Keeping your brain active is essential for both physical and mental wellbeing. And as you age, your brain goes through significant changes. Studies show that cognitive functions decline, the brain shrinks, and the risks of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s increase.
And these processes can accelerate when you retire and experience a sudden drop in stimulation for essential parts of your brain. According to research, even early retirement could speed up cognitive decline and risks of dementia. So, if you are retired, providing your brain with enough stimulation is particularly important for it to maintain optimum cognitive functionalities.
But keeping your brain active should not keep you from enjoying your new-found freedom. Here are eight ways to prevent your brain from retiring while you make the best out of this exciting new phase of your life.
1. Get social
Getting outdoors and socializing could have multiple benefits for your brain health. According to a study by Dr. Cynthia Felix and her team, even a moderate level of social engagement can improve gray matter in parts of the brain related to cognitive functions. And another study by a team at Northwestern University confirms that strong social relationships could lead to slower cognitive decline.
Regular conversations, interactions, and group activities could keep your mental faculties engaged and help prevent the negative emotional effects of leading an isolated life.
So join a book club, start a fundraising project, volunteer to help a community activity, or sign up for a class. If you find it difficult to go out regularly, you can even consider joining an online community. All these could push you out of your comfort zone and provide new experiences to keep you stimulated.
2. Eat more brain food
Your brain needs energy and nutrients to function at its best as you age. For example, studies show that Omega-3 fatty acids can slow down age-related cognitive decline. And there’s clear evidence that plant-based antioxidants can reduce risks of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The Harvard Medical School suggests a diet that includes fatty fish, berries, coffee, and greens like broccoli and kale for important brain nutrients such as antioxidants and vitamins. And nuts and seeds are excellent sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids. But before you change your diet, speak to your doctor for the best brain food for your particular health needs.
3. Learn a new language
“Bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain,” says Dr. Thomas Bak at the University of Edinburgh. His research suggests that patients who spoke only one language developed Alzheimer’s much earlier than those who were bilingual. Another study confirms that learning a new language “represents a powerful tool to reorganize brain neuroplasticity”.
Evidently, studying a new language could be both fun and good for your brain health. It’s a challenging task that could keep your brain active with the use of memory, concentration, and the ability to retrieve and connect information. Besides, mastering a new language can also expose you to new cultures, giving you more opportunities to learn and explore the world.
4. Take up meditation
An 18-year study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that meditation can slow the brain’s aging process by as much as eight years.
There is mounting evidence to show that regular meditation could have a significant positive impact on cognitive functions, such as memory and concentration. Even if you have never meditated, a 30-minute practice for 2 weeks could create a notable change in your brain. And research suggests that brain activity changes caused by meditation can remain even much later.
So, find a quiet place in your home and allocate some time to meditate. You can start with mindfulness, breathing exercises, a body scan, or a guided session.
5. Play brain games
Numerous studies have explored the impact of brain games on age-related cognitive functions. For example, a 2017 study focused on healthy adults aged 50 and above shows that regular word puzzles can lead to improved brain functions when it comes to memory, concentration, and reasoning.
From jigsaws and Sudoku to word puzzles and memory games, there are countless activities you can enjoy on your own or together with others. And studies show that brain training games and activities, in particular, can lead to improvements in specific cognitive functions.
A 5-year study, for example, shows that exposing healthy older adults to memory, reasoning, or speed training activities resulted in improved cognitive functions in the respective area. And the effects of these were observed at a varying degree even much later during the five-years the study was conducted.
6. Prioritize sleep
Your brain performs important functions such as cell restoration and memory consolidation while you sleep. But the sleep quality, duration, and patterns could often change as you age. For example, insomnia is a common condition experienced by around 20% of adults aged 65 and above. These changes could occur due to various factors such as lifestyle changes and health conditions.
But lack of sleep can have negative effects on your brain function. Studies suggest that cutting down on your sleep time can accelerate your brain’s aging process. And research by UC Berkeley confirms that poor sleep among older adults could impair memory. Sleep deprivation is also linked to increased risks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Therefore, prioritizing sleep is essential to enjoy its restorative effects on your brain health and to prevent early cognitive decline. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 6–8 hours of sleep for older adults. Developing a sleep routine, planning your dinners early, cutting down on nightcaps, and creating a quiet and comfortable sleep environment can all contribute towards a more restful slumber. And if you notice any significant changes in your sleep patterns, seek advice from a medical practitioner.
7. Get active
Physical activity is essential for your brain health and is linked to several cognitive benefits. According to a research team at the University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise can change brain activity to improve thinking skills. And even a moderate level of exercise could increase metabolism in brain regions related to learning and memory of older adults. And the physical benefits of staying fit could be just as rewarding as you age.
If you have been leading a sedentary life, start with simple activities and establish a regular routine. It could include walking, cycling, hiking, or swimming. Even regular dancing is a great option to boost physical activity. Finding a workout partner or joining a class can also make things more enjoyable.
8. Take up a hobby
Whether you take up painting, playing an instrument, reading, gardening, or cooking, starting a hobby can have many positive effects on your brain health. Learning something new could engage memory, problem-solving, logical thinking, and concentration.
For example, gardening demands the active use of various cognitive functions as you plan what to grow, prepare the soil, solve pest issues, learn new techniques, and get into a daily routine of caring for your plants.
Studies suggest that activities with high cognitive demands such as learning digital photography or quilting could have a far greater impact on improving memory, compared to activities that were less cognitively demanding.
Besides, taking up a hobby is a great way to keep yourself busy during your retirement. It could provide a new set of goals to work towards as you adjust to life outside your usual work environment.
Combining is the key
For best results, research suggests using a combination of these activities instead of adopting just one. And there’s certainly no reason why you can’t adopt all of them. After all, they can introduce a lot of fun and joy to your daily routine and help keep your brain active for a longer and healthier retired life.