Keep Your Mind Active After Retirement

Written by Sally Perkins

If you are recently retired or are approaching your retirement you should be thinking about how you’ll keep your mind active outside of a work environment. Experts believe it really is a case of use it or lose it as far as brain power is concerned. So, if you don’t keep yours ticking over, could it be a blow for your cognitive powers?

Recent studies published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences suggest that the more you want to use your brain and the more you relish in doing so, the more likely you are to stay as sharp as a whistle as you get older.

So exactly how do we keep our minds active after retirement? Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Stay Active

Ever heard of the saying ‘a healthy body leads to a healthy mind?’ It’s true! If your body is healthy, your mind will also be healthy. Studies have shown that walking an average of 6 miles a week is a surefire way to keep your brain active and fight off dementia. If you have a dog, taking him for walks will be both enjoyable and of great benefit to the pair of you. Mild exercise releases endorphins, which are also known as ‘feel good’ hormones. If you engage in regular, moderate exercise you will be happier, healthier, more alert and have more energy.

  • Eat right

When you stick to a healthy diet full of ‘brain food’, your mind functions with better clarity. It will be easier for you to make clear, concise decisions and you won’t suffer from that dreadful ‘brain fog’. Remember to include foods that contain essential fatty acids such as fish, seeds, nuts and olive oil. It is also recommended that you invest in a good brain boosting supplement to compliment your daily food intake.

  • Learn something new

We are never too old to learn something new and by doing so your brain will retain its working mode. Retirement often provides us with that bit of extra time we never had before to pursue a new hobby. Take a cooking class, learn a new language or take up sewing.  Do something you have never done before whether it is pottery, painting, ballroom dancing or even gardening. This is a great opportunity to step out of your comfort zones and experience new and wonderful pastimes.

  • Indulge in cognitive activities

Solving puzzles and playing games are excellent cognitive activities for seniors. Activities such as these engage the brain keeping it alert and stimulated. The great thing about these activities is the variety – there truly is something for everyone. A few good examples of puzzles and games to keep our minds active are: word searches, crosswords, Sudoku puzzles, dominoes, card games and chess.

  • Become social

Research shows that the circuits in the adult brain are continuously modified by experience. Social interaction is one thing that keeps our brains from becoming stagnant. Getting out and meeting people must never feel like a chore. If you aren’t a natural social butterfly then consider joining a local club or do some volunteer work with children. Social skills can always be acquired regardless of one’s age and can start with a small step like talking to the cashier at your local store.

  • Explore the internet

Contrary to popular belief, the Internet is not just a mind-numbing evil. It is in actual fact a useful tool in helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output. Becoming internet savvy could open up a whole new world to you. Open a Facebook account to reconnect with family and friends or read your favorite newspapers from around the world at your own leisure. The Internet is also home to an array of brain training games and exercises that will keep you busy and efficiently entertained.

Here are some of the most popular online brain-games available:

  • Lumosity is a group of scientifically developed games that test and develop your memory, speed, attention, flexibility and problem solving. You can play a trial version for free or pay a subscription fee for full access.
  • Happy Neuron lays claims to being able to stimulate all 5 main cognitive brain functions.
  • Fit Brains consists of games designed alongside neuroscientists that are both fun and valuable to your brain health.

 

  • Keep a journal

Get into the habit of jotting your day down on paper every night. What went right? What went awry? What are your plans for tomorrow? This will force you to think of solutions to any situation that is bothering you and will keep your creative juice flowing freely.

  • Listen to music

Studies have shown that listening to soft background music can actually improves one’s memory which is why it is so popular amongst students. Jazz and classical music is considered the best but you can choose any music you enjoy, although hard rock and heavy metal may not be a popular choice with your neighbors.

Regardless of how you choose to keep your brain active the most important thing to remember is to enjoy your retirement. You have spent the majority of your life at the grindstone and your new-found rest is well-deserved!

Smooth Your Transition Into Retirement

Retirement is something to look forward to. Most of us envision a well-deserved escape from the stress and strain of working life, a new chapter where we will have the free time to pursue all those interests we were forced to shelf while laser focused on making a living. If we can somehow survive today’s struggles we just might get there.

Unfortunately once one arrives at retirement’s doorstep things don’t always go as planned. Making the switch from full time employment to full time retirement can be challenging. And since we have no experience to draw upon launching our second act is an unfamiliar adventure where to excel we must learn as we go.

