June 12th, 2023

The 4 simple habits that could keep your brain active in retirement, according to science

Retirement is a milestone most people look forward to for many years – and indeed, there are plenty of wonderful opportunities that come with entering this new phase in your life.

You may have more time to explore hobbies, spend time with your family, or even keep working part-time in a “flexi-retirement” role that suits you.

Yet with the highs of retirement can also come lows, particularly if you are worried about the effects of ageing. You may feel your body and mind begin to slow down over time, and feel concerned about your long-term mental and physical health in the years to come.

Fortunately, when it comes to your cognitive abilities, recent science has revealed that integrating simple habits into your retirement routine could preserve your brain’s health in amazing ways.

Keep reading to find out four simple yet effective habits that could improve your sharpness in retirement.

1. Stay active in a way that suits your body and brain

It is a well-established fact that physical activity has myriad benefits for our minds and bodies. From when we’re young children, right up until old age, staying active is very important.

Crucially, though, according to a study published by the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychology, the timing of your activity across adulthood can make a real difference to your cognitive abilities.

The findings reveal that, while a continued history of regular exercise is best for brain health, staying active in middle and old age can help you “achieve a higher later-life cognitive state”.

Understandably, you may feel like your energy levels, and capacity for hard exercise, are dwindling as you age. Yet adapting to your body’s needs, and meeting it where it is right now, could enable you to stay active in a non-competitive way throughout retirement.

Some “low-impact” forms of exercise that are easily integrated into a daily retirement routine include:

  • Stretching, pilates, and yoga
  • Walking for 30 minutes to an hour
  • Gardening
  • Slow, steady use of weights during exercise.

You don’t have to be at the top of your game to stay active and keep yourself mentally sharp in retirement. A little bit every day goes a long way.

2. Keep making time to see your friends

Socialising in groups of like-minded friends is often considered a young person’s game. As we settle down, have families of our own, and progress in our careers, seeing friends on a regular basis is a priority that can often be put on the back burner.

Indeed, Covid-19 had an impact on everyone’s social lives, but perhaps the most tangibly affected was the ageing population. Without as much technical know-how, and being encouraged to shield for their own health, many retirees felt alone during Covid, according to in-depth research published by Age UK in 2021.

To prevent cognitive decline – including remaining confident enough to perform regular activities – maintaining regular social contact is paramount. According to Harvard Health Publishing, socialising “stimulates attention and memory, and help strengthen neural networks”, as well as improving your happiness levels.

Social activities suitable for everyone in retirement could include cinema trips, book clubs, dinners out, or even just going to your local pub for a pint with old pals once a week.

3. Maintain the elements of your life that spark joy

Research published by the National Library of Medicine has cited multiple studies that draw a strong connection between happiness and cognitive function.

The paper reveals that “people in happy, positive mood states are better able to modulate cognition by enhancing broader thought-action repertoires, and demonstrate broadened attention, greater cognitive flexibility, and heightened creativity”.

As a young person with plenty of excitement to your life, you might have found it easier to boost your mood and remain jovial through thick and thin. But if you have felt yourself become more withdrawn in retirement, now could be the time to concentrate on the things that bring you the most joy.

It could be seeing friends and family, spending time in nature, or even dancing to loud music while you cook dinner – whatever your “happy place” looks like, finding it in retirement could actually improve your cognitive abilities as you age.

4. Keep using your best-honed skills, even after you stop working

It is likely that, over the course of your career, you have cultivated an incredible skillset that you may feel go to waste when you retire.

Indeed, you may miss the confidence, drive, and challenge of using your most impressive skills, and feel yourself “slow down” mentally when you stop working as a result.

A report from Positive Psychology claims that challenging your brain can improve cognitive function, especially as you age. So, leaning into those old skills and giving yourself new challenges surrounding them could be a fantastic way to stay sharp in retirement.

For instance, if you always took on leadership roles at work and miss that sense of motivation and challenge, volunteering in a similar position could serve you well. You could lead a team of volunteers in any area that you enjoy, and thrive off that “buzz” you get from bringing people together to complete a project.

These four habits, if applied consistently throughout your retirement, could enable you to remain as mentally active as ever while you get older.

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