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Planning for Leisure When Life Gets in the Way

My earlier research focused on how leisure can be a resource for coping with health problems and I’m interested in how this relates to planning for life in retirement. How do people plan to get the most out of life despite changes in health or relationships (e.g., death of a spouse)? I again draw on research by colleagues Drs. Doug Kleiber and Galit Nimrod (see reference below), to see what strategies other retirees have used to overcome or adapt to constraints to participating in valued life activities, including leisure.

‘Constraints’ to Participation

Kleiber and Nimrod interviewed 20 people who were part of a ‘learning in retirement’ group. Despite being a relatively healthy group, most reported facing 3-4 constraints including: physical limitations (e.g., due to injury or surgery); caregiving responsibilities (e.g., for spouses, grandchildren); financial; personal (e.g., indecision, anxiety); moving; and interpersonal factors (e.g., lack of companions, spouse’s preferences).

Emotional Responses to Constraints

In addition to reporting feelings of frustration some reported feeling acceptance and gratitude in the face of their constraints. While not ignoring the losses, with acceptance came ‘not dwelling’ on problems. Gratitude was for what remains of life and even recognizing the ‘positives’ in the situation. Reflecting on her new world view after recovering from cancer, one study participant shared: “I became more conscious of the fact, ‘gee, I’m alive … I can enjoy a beautiful day sitting out here. I can enjoy, you know, whatever I want to do’…”

Strategies to Overcome Constraints

Study participants reported different ways they dealt with constraints:

  1. Reducing and eliminating (‘Can’t do all that I was doing’): Eliminating some activities and pairing down others (especially those that were less satisfying, or more difficult to do) left more time for what was really important.

  2. Persisting (‘Unless you are sick, nothing should stop you’): For some participants, constraints appeared to deepen their commitment to activities that were especially important. For example, one participant’s own hearing impairment led him to become an advocate for services to other people with hearing loss, including creating a local support group.

  3. Substituting (‘Not the same but pretty close’): While goals may stay the same, substituting one activity for another can be a common strategy to respond to constraints. For example, taking up chair yoga when health constraints prevent other more strenuous forms of yoga.

  4. Exploring and self-discovery (‘Try something else’): Some participants viewed constraints as an ‘opportunity’ to experiment with new possibilities for their lives. For example, it was because of his own anxiety about his future that one fellow got involved in the ‘learning in retirement’ group: “The reason for becoming involved …was to sort out options, options about what I want to do. If you try one (you can try it for a few months) and if it doesn’t work out, ‘try something else’”. Another woman described how a change in her marital situation (e.g., husband now retired and always home) led her to develop a host of possibilities outside the house, including volunteering, yoga and the ‘learning in retirement’ group.

Thinking about your own retirement lifestyle planning:

  • What’s stopping you now from taking action on your goals and priorities? Are these constraints real or perceived? For example is it that you physically can’t do an activity or that procrastination is getting in the way?

  • How do you feel about these constraints? Are there ways to reframe how you look at your situation to either accept it or look for the good in it?

Tips: Some ways to adapt activities can include: going at a different pace, shifting to a less strenuous form of activity (e.g., walking instead of jogging), using mobility or adaptive aids (like walking sticks or card holders). Going virtual (e.g., from workouts on the television to ‘zoom’ language group meetings) can help you stay connected if you have restricted mobility or access to transportation.

If you want to think more deeply about what stops you and possible strategies, I encourage you to complete the Barriers to Action self-assessment planning tool available on The Retired You website.


Kleiber, D. A. & Nimrod, G. (2009). ''I can't be very sad': Constraint and adaptation in the leisure of a 'learning in retirement' group'. Leisure Studies, 28(1), 67-83.

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