The Power of Purpose after Retirement

Many people choose the beginning of the year to retire. Sounds great, right? But it comes with a risk.  Did you know that the year you retire, you are three times more likely to die than during your last year of work? According to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest , “to power through that relatively dangerous year, learning what your purpose is and doing it is crucial.” Especially if you can find a group of kindred souls to stay connected with – otherwise you can feel isolated, which has a serious effect on both mental and physical health.

At any given time, between 20 and 40 percent of older adults feel lonely, particularly during retirement. Professor John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago says that there is a noted difference in the rate of decline in physical and mental health as people age, and that these differences could be linked to the number of satisfying relationships they maintain. According to Cacioppo, many studies prove that people who stayed close to colleagues after retirement and maintained close friendships are less lonely.

People nearing retirement age would be wise to follow these steps.

Take a mental inventory of what you’re good at and like to do, then incorporate those things into your life. For example, if you play a musical instrument, be proactive, and put yourself in situations with people like you. Yes, you are never too old to start a garage band.

Participating in activities you enjoy may actually be good for your health. According to the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, people who are sociable, generous, and goal-oriented report higher levels of happiness and lower levels of depression than other people.

In another study, older adults who participated in social activities (for example, belonging to social groups, attending local events, or travelling) or productive activities (for example, volunteering) lived longer than people who did not report taking part in these types of activities.

According to the Huffington Post, a 2013 review of 40 international studies found that volunteering can add years to your life (with some evidence pointing to a 22 percent reduction in mortality). Another study found that seniors who gave 100 hours or more annually were 28 percent less likely to die from any cause than their less-engaged counterparts. “But that’s not a magic number — it could be 75 hours or 125,” says study coauthor Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. “The important thing is that you’re doing it regularly.” In addition to physical health benefits, volunteers reported feeling personal satisfaction from their experience.

Explore local volunteer opportunities. You have honed a lifetime of skills and experience that could make a huge impact in your community. Community Thread can direct you toward local volunteering opportunities. Visit our website at and click on Volunteer in Your Community. Get Connected is an easy to use web-based platform that matches community needs with people looking to make a difference. You can find volunteer opportunities, in-kind needs, upcoming events, and more throughout the St. Croix Valley. Community Thread’s Volunteer Center can also assist you in finding the right opportunity; for more information contact Community Thread at 651-439-7434 or

Keep engaged during retirement. Your wellbeing is at stake.

By Sally Anderson