SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue

By Suzanne Gerber

Not sure how to bring more joy into your life? Start with any (or all) of these.

Let’s face it: 2012 was a bit of a downer. Thanks to an onslaught of natural disasters, dirty politics, a sluggish economy and personal woes, we're more than ready to rip open a new calendar.

Resolutions like lose weight, save more money, volunteer or visit your parents are grand goals. But there’s a lot to be said for just having more fun. It keeps you young and gives you a reason to get up in the morning (or stay up late at night).

To help you have a most enjoyable 2013, here are 10 suggestions culled from our archives.

1. Make new friends: It’s an accepted belief that as we get older this becomes harder to do. That's not only untrue, it's defeatist thinking.

Having great people to hang out with isn’t the only benefit of making friends as we get older. Social interactions actually help us live longer, say Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith, professors at Brigham Young University. “When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.”

Next Avenue blogger (and super-friendly person) Linda Bernstein shares five tried-and-true ways to meet people and continue to create new bonds as we age in "The Joys of New Friends."

2. Take your time in the boudoir: When you’re young, sex is about getting to the orgasm as quickly as possible, Dr. Carlos Jusino, a New York psychiatrist, told Next Avenue staffer John Stark. "But as you get older, it's not so easy. Wham-bam is no longer the case.” To compensate, he says, boomers have “extended the foreplay: Toys, fantasy and role-play are all a part it.”

Patrick Mulhall, a sex counselor and psychotherapist in Hollywood, Fla., agrees. "Sex for people over 50 is not just about focusing on intercourse and orgasm. It is about extended foreplay -- having fun and taking fantasy to the max. As boomers get older, they feel that time is running out, so they're expressing more interest in their sex lives."

Find out what else Stark learned in "Boomers Redefine Sex as Extended Foreplay."

3. Drink more wine: Plenty of studies suggest that red wine bestows certain health benefits (e.g., increases in the “good” HDL cholesterol and decreases in the omega-6/omega-3 ratio). As a result, U.S. government guidelines recommend “moderate drinking” (defined as one drink a day for most women and two drinks a day for most men). And that’s good news to the wine lovers among us.

But even though our tolerance for wine decreases as we get older, there are things we can do to maximize the benefits while minimizing the buzzkill: "How to Drink More Wine (Smartly and Healthfully)."

4. Go for a run! It’s well documented that aerobic exercise, like running, not only "delays the onset of age-related muscular atrophy, it also strengthens brain cells," according to Mark Mattson of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore. “Running even stimulates the production of new nerve cells in some parts of the brain.” And experiments with mice have found that those housed with a running wheel have better long-term memory and experience less cognitive decline as they age.

But equally important: Running is fun. You need to find a style and limit distances to what’s appropriate for your own fitness level, but even if you’re only power-walking, you’re doing your body -- and mind -- a world of good. Join a club and make new friends. See for yourself "Why It's Never Too Late to Start Running."

5. Take music lessons: We all know it soothes the savage breast, but there’s more to making music than that. As we age, our cognitive skills weaken, and research reveals that learning a musical instrument can be one of the best workouts for the mind. Even if you’ve never played one before, it’s never too late: "Why You'll Live Longer if You Take Music Lessons." (Not sure where to start? Consider this sweet little stringed instrument: "Passions: Why I Love the Ukulele)."

6. Go dancing! “If you’re one of those ‘I can’t dance’ people, consider the Zimbabwe proverb: If you can walk, you can dance,” advises writer/hoofer Elizabeth Wray. As she puts it: “Dance is a way of walking. Unlike ballet and modern, which require years of training, salsa and other kinds of folk and social dancing -- including contra, samba, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Haitian, hip-hop, English country dancing, clogging -- are dances almost anyone can do.”

On top of that, dancing burns calories, is a great way to meet interesting people -- and science shows that learning moves is as effective a brain exercise as learning a new language. "Do You Wanna Dance? Don't Wait to Be Asked."

7. Take a fantasy trip: At this stage of life, boomers are blending their love of travel with their personal passions. Chocoholics will rejoice in this piece about the best places on the planet to indulge their sweet addiction, "The World's Best Chocolate Destinations," and the kid in us all will find something to inspire us in "Fantasy Camps for the Young at Heart."

8. Get a pet: There’s a reason we call dogs man’s best friend. They’re loyal, fun-loving and can teach us profound lessons about unconditional love. But having a pet offers health benefits as well.

“An animal provides a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to exercise and a social lubricant,” says Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri. And for adults living alone, she says, “animals can reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation.”

Research shows that pet owners take better care of themselves, rebound faster from illness, maintain lower blood pressure and have a lower risk of heart disease. Plus, Johnson has found, animal companionship can transform withdrawn, sedentary adults into active, social members of the community. For more info, check out "The 10 Best Pet Companions to Have at Your Side."

9. Laugh! Yeah, it’s the best medicine -- and with age comes a need for increasingly higher doses. As blogger Linda Bernstein reveals, as long as they’re not signs of serious dementia, our wacky senior moments can actually be amusing. So rather than beat up on yourself, have a good belly laugh at your own expense. The show starts here: "The Lighter Side of Senior Moments."

10. Become a fairy godmother: There are many ways to have children in your life, even if you don’t have biological ones or yours have flown the coop. By taking on the imaginative role of “fairy godmother” (or father), you get to have fun, and your adopted fairy grandkids get a little bonus joy -- all on your terms. You can be as generous or creative as you want, and you’ll forge bonds with younger people that could last a lifetime. Find out how to acquire a wand and pair of wings in "How I Became (and How You Can Be) a Fairy Godmother."

Read more on Next Avenue

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Take Your Dream Culinary Vacation Now!
The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time?

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