How many times have you heard someone nearing retirement say, “I’m afraid to retire because I don’t want my mind to stop working, too.” That can be a common fear. It goes without saying that most of us, while working engage our brains on a daily basis during the 8-5 work day, or whatever shift you may happen to work. Then, as abruptly as retirement often is, we stop engaging our brains in that same way for that many hours a day.
So, how can a person keep their mind sharp, maintain mental health after retirement, avoid depression after retirement, and dispel the fear that our brains will stop working and dementia or other memory difficulties will take hold?
Believe it or not, exercising your whole body is instrumental in keeping your mind sharp. How does that work exactly? Well, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, exercise creates a faster, stronger brain. So, while you’re keeping your arms and legs strong with walking, stretching, light aerobics, dancing or other form of exercise, you are also doing good things for your brain.
Physical exercise actually stimulates brain cell growth. But the trick is to be consistent. Make it a habit to exercise regularly, not just sporadically. Find something that you enjoy doing. Try a combination of aerobic and strength activities which work together to get both your blood and your muscles pumping.
The rewards from this regular routine include good lung function, better circulation, lower blood pressure, stronger bones, balanced hormones, mental acuity and better memory and just a general sense of well being. I suppose that is why we see so many folks “walking the mall” – it can also be a social outing as much as good exercise. Bottom line – keep moving!
Don’t isolate yourself! While you were working, you were talking to people every day. Whether it was on the phone, face to face across a conference room table, or one on one, conversations were taking place. You were interacting with people, using your language and communication skills.
If you’re like me, sometimes you’d find yourself searching for just that perfect word or phrase to express yourself, and that’s part of the aging process and the quirkiness of our memories. Never fear, I’ve heard folks in their 20’s complain of that very thing. So, stay engaged, involved, and challenge your mind with conversations. Call a friend, talk to the cashier at the grocery store, join a book club, volunteer at church. There are countless opportunities to avoid sitting home alone.
Puzzles and Games
Now this is my favorite way to stay alert and keep my brain moving. I love games. I am addicted to the puzzle and game apps on my smart phone. Not everyone is a gamer, but many people I know are competitive.
While it may be easier to sit back and watch a football game on T.V., I’m not suggesting the game you play is football. Perhaps it’s cribbage, or some other card game. Puzzle books, including crossword puzzles, word finds and Sudoku, really keep the brain moving and improve your mental sharpness. Being successful at games and puzzles takes concentration, and sometimes even strategy.
These types of activities give your brain a work out, and this time your body can take a rest. Test your memorization skills on simple tasks like remembering what you had for dinner for a whole week at a time, or a little more challenging, the books of the Bible, in order! Be creative. Games can be played solo or with others, and if with others you’ve just combined two of these suggestions for keeping your brain healthy.
It’s simply not true that senior adults can no longer learn. Retirement is a great time to study and learn about something new. Take up a musical instrument. Build a new business. Take a college course. Learn to program a computer.
Especially for those who intend to travel, learn a new language. Studies have shown that the bilingual brain is significantly more resistant to Alzheimer’s disease.
Believe it or not, stress can follow you into retirement if you aren’t careful. Stress is never a good thing, and especially problematic for us as we get older. If it’s a constant struggle for you, talk to someone. The stress of adverse life events may be one trigger of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich have shown that stress promotes brain changes that are also seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Now, that’s scary.
I’m not talking about a diet as in starving yourself, or being “on a diet”, but rather, watch the foods you eat. There are good and bad options, and making the right choices as we age is particularly important. Studies have shown that fish such as salmon and tuna, which are high in omega-3 fatty acid, are beneficial to brain health. Don’t forget the “colorful” foods: Dark purple foods like blackberries or blueberries and the dark greens of spinach and broccoli can help work miracles on your health when added to a regular diet.
According to the Harvard Medical School, a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as healthy fats and whole grains plays a vital role in maintaining both physical and mental health. Eating well is good for you on so many levels, not just to improve your brain power. Healthy diets can also potentially decrease your need for medications, so check with your doctor on that.
Keeping our brains engaged is important as we age, whether we’ve retired already or are thinking about retirement. We may have noticed issues with our memory long before retirement. Is it easier for you to remember what happened to you as a child or what you did for fun last week? Things such as song lyrics, old phone numbers, friend’s names, books we’ve read, etc. can be fleeting. As we age, our memories can become more difficult for us to recall.
According to the Center on Longevity at Stanford University, “work provides an important component of the environment that keeps people functioning optimally.” So, try some of the suggestion above as a replacement for the interactions we miss in the work environment and most importantly, ENJOY YOUR RETIREMENT!