Engaging in leisure activities has long been understood to help older adults maintain cognitive, physical, and mental health. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey, people who are 65 and older spend more time engaged in leisure activities than any other age group, at an average of nearly seven and a half hours a day.
No one is going to their deathbed wishing they watched more TV, yet that is how seniors spend more than half of their free time. Here’s a list of entertaining social, creative, cognitive, and physical activities that don’t involve the boob tube. Most are completely free and all can be done in the comfort of your own home.
Games are inexpensive and provide hours of entertainment. Crossword and jigsaw puzzles can be played solo. If you have a partner, you can play dominoes, cards, or board games like Ticket to Ride or Scrabble.
Many older adults enjoy textile arts such as sewing, quilting, knitting, embroidery, cross-stitch, crocheting, weaving, and macrame. If that’s not your thing, try creating some visual art. This can include drawing, painting, adult coloring books, water-color, paint-by-number, sculpture, and photography.
Make free time productive by learning a new skill. Learning a new language (or at least a few words and phrases) can be fun even if you don’t plan on leaving the country any time soon. Textbooks and phrasebooks used to be the best way to learn a foreign language, but technology has introduced many other ways, including Rosetta Stone software, the Duolingo app, and Babbel.com. Some libraries offer free online language courses. Most states offer tuition-free college courses for seniors, many of which are available online.
Use your free time to stay in touch with friends and family. Call someone, stay up-to-date on social media, write an email or a letter, or Facetime with your grandkids.
Cooking and baking are creative ways to spend your time with the added bonus of tasty results. Challenge yourself with a new recipe, bake bread from scratch, or whip up some treats to share. If you are especially skilled, you could even put together a cookbook for friends and family.
Since seniors are of a generation that existed prior to television, they don’t need to be told to read books. However, there are some new ways to consume this media nowadays. For instance, books “on tape” have come a long way. A subscription to Audible gives you access to over 470,000 audiobooks and costs less than $15 a month. Those with poor eyesight may especially appreciate this app, which can be used on Apple iOS, Android, Sonos, Kindle, and Alexa-enabled devices.
You don’t even have to go to the library to check out books anymore. Now, you can download an app like OverDrive or Hoopla and use your library card to get the e-book sent to your device instantly. Amazon Prime members have access to over 1,000 fiction, non-fiction, short works, and magazine titles via Prime Reading. Download the Kindle app on whatever device you’re using to read this article to read books for free, any time, anywhere.
Podcasts are the new radio. Like ebooks, you can access podcasts with any smartphone, tablet, or computer. There’s a podcast on just about every topic under the sun. Some are entertaining, some are uplifting, and some are informative and educational. Plus, you can listen whenever you want! For some good podcasts to get started with, check out our article on 15 Podcasts For Seniors.
Growing something from nothing is so satisfying, especially when it tastes like a tomato fresh off the vine. Plus, gardening has the added benefits of physical activity and getting a little Vitamin Sunshine in the outdoors. As Gardening Know How points out, you may even save some money at the grocery store. Just avoid the heat of mid-day by tending to your garden in the morning and evening.
Your life is your story. Record cherished memories on paper, on video, or via audio recording. If you’re having a hard time thinking of something to talk about, you could get out a photo album and go through it for some inspiration. Your loved ones will enjoy the walk down memory lane for years to come.
No one promised all of these activities would be fun! Another productive way to spend otherwise unobligated time is going through and culling the lifetime of stuff you’ve accumulated. Need some motivation? See our 9 Creative Tips for Dealing with Nostalgic Clutter.
Along the same lines of recording your stories for posterity is making sure your family tree is preserved for future generations. New innovations like genetic DNA tests and online family trees make genealogy a challenging, engaging, and fun activity.
If you are computer savvy and don't mind sending in your spit, 23&Me opens up a whole new world of relatives (second cousins, third cousins) you never knew you had. Not only can it tell you exactly where your ancestors originated from, but it can also put you in touch with living relatives you probably have never heard of who have also sent in their DNA. FamilySearch.org lets you store and discover your family history and genealogy records for free. For the Luddites among us, there are plenty of workbooks available where you can record your lineage on paper.