Taking up a new subject and engaging the mind has many benefits. Be it playing the piano, learning to swim or writing intently, adults who learn new skills in later life perform better in long-term memory tests than those that stick to more leisurely activities, like reading.
It can sometimes be tricky to find an activity that’s local to you and that sparks interest though, so we’ve put together a guide to make it easier.
What are the benefits of local learning?
Keeping the mind and body active and having a hobby is a great stress relief. According to a study from the National Institute of Health, engaging our grey matter has a positive impact on our mental wellbeing, while mastering a subject is proven to boost feelings of fulfilment. There’s also the social aspect. You can meet likeminded people and forge lasting friendships that will stand you in good stead in retirement.
Learn a new sport in your area, or simply stay active
If you fancy getting active and learning a new sport, take a look at what’s on locally. For inspiration, the BBC has put together a guide of different activities – simply choose one that appeals to you and enter your location to find a list of clubs in your area. The NHS also has a search engine for fitness activities near you; simply type in your postcode and let the system do the rest.
If you’re interested in improving your endurance, balance and flexibility, you can look for yoga classes for over 50s nearby. Yoga has multiple physical benefits, but one of its best qualities is the way it relaxes the mind. There’s a meditative quality in play, and after a session, you’re likely to feel a sense of calm – as if you’re at peace with the world.
While yoga targets the mind, Pilates is more about the body, and it’s an excellent way to strengthen your core. This in turn helps your posture and builds muscle too. All told, Pilates is a practical way to build strength – and you don’t need to run miles or lift weights to do it.
Dancing has many health benefits: it improves fitness, strengthens bones and releases endorphins, boosting your mood for the day. Tap out some solo moves or learn a new routine with a partner by joining a dance class near you.
Take advantage of government courses
There are plenty of free higher education courses taught in colleges, universities and institutions across the UK – including government funded courses for over 50s. Take a look at the classes on offer on gov.uk; choose from full-time, part-time, postgraduate, teacher training, Open University and music, dance and drama courses. There are hundreds to choose from – so whether you fancy upskilling in English and becoming a writer or taking a training course to become a teacher, the choice is yours.
Join University of the Third Age
University of the Third Age (u3a) offers courses for those of us who are semi-retired or retired. Find your nearest u3a centre, sign up for a course and get started. Browse through the classes by category or choose a particular day of the week that suits you.
Look out for evening classes near you
For those of us in smaller towns, it’s often a good idea to take a trip down to the local town hall or supermarket to see whether any leaflets or promotions are pinned to a listings board, or being handed out at a stand. Alternatively, try searching online for ‘evening classes near me’ and take a look through the websites advertising local classes. You can also search your local community pages, like Nextdoor. Simply enter your postcode and enquire about classes and courses in your local community.
Head out on a city trip
Take an educational trip to your nearest city centre and check out the museums, galleries and walking tours it has to offer.
- If you live near London, discover the city’s haunting history on a Jack the Ripper Tour – if you dare – or have a wander round the National Portrait Gallery and soak up the culture.
- If Manchester’s on your doorstep, explore The Science and Industry Museum or join a Discover Manchester Walking Tour to get to know the city a little better.
- If Leeds is up your street, the local Art Gallery has a range of contemporary and modern art to enjoy, or if history is more your thing, take a look at the Royal Armouries.
Wherever your local city may be, you’ll be sure to find educational sites and excursions.
In our series, Colourful Retirement Stories, we spoke to Peter, 75, who embraces later life learning through his mantra: “do something physical, something mental and something social every day.” When he retired, Peter took up evening classes in art, which later inspired him to study the subject as a part-time degree. He graduated with First-Class Honours from Plymouth College of Art, and continues to show his work in exhibitions and organise community art projects.
Peter inspires us with his advice: “You should grab opportunities when they arise. Retirement is one big opportunity!”
Why it’s good to be sociable in retirement
By 2026, 2 million people aged 50 and over are likely to suffer from loneliness in the UK. That’s largely because, when we retire, we lose a lot of our daily interactions with colleagues in the workplace. By staying active and pursuing learning opportunities in your area, you’ll feel more carefree – that’s because social interaction helps our bodies to release oxytocin, which lowers our stress levels and makes us feel relaxed.
With that in mind, our guide should help you get started. For more inspiration on lifelong learning, check out our Rewirement hub, or if you’d like to travel further afield, read our article on the joys of learning on holiday.