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Interview: Life Blossoms When Retirees Try New Activities


Dr. Toni Liechty

Dr. Toni Liechty

Life improves for retired women when they adopt new leisure activities, according to a new study.

After years of family and job responsibilities, the women studied engaged in various forms of leisure, including physical activity, creative arts, volunteer work, intellectual pursuits and social activities.

Researchers found that the participants discovered unexpected pleasure, new learning and friendship.

The research was led by Toni Liechty, assistant professor in the faculty of kinesiology and health studies at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

The findings appeared in Leisure Studies (October 2012).

AHB reached Dr. Liechty in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Ruth Dempsey: Some of the women were employed but most were retired. What spurred their interest in new leisure activities?

Toni Liechty: Sometimes the decision was sparked by circumstances — simply having more time or income. But, for most women, the decision was triggered by changing attitudes.

Many of the women used the word "freedom" to describe their leisure choices. For example, several talked about feeling less pressure to do domestic chores or to do only activities that their husbands enjoyed.

Other participants pursued new activities as part of a deliberate life change such as improving their health or reinventing their identity.

The women knew they were entering a new stage of life, and they wanted to refocus the spotlight on parts of life they put on hold earlier.

RD: "Kristen" was thrilled about her new craft shop . . .

TL: Kristen was typical of many of the women who viewed their later years with optimism and excitement.

She had worked in the same job for many years. Post-retirement, she opened a small craft shop which she really enjoyed.

Kristen saw her retirement as brimming with possibilities, and she was eager to take advantage of every opportunity. For her birthday, she was planning to go up in a hot air balloon.

RD: "Anna" said she felt she was doing "something important." How so?

TL: Many of the participants talked about their retirement years as a time to try new things. For instance, Anna obtained her degree, fulfilling a long-held dream.

Also, like many of the women, Anna embraced volunteer work. She became heavily involved in educational work at the local historical society, which allowed her to define herself as an "important" and "valuable" member of the community.

RD: Despite feeling nervous, "Barbara" wanted to meet new people so she joined a tap dancing class.

TL: That’s right. Several participants felt that leisure activities offered great opportunities for meeting others.

When Barbara started tap dancing, she specifically joined a class for beginners and where the students were "all shapes and sizes" so that she would not feel intimidated about her body or physical ability. She doubted she would have joined the group when she was younger, but she said as she got older, she was more comfortable trying new activities.

Interestingly, the women did say that the more they tried new activities the easier it became.

RD: "Sara" joined a lunch group for women with chronic diseases . . .

TL: Sara told a particularly moving story. She spent many years in a prestigious career and was crushed when she was forced to retire due to a spinal disease, which limited her mobility and caused her chronic pain.

By joining the lunch group, she found a sense of identity in a new setting. She also developed new friendships.

RD: And "Deborah" became an instant grandmother when her son married a woman with two young children . . .

TL: In fact, many of the women discussed the role of grandchildren in their leisure lives. They stressed the difference between motherhood and "grandmotherhood": less responsibility and more fun.

For Deborah, being a mother had been an important part of her identity. As a grandmother, she was happy to reclaim her sense of identity as a caregiver, but in a new and more leisurely setting.

RD: "Becky" had been athletic since adolescence and wanted to take this image of herself into old age . . .

TL: When I first asked Becky about her leisure interests, she talked about her early involvement in sports and outdoor activities, such as basketball and biking. Rather than describing a decline in activities with age, she described how, over the years, she had added more and more physical activities.

She had participated in some activities, such as skating, in an effort to spend time with her teenage children, but many activities were adopted simply out of personal interest including kayaking and lacrosse.

Becky had to modify some of her activities after an injury. Despite this, she viewed herself as an athletic person, and she did not see aging as changing that.

RD: I was struck by the women’s joie de vivre. Several talked about recovering a sense of spontaneity . . .

TL: Many participants described recovering their spontaneity as a matter of choice. With age, their priorities had shifted from domestic and community expectations to social and personal values.

Some women, for example, said they sometimes dropped household chores to go out with friends because they increasingly valued friendship.

Another participant mentioned that she sometimes changed her daily plans in favour of completing a crossword puzzle or reading the newspaper because she valued the intellectual challenge.

RD: Final thoughts?

TL: Overall, the study showed most women viewed aging as a process filled with opportunities for enjoyment and personal growth.

Newly-adopted leisure activities allowed these participants to reinvent themselves as more" spontaneous", "independent", "competent" and "adventurous" women.