Heath and Aging

Participating in Activities You Enjoy—More Than Just Fun and Games: Tips From the National Institute on Aging

There are many things you can do to help yourself age well: exercise and be physically active, make healthy food choices, and don’t smoke. But did you know that participating in activities you enjoy may also help support healthy aging?

As people get older, they often find themselves spending more and more time at home alone. The isolation can lead to depression and is not good for your health. If you find yourself spending a lot of time alone, try adding a volunteer or social activity to your routine.

Benefits of an Active Lifestyle

Engaging in social and productive activities you enjoy, like taking an art class or becoming a volunteer in your community or at your place of worship, may help to maintain your well-being.

Research tells us that older people with an active lifestyle:

  • Are less likely to develop certain diseases. Participating in hobbies and other social and leisure pursuits may lower risk for developing some health problems, including dementia.
  • Have a longer lifespan. One study showed that older adults who reported taking part in social activities (such as playing games, belonging to social groups, or traveling) or meaningful, productive activities (such as having a paid or unpaid job, or gardening) lived longer than people who did not. Researchers are further exploring this connection.
  • Are more happy and less depressed. Studies suggest that older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel happier and more healthy. One study placed older adults from an urban community in their neighborhood public elementary schools to tutor children 15 hours a week. Volunteers reported personal satisfaction from the experience. The researchers found it improved the volunteers’ cognitive and physical health, as well as the children’s school success. They think it might also have long-term benefits, lowering the older adults’ risk of developing disability, dependency, and dementia in later life.
  • Are better prepared to cope with loss. Studies suggest that volunteering can help with stress and depression from the death of a spouse. Among people who experienced a loss, those who took part in volunteer activities felt more positive about their own abilities (reported greater self-efficacy).
  • May be able to improve their thinking abilities. Another line of research is exploring how participating in creative arts might help people age well. For example, studies have shown that older adults’ memory, comprehension, creativity, and problem-solving abilities improved after an intensive, 4-week (8-session) acting course. Other studies are providing new information about ways that creative activities like music or dance can help older adults.

Activities to Consider

Would you like to get more involved in your community or be more socially active? There are plenty of places to look for opportunities, depending on your interests. Here are some ideas:

Get out and about

  • Join a senior center and take part in its events and activities
  • Play cards or other games with friends
  • Go to the theater, a movie, or a sporting event
  • Travel with a group of older adults, such as a retiree group
  • Visit friends and family
  • Try different restaurants
  • Join a group interested in a hobby like knitting, hiking, painting, or wood carving

Learn something new

  • Take a cooking, art, or computer class
  • Form or join a book club
  • Try yoga, tai chi, or another new physical activity
  • Learn (or relearn) how to play a musical instrument

Become more active in your community

  • Serve meals or organize clothing donations at a place for homeless people
  • Help an organization send care packages to soldiers stationed overseas
  • Care for dogs and cats at an animal shelter
  • Volunteer to run errands for people with disabilities
  • Join a committee or volunteer for an activity at your place of worship
  • Volunteer at a school, library, or hospital
  • Help with gardening at a community garden or park
  • Organize a park clean-up through your local recreation center or community association
  • Sing in a community choral group, or play in a local band or orchestra
  • Take part in a local theater troupe
  • Get a part-time job

Be physically active

  • Garden or do yard work
  • Take an exercise class or do exercises at home
  • Go dancing
  • Walk or bicycle with a friend or neighbor
  • Swim or take a swimming class
  • Play with your grandchildren

For more information about physical activity, check out Go4Life®. This exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging has exercises, success stories, and free video and print materials at www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Life.

Find the Right Balance

Everyone has different limits to the amount of time they can spend on social or other activities. What is perfect for one person might be too much for another. Be careful not to take on too much at once. You might start by adding one or two activities to your routine and see how you feel. You can always add more. Remember—participating in activities you enjoy should be fun, not stressful.

For More Information About Participating in Activities

America’s Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal

A Federal website to help people find volunteer opportunities in State parks and other areas with natural and cultural resources. You can search by location and type of activity such as “tour guide” or “botany.”

Corporation for National and Community Service
1-800-942-2677 (toll-free)
1-800-833-3722 (TTY/toll-free)
info@cns.gov (email)

A Federal agency aimed at improving lives, strengthening communities, and fostering civic engagement through service and volunteering. Learn about volunteer programs and research initiatives.

Experience Corps
AARP Foundation
experiencecorps@aarp.org (email)

Members tutor and mentor children in cities across the country and provide literacy coaching, homework help, and consistent role models, as well as committed, caring attention. Find a program near you and read about how the program has made a difference in the lives of the volunteers, children, and children’s families.

Senior Corps
1-800-942-2677 (toll-free)
1-800-833-3722 (TTY/toll-free)

A program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that works with thousands of nonprofit organizations and local agencies—both secular and faith-based—to promote service opportunities for older Americans. Learn how to get involved in a variety of volunteer activities near you.

United We Serve
1-800-942-2677 (toll-free)
1-800-833-3722 (TTY/toll-free)

Part of the Federal Government’s nationwide service initiative, this online resource helps you find volunteer opportunities in your community. You can also find out how to create your own volunteer opportunity and register it on the website.


A nonprofit organization that helps people find volunteer opportunities that fit their interests and needs. You can learn how to get started and register on their website for email alerts.

For more information about health and aging, contact:

National Institute on Aging
Information Center

P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
1-800-222-2225 (toll-free)
1-800-222-4225 (TTY/toll-free)

Sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA.

Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.

Publication Date: April 2015
Page Last Updated: August 11, 2015