I retired five years ago. After an initial adjustment period I am pretty satisfied with the life I now live. However there were times I struggled, stumbled and made mistakes. As long as you learn from your mistakes it’s okay, right? Here are a few important lessons I have learned along the way.

Realize an identity beyond your job

At a cocktail party when asked “what do you do?” a typical response tends to describe your role on the job. Often what you do is a major influence on your perception of who you are. Many are so absorbed with their job they have no real life outside the career. Now you are retired – who are you?

If you find yourself with no identity outside your job retirement can leave you feeling lost and without purpose, disconnected from a reality where until now you played a significant role. Once retired it is important to establish new roots to grow and nurture the post-job you. You were and are someone beyond your employment. Retirement allows that person to surface and take control, to make the best of what can be an exciting inspiring stage of life.

Don’t just keep busy, find meaning

Boredom is a real threat to the unprepared retiree. If you retire at age 65 you can hope to live 20 or 30 years in retirement. That is a whole lot of days and months and years. Playing golf or volunteering a few hours a week is not going to be enough. At the end of the day wouldn’t it be nice to look back on your activities and feel some degree of satisfaction, some small bit of accomplishment?

When I first retired I was fine with doing nothing. After 30 years of the old grind I deserved it. No one was telling me what to do. I was finally my own boss. I slept in, attacked a mountainous stack of books I had accumulated, took a few trips, revisited some long forgotten hobbies, and was happy basically watching the grass grow.

That lasted about six months. Now what? What was I supposed to do with the rest of my second act?

How we choose to spend time as retirees is a personal decision. Activities that excite me might bore the pants off you. What helped me was trying to stay open to the many possibilities that came along while building up the nerve to step outside of my comfort zone.  After five decades of life I was pretty set in my ways. Then here comes retirement, a blank page waiting for me to paint my own unique picture.

So I tried some new things, things I always wanted to do or had recently become interested in:

– I always wanted to be a writer so I started a blog “Retirement – Only the Beginning” where weekly I share my journey in search of a meaningful fun retirement. Taking things one step further I wrote and self-published two books handling everything from the content to the cover.

– After a few trips to Paris I thought it would be cool to learn a little of the language (at least enough to read the menu) so with the help of an app I downloaded to my iPhone I am learning to parle francais.

– My dad always loved gardening so I am giving that a try nurturing our plentiful roses and growing some veggies. There is something special about saving the seed from a favorite tomato then sprouting it, growing it and eating the fruit all over again!

You don’t have to be productive all the time

You cannot be good at your job if you waste time. Many become so accustomed to giving 110 percent they find it hard to gear down for even a weekend. Don’t be surprise to find you feel guilty “wasting time” in retirement. But it is okay to do so. With the job behind you are allowed to slow down. Every moment need not be productive. A good healthy mix of activity and downtime rids your day of stress and anxiety, neither welcome in any retirement plan. I learned an important ingredient to a happy retirement is finding a pace you are comfortable with and going with the flow.

Dedicate part of the day to fitness – mental as well as physical

It’s wonderful to no longer deal with the hectic stressed-out pace of full time employment. On the other hand your mind will probably never as sharp as when you were making snap decisions or dealing with unexpected events that populate the typical work day. The job keeps you on your toes. When you remove that from the equation you might lose a step or two, perhaps slow down a bit from that top-of-the-food chain whirlwind you had become. In retirement it is important to find new challenges, try new things, and keep the old mind engaged. Like any muscle if you don’t work it out your brain will atrophy. My wife and I partake in a myriad of brain games including cards, backgammon, jigsaw puzzles, remembering names, discussions with smart friends, and revisiting specific details of past trips and experiences.

As for the physical side I recently discovered a guideline that helps me stay on track. The goal is to take a minimum of 10,000 steps each day. Mileage may vary according to the length of your stride but for me that works out to close to five miles a day. At first the distance sounded unrealistic – how can I possibly walk five miles every day? So I picked up a “fit bit” and began tracking my steps. Soon I found myself “taking the long way” whenever possible – walking instead of driving to the nearby store (2 miles round trip), using the stairs rather than elevator, happily strolling to the far side of the house to retrieve some forgotten item. At the end of the day it all added up and I was pleasantly surprised how often I hit that 10,000 step target.

There is no universal blueprint for how to transition into a fulfilling retirement. Each of us needs to find our own path. But we might learn from the experiences of others. And if we are fortunate we may avoid repeating mistakes endured by those who have gone before us.

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