchildren. Writing is a great tool for generativity, and many seniors who have written memoirs have jumped into other genres of writing. One writes, “I have written and published a memoir I began as a student in OLLI’s Memoir Writing Class. It was an amazing journey that continues. I have discovered that I have a keen writing style and definitely have stories to tell. I have begun my second book, a novel.” Other survey respondents write poems and raps for special occasions, historical biographies or performance scripts for local historical societies. One wrote that “when I don’t write, I get cranky!”
Singing or Playing a Musical Instrument
Another top hobby for retirees: taking music lessons. Like studying a foreign language, this pastime is something seniors are often a little afraid of. But here, too, older people often have a more disciplined approach to practice that young musicians lack. That can be a great advantage and can lead to satisfying progress. One Road Scholar retiree wrote that she has declared music to be the theme of her retirement. “I used to sing in the chorus in high school,” she said. “Then I sang and played guitar with a church group in mid-life. Later, I took voice lessons and performed with a community choral group. And currently I play ukulele about once per week. I found this uke group after I was newly retired, and it is now a very important social group for me.” Another observed that playing music can forestall dementia.
Painting and Drawing
Do you want an artistic outlet other than music? Why not try fine arts? One Road Scholar senior writes that painting “has been inspirational for me. I especially like plein air (outdoor) painting as it combines my love of nature and scenery with the deeply satisfying experience of painting. It becomes a way of both freeing and expanding mind and spirit.”
If walking or hiking is too hard on your knees, bicycling may be the best retirement hobby for you. Many seniors say that bicycling rekindles the feelings of freedom they experienced as children cycling everywhere. One Road Scholar retiree writes that 30 years ago he “joined a Wednesday night ride for anyone in our neighborhood who was interested in participating. I still ride today, both locally and on Road Scholar rides, and am always pleased with the number of friends I have made through this activity.” Another writes that “bicycling provides a social group, good aerobic exercise, helps me maintain physical abilities (balance, strength), helps me stay mentally alert (watching out for motorists) and allows me to experience outdoors and travel to many places.” What more could you ask for?
Favorite Hobbies for Retired Women
Travel and lifelong learning are two of the most popular hobbies for older women, which explains why over 60 percent of Road Scholar travelers are women! Solo travelers and widows looking to venture out on their own for the first time are also easy to find on a Road Scholar adventure. City explorations and European adventures are among the most popular trips for women over 50.
We have also found that lots of different retirement hobbies can be particularly empowering to learn about with a group of just older women. Our Women’s-Only Adventures were designed around some of the most popular hobbies for senior women, from hiking to cooking and whitewater rafting.
Along with the hobbies you’ve already read about in this blog, crafting is among the most popular pastimes with our female retirees. Spend time honing a craft that you’ve always been passionate about, or try your hand at something new — from rug hooking to quilting.
Wellness activities are also top the list of most popular hobbies for our women participants. Learn to stay limber on a yoga retreat and build a daily stretching practice. Or work to maintain your mental health with meditation in the mountains.
Most Popular Hobbies for Retired Men
Older men may find that they have unique challenges when they retire. Those who have lived a life of physical demands may find that they have more limited options for activities in retirement. Men over 60 who have worked long hours before retirement may find that they’ve neglected building a social community — leaving them lonely in retirement.
But older men around the world are finding creative ways to overcome these challenges. The “Men’s Shed Movement,” founded in Australia, provides a gathering place for retired men to work together and build community. You may consider taking up a pastime like woodworking, blacksmithing or other industrial arts.
The “Middle Age Men in Lycra” phenomenon proves that cycling for older men has grown more popular in recent years. And golf has always been one of the most popular activities for retired men. But have you ever heard of pickleball? It’s now one of the fastest-growing sports in America, largely due to its popularity among senior men. Or, if you’re an avid sports fan but aren’t able to play sports any more — follow your favorite baseball team and learn all about America’s favorite pastime at Spring Training in Florida or Arizona.
Have a passion for beer or interested in honing your cooking skills in retirement? Venture out on a food or wine adventure for seniors! Learn about brewing in Asheville, N.C., or learn to cook the catch of the day in Oregon. Or, speaking of the catch of the day — how about a fishing trip for seniors? Fly-fish in the Catskills or Alberta, and make new fisherman friends along the way.
On a Road Scholar program, not only can you delve deeper into a new passion or discover a new one — but you can do it all in a community of adults 50-and-over who share your curiosity and sense of adventure!
Top Activities for Retired Couples
Some couples find it exciting to rediscover their relationship by trying new hobbies in retirement, while others prefer to explore the world independently, without their spouses. If you’re looking for activities for retired couples, explore our thousands of educational adventures for seniors. You can learn together about shared passions — from military history to art history, tai chi to cheetahs.
One of the best parts about traveling on a group tour with your spouse is that you can meet other couples or solo travelers who share your same passions — allowing you space to split up and explore with new friends if you’d like! Road Scholar’s Choose Your Pace programs are the perfect option for couples with varying physical abilities or desired level of challenge. Each day, you can choose if you’d like a more challenging hiking option together, or to split off and take the slow road with newfound friends.
Retired couples can also share their love of learning and adventure with grandkids on a Grandparent Adventure from Pennsylvania to Paris.
Activities for Retired Teachers
There are more retired teachers among our community of Road Scholars than any other profession! That’s because our diverse array of Road Scholar adventures all share one major pillar: their focus on learning! That’s why traveling with Road Scholar is the best hobby for retired teachers.
Search our programs by interest to dive deeper into the subject that you taught in the classroom, or find a new topic of study that you’ve always wanted to learn about. Or, if you miss teaching and would love to get back in the classroom with the kids — try a Service Learning program teaching English to schoolchildren in India.
Or, if you’re still actively teaching — check out our list of Travel Destinations for Teachers on Winter Break
Are you an active or retired teacher who would like to travel but doesn't have the financial means? Check out our travel scholarships for teachers.
Which of these top hobbies for retirement do you want to try? Learn a new skill or improve on a hobby you’ve already been taking part in on one of Road Scholar’s learning adventures around the world.
Good luck in discovering new passions, and happy retirement!
Peter Spiers, Senior Vice President of Strategic Outreach, is the author of “Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger, and Happier.”
Great list! I run a guitar lessons site and I confirm that many of my users are retired seniors that want to learn how to play an instrument.
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International folk dancing provides great exercise, a sense of community and challenges the brain. I dance two or three times a week and love it.
Learning/Playing guitar, Ballroom dancing.
Hiking, gardening, volunteering at a local live theater let’s you see great shows. Square dancing and round dancing (ballroom dancing to a cuer).
I knit every day and go on knitting retreats. I bet there are a lot of road scholars who knit too. It's a great hobby and many relatives in cold regions benefit from my winter scarves !!! I love lace knitting too.
I would add square dancing. It's a great activity physically, mentally and socially and all the folks we've met are so friendly and helpful.
I recently took up weaving. I love it! My fingers are not as agile as they once were, so crochet is not as easy for me as it used to be, but weaving !! I get to play with my beloved fibers and yarns, creatively plan projects with beautiful colors, textures and techniques, but I can let the loom do most of the heavy lifting. You're never too old to learn.
I'd add foraging to the list. I love the idea of walking in nature in search of my next meal!
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