You've saved for it for decades, pushed it to the back of your mind never quite believing it would ever become a reality.

Now it has and you're wondering where the years have gone toIt is of course RETIREMENT!

Whether you've been dreading reaching that age where you officially become a pensioner or are anticipating the release from the shackles of a demanding job, retirement is a life-changing experience.

Every part of your existence is about to change but it's how you adapt to those changes will make all the difference to you and your family.

For most, having the luxury of free time will be a novel experience - time to spend with grandchildren and to catch up on hobbies and interests.

Those who rise to the challenge and fill their time constructively find it's the start of a new life - one that is immensely rewarding - the golden years The good news is that with average life expectancy for men rising to 80.5 years and women 83.6 years, there are over 20 million people aged 50 and over in the UK. With such a large proportion of the population falling into this category there are more facilities for the elderly than ever before.

Research conducted for the report Retirement, Health and Relationships in the Older Population in England' discovered that the current baby-boomer generation are refusing to accept they are getting old. Indeed many fifty-somethings believe they will be middle aged until they are at least 66.

Never before has the saying, you're as young as you feel,' had greater resonance.

The HSBC Future of Retirement study shows that 70 is perceived to be the new 50, with people in their 60s and 70s generally feeling in good health and enjoying similar independence and quality of life as their younger counterparts.

Your health is definitely key to making the most of your retirement so keeping up to date with appointments for hearing, sight and dental checks is more important than ever.

Among some of the perks of getting older are: Free NHS Prescriptions and Eye Tests for the over 60s Free Flu Jabs when you're over 65 Winter Fuel payments of around £200 from age 60.

Free TV licence when you are 75 Free passport when you reach 78 Free bus pass Senior Railcard for discounted journeys Higher interest rates on savings accounts targeted at the older person Discounted entry to leisure centres, places of interest and theatres.

Broadening Your Horizons Retirement offers the chance to do something new, exciting and fulfilling. Every year over a million older people are taking the plunge and retiring abroad hoping to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle in a hotter climate.

For those grew up before the term gap year' was even coined, the chance to travel whilst working for a charity is irresistible. Figures published last year by Mintel reveal that 230,000 over 55s are now taking gap years. The charity Voluntary Service Overseas welcomes the experience that older gappers' bring and with an upper age limit of 75 they actively encourage older people to apply.

Nearer to home many choose to re discover the UK now that they have the time and independence to travel off peak when it's cheaper and quieter. If driving starts to become too much like hard work there are plenty of coach companies that offer tours, holidays and day trips.

Organisations like Age Concern and Help the Aged provide plenty of information and suggestions for a happy retirement. They encourage retirees to stay active, take up a hobby, learn something new and get involved in activities like volunteering.

Once you know where to look the options are endless. There are around 800,000 vacancies on - a national database of volunteering opportunities. Become a trustee, a gardener or St John's Ambulance helper; work in a Citizen's Advice Bureau, charity shop or hospital - the opportunities are endless. Globally, about a fifth of people between the ages of 60 and 70 volunteer, with those in the UK putting in an amazing 792m unpaid hours every year.

One of the most popular ways to keep up with current affairs and keep in contact with friends and family is to learn to use a computer. Many organisations like Learn Direct (0800 101901) and local colleges provide taster courses specifically for older users. These Silver Surfers' are discovering the delights of having instant information at their fingertips. They're researching family trees, shopping online and talking to people all over the world via chat rooms and sites like and Baby Boomers Bistro . By 2010 it's estimated that internet users over the age of 50 will dominate online shopping.

On the 1st of October there will be the 2nd UK Older People's Day an event intended to celebrate the aspirations and achievements of people over 50 and tackle outdated stereotypes. It's closely followed by Grandparent's Day on Sunday 5th October, giving families the chance to say thank you to the Uk's 13 million grandparents.

Getting older does have its compensations Age Concern can be contacted on their free helpline on 0800 00 99 66. Help The Aged's contact number is 020 7278 1114.