Exploring Retirement

"Lean on me, when you're not strong

I'll be your friend

I'll help you carry on

For it won't be long

'Til I'm gonna need

Somebody to lean on"

Lean On Me


Welcome to the Fifth edition of Exploring Retirement! This month we examine The Social Portfolio, an idea developed by Professor Gene Cohen, founder of the Center on Aging, Health, and the Humanities at George Washington University, in the United States. Our featured activity is dancing, which we have chosen as much for its social connectivity as for its contribution to physical fitness.

Regular readers will notice some slight changes in layout as the magazine continues to evolve in response to readers suggestions. We are providing more details of the content of each previous edition in our Archive section, which has now been rebranded as "Past Issues". Also a "Useful Links" page is now available, connecting us to other web sites that promote active retirement.

This month guest contributor Michael McSorley shares his thoughts on running marathons, which seem timely after the recent dreadful events in Boston. His article serves to remind us of the good news; that these events are often family occasions that raise enormous sums for charities. Don't let terrorism win, support your local marathon!

Feedback from readers is welcomed, whether you want to add your thoughts on well-being in retirement or share your experience of an activity you have enjoyed since you retired or perhaps you have some suggestions to improve the layout. You can now follow us on Facebook and Twitter or write to editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

The Social Portfolio

Professor Gene Cohen in his book "The Creative Age" suggests that it is never too late to build a Social Portfolio that can help us find new opportunities to create new relationships in our lives or improve upon existing relationships. In order to do this he uses the model of the financial portfolio, were we diversify our investments to have some money locked away for the long term in order to achieve a high return, while keeping a small amount in ready cash in case of an emergency. In the case of our social wealth he suggests we consider what we do as measured against two dimensions:

Professor Cohen suggests completing a grid of your activities to see how balanced they are across his two dimensions. Here is an example to help make the idea clearer.

Mobility/energy requirementGroup activityIndividual activity

High Mobility/High EnergyJoin a walking groupExplore a local village you have never visited before
Plan an activity holidayDevelop your own exercise regime in a local gym
Learn to dance and go to dancesCreate an allotment garden

Low Mobility/Low EnergyJoin a reading groupVisit your local library to explore a new hobby
Join an art classTrace your family tree
Develop your cooking skills and invite your friends for a mealWrite stories for your grandchildren

Professor Cohen believed that a "social portfolio" needed to be balanced with activities in all four quadrants. In this way we can build resiliance in the face of changing life circumstances. Your portfolio can also provide a kind of insurance against loss of health or function as you can switch between high and low energy activities. Should you lose a spouse or a good friend, you need to have solo activities to draw on during the resulting transition phase. Like a financial portfolio, your social portfolio will perform best if you start building your assets early in life, but it is never too late to begin.

Reference: Gene Cohen: The Creative Age

Featured Activity


Professor Cohen rated dancing number one as the most effective activity which exercises both mind and body. A Canadian study looking at the incidence of Alzheimers as people age, found that the more active the members of the population studied were, the lower was the subsequent incidence of the disease. The most active participants had half the risk of developing this severely debilitating condition. Use it or lose it.

A research finding that occurs in study after study is the importance of maintaining a strong social network as we grow older. An active social life is associated with both better physical and mental health and a lower risk of dying! In between dances there is usually ample opportunity to chat to others and get to know one another. Participating in a shared experience also allows you to make friends more easily and everyone is there to have fun.

It really doesn't matter what kind of dancing you do. Anyone thinking of taking up dancing would be recommended to join a beginners class and learn a few basic routines before venturing out to a dance. Probably the most popular style among older people is a form of ballroom dancing known as "ballroom sequence". In ballroom sequence dancing everyone performs the same steps as they progress around the floor. If you are not quite sure what comes next you can watch the person in front of you and copy them! To view a short demonstration of this style of dance, click on the video below.

Classes in most popular dance forms are widely available and are usually advertised in the local papers and on posters around the town. The internet is also a great source of information (see below).

One concern that prevents many from joining a class is the lack of a partner. It is not uncommon for ladies to dance together but so far I haven't seen any men do that! Scottish dancing is also great fun and you don't need a partner to join in but I should warn you it can be very aerobic indeed!

Useful websites

Sequence Dancing - UK

Sequence Dancing classes in Northern Ireland

Royal Scottish Country Dance Society

To watch a video demonstration of sequence dancing, click on the image below.