Learning a new skill with a friend can add engagement.
Enthusiasm and engagement in whatever you choose to do during retirement are key to maintaining brain health in old age, say researchers from Sweden – regardless of your behaviour in previous years.
Noting that some individuals seemed to keep their memories in good working order well into old age, researchers from Umeå University wondered whether this related to the way they’d behaved all their lives, or to more recent activity. Until recently scientists have largely supported the ‘reserve’ notion, say the researchers. This is the idea that “Individual differences in brain characteristics or the manner in which people process tasks allow some individuals to cope better than others with brain pathology and hence show preserved memory performance.” So your individual brain characteristics are what could be used to predict how quickly your memory and cognition abilities may decline in old age.
But when the researchers investigated this idea they found that your behaviour prior to retirement – getting a PhD or having a mentally demanding career, for example – only has a short-term beneficial effect on your brain. Once you retire the benefit is reduced. What does keep your brain in tip-top shape, however, is engaging fully in activities you do right now.
“This supports the adage, use it or lose it,” say the study authors. Furthermore, even when patients had been diagnosed with brain disease, those who were more socially and mentally active showed less decline than others, confirming that it is a person’s current behaviour that makes the biggest difference. “Being socially, mentally and physically stimulated helps keep individuals’ cognitive abilities at younger levels,” say the researchers, leaving you with a “well-preserved youth-like brain”.
Ready, steady, engage!
Try any of the following techniques to fire up your enthusiasm for life:
Keep busy. Too much free time can lead to boredom and that can then infect the rest of your day. Fill your day with activities, even if it means trying things you wouldn’t usually bother with – such as a local guided walk. Be physical. Fresh air does more than blows away the cobwebs, it replenishes your oxygen levels, giving you more energy and zest for life. Getting your heart pumping will do you even more good and will make the less physical activities in your day – reading or playing cards, for example – more enjoyable.
Turn off the telly. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing with a bit of TV-viewing but watching the box is a very passive activity. There’s very little engagement going on at all. Try video games, or download an app on to your smartphone. You’ll be surprised at enthusiastic you can get over a game!
Rely on others. Doing any task with another person can instantly add engagement. Enrol in a new course or simply learn a new skill or work on an old one, but do it with a friend. Look online for watercolour classes, language lessons, craft ideas or even maths or language games you can play in groups.
Offer to help. There’s evidence showing that people who do charitable work are happier. Doing voluntary work is a great way to give your day purpose and, again, it’ll give your downtime – TV or relaxing in the garden, for example – more value.
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