You're getting close to retirement. You've planned your investments well. After a busy career, you'll finally have time to catch up with your friends, and make a lot of new ones.

A vibrant social life doesn't just make for a fun retirement — it can also keep you healthy.

Studies show that seniors who have many social connections enjoy better physical health and greater longevity. According to research published in the Journal of Primary PreventionOpens a new window in your browser., socially connected adults are up to 5 times less likely to end up hospitalized than those who lack connections.

“The move to retirement can take some adjustment,” says Sylvia Ceacero, chief executive officer for the BC Seniors Living AssociationOpens a new window in your browser., which advocates for independent retirement communities in British Columbia.

“Most of us have thought about the financial piece of retirement, but very few of us think about what it means to end a very active life in a professional setting and what happens next,” she says.

Many have great plans for travelling the world, but after 6 months, when life gets back to normal, they still face the inevitable question, “What do you do with your days?”

CARPOpens a new window in your browser., Canada's largest advocacy association for older Canadians, included a focus on social connections as part of its election platform, released in October 2018. “Encouraging a more vibrant set of social connections is a crucial part of senior care,” explains chief advocacy and engagement officer Wanda Morris.

Morris likens retirement planning to planning a marriage or a career. The more intentional your preparation, the more enjoyable and fruitful your experience will be.

“We should have that same amount of research, thoughtfulness and pre-planning in our retirement,” she says. Having specific goals — whether it's going back to school, starting a new hobby or even starting a new business — can help to build that framework for a vibrant, connected retirement.

“Those retiring should also be willing to adapt that plan as they go,” she advises. “It's about adjusting your plan and ensuring it’s working. Taking retirement for a bit of a test drive.”

So, how do you plan for a social retirement? Ceacero encourages those she works with to think about it in terms of 4 words: remember, reflect, reconcile and report, each carrying its own opportunities for social connection.

Remember

Draw on your own experience and offer that experience to others.

“Individuals have had careers in [a certain] field, and even though they're no longer in that environment, they still have knowledge and expertise,” Ceacero says. Getting involved in mentorship and coaching programs is a good way to pass that knowledge to the next generation. What you give, you'll likely get back many times over in rewards as you see younger people learn from your experience, whether in the classroom, in business or on the sports field.

Reflect

“Look back at your life with a new perspective,” says Ceacero. She suggests rediscovering the things that you didn't get a chance to do when you were younger, but now have time for. She offers a personal example of a 63-year-old friend who just started law school. “She may never practice, but that doesn't matter to her. It's something she always wanted to do.”

Reconcile

“Take better care of yourself than you did when you were working. Invest in exercising your body and mind,” advises Ceacero.

CARP's Morris suggests arranging regular workout sessions with friends. Building those sessions into a routine makes it easier to accomplish. “One of the things we know is that structure can be very helpful,” she adds.

Targeted programs give retirees a chance to engage others in a learning environment. Morris highlights Road ScholarOpens a new window in your browser. as an example. Originally called Elderhostel, it’s a non-profit organization offering travel and educational programs that encourage people to socialize and learn together.

For men, she recommends Men's ShedsOpens a new window in your browser., a non-profit grassroots volunteer organization that connects groups of men across Canada. The groups build communities for men to gather and work on projects together, ranging from bike repair to carpentry.

Report

Socializing is an exercise like any other and requires a certain discipline. Commit to an active schedule and avoid sliding into a comfortable but disconnected lifestyle. When the sofa looks comfy, the TV beckons and it's cold outside, it’s all too easy to end up there everyday when you have no other commitments. This can lead to a routine that takes you away from other people.

“Be present,” Ceacero says. “You have to report to your own life. Show up and be counted.” This means getting out there for an activity everyday and making a concerted effort even when you'd rather not.

“Volunteer work can be a powerful driver here,” she adds. “You might be able to participate in helping a non-profit to do work that they need done but can't afford. Or reading to someone who is visually impaired.”

While some retirement dreams are expensive, it doesn't take much money to find new activities that can lead to forming lasting friendships. The key is an open mindset that leads you to try new things.

With a little planning and the right attitude, you can build and maintain a healthy set of social connections that will enhance life after work. By following Ceacero's 4 simple words of advice, people can transform their retirement into a fulfilling and satisfying third act.