As we age, certain things begin to change. Our muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be. Bedtime seems to come earlier than it used to. Forgetfulness can start to creep in.
Luckily, there are all kinds of things that we can do to keep our minds and bodies healthy. The body is a relatively easy one - enough rest and regular exercise will do the trick.
When it comes to the mind, however, it’s a bit more complicated, especially when you don’t have the daily mental stimulation that a job provides. Here are 5 ways to keep your mind sharp throughout retirement.
- Remember that you’re still in control of how well your mind functions. Americans are bombarded with negative stereotypes about aging. We see caricatures of older people everywhere in media: the grandmother who wraps up a cat instead of a Christmas present, the grandfather who’s gotten mean and grumpy with time.
No matter how immune to the negative images you think you are, they take a toll on us all, conditioning us to believe that we will inevitably succumb to a multitude of negative side effects of aging.
It’s true that some are unavoidable, due to simple biology. However, if you can remember that you’re still in control of your body and mind, and maintain a positive self-image, it will go a long way toward helping you keep your mental faculties sharp. In fact, according to Harvard Health Publications, it’s been proven that older people do better on memory tasks when they’re exposed to positive messaging about memory preservation, and worse when they’re exposed to negative stereotyping.
- Keep cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels. Eating a healthy diet and getting moderate, regular exercise become even more important as you grow older. Research shows that heart disease and stroke can contribute to the development of certain types of dementia, so controlling your risk factors for these diseases can help you maintain a healthy brain.
In addition, Everyday Health reports that one study found that good cardiovascular health was associated with better mental function overall.
- Strive for lifelong learning. Crossword puzzles and sudoku are all well and good, and they certainly have some benefit when it comes to keeping your mind sharp. But if you really want to keep your brain active, continue learning in a structured environment.
Higher levels of education have been shown to improve mental functioning as people age, so take advantage of what’s available. That could mean taking a class at the local college - universities often have programs for seniors for a highly reduced rate - or doing a free online class on a subject that interests you. Learning doesn’t have to be academic, however. Learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby can have the same benefit for your mental acuity.
- Use your senses to help you remember things. You’ve probably noticed how effective smells can be at bringing up memories. Maybe a certain perfume takes you back to your youth, or the smell of baking cookies reminds you of a particular day spent baking with your young children.
As you age, you can take advantage of this truth simply by noticing smells, sounds, and sights that are present around you - especially when there’s something specific you want to make sure you remember.
- Use repetition. There’s a reason kids used to learn things by rote - it works, at least when all you’re going for is memorization. If there’s information that you want to remember, repeat it out loud to yourself a few times. Writing it down, of course, is always a good idea too, especially if you’re more of a visual learner.
While certain biological changes in our brains are inevitable as we age, there is a lot we can do to stay sharp throughout retirement. For more on how to live a happy, healthy retirement lifestyle, read our post “3 Signs Retirement is Stressing You Out - and What to Do About It.”