When it comes to living a long, happy, and healthy life, the formula is simple, well-known and widely accepted; healthy eating plus physical exercise equals longevity! But as we retire, there’s a third element which becomes an important part of the long-life formula: brain fitness.
Throughout our working lives, we generally utilize our brains, keeping them active regardless of the industry in which we work. When our careers come to an end, all too often does the daily dose of brain training. And while you may be excited by the prospect of just switching off (after all, you’ve worked your whole life to have the luxury of doing so!), disengaging your brain can actually have negative effects, impacting your enjoyment of your retirement and your quality – and length – of life.
The link between an active brain and a happy and long retirement has been proven in a recent study. A 2019 research article has shown that retirees who undertake task-switching, also known as brain training behaviors, can keep up with those much younger than themselves. That’s great news for those looking to spend their retirement doing more than just sitting around the house! Simply keeping your brain fit may be the key to feeling like a 20-year-old!
It’s more than just the positive knock-on effects of brain training itself that can enrich retirement. The actual process of brain training can be a source of enrichment too, depending upon the method you choose. Contrary to popular belief, brain training comes in many forms; it is more than just brain training apps. In fact, any activity that engages your brain and forces cognitive processing can be classed as brain training.
So how can you train your brain in retirement? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Who doesn’t love travel? New experiences, exotic cultures, and delicious foods are major drawcards for would-be travelers. And it’s exactly those things that make traveling in retirement something you can do for both your health and happiness. Escaping the monotony of your lounge room’s four walls and the humdrum of your regular life provides your brain with something new. Essentially, by constantly showing your brain things it hasn’t seen before, you effectively train it to be more receptive and not just switch to auto-pilot.
Travel of any kind will go a long way to keeping your brain healthy, so you don’t need to worry about visiting far-flung lands to get your brain-training fix if it’s not your thing. Simply taking a road trip or a domestic city break will work wonders too. It’s a great excuse to book your next trip, don’t you think?
2. Learn A Language
For many of us, the last time we spent a good amount of time learning something new was during our formative years at school or college. We spend our working lives doing not much more than coming and going from our jobs and trying to enjoy our free time as much as possible. In retirement, though, that all changes, and the time you have to upskill increases. So, what better way to spend that time than to learn a language?
Language learning is among one of the top methods to keep your brain active in retirement for a few reasons. Firstly, language learning has been proven to improve memory, create more neural connections, and improve concentration. It has even been suggested that it also decreases the risk of dementia. Secondly, multilingualism also improves the quality of life in a somewhat surprising way. People who know more than one language see the world a little differently than those who don’t. They are more observant of the world around them and hence can enjoy the simple pleasures of their surroundings.
There’s another reason that choosing to learn a language is a good choice in retirement. When there’s no incentive to continue doing something, especially when the going gets tough, it’s easy to give up. And when you’re retired, there’s no pressure to really follow through with anything! With language learning, there is an incentive. Since the end goal of learning a language is becoming fluent, keeping motivated to continue learning and showing up to class or log onto your online lessons is easier than if you just had a hobby without an end goal.
3. Life Admin
It’s easy just to sit around in retirement and let the days pass by. Sometimes, all we want to do is relax and take things easy. You don’t have to do anything too strenuous to keep your brain active. You can actually make life admin your brain training activity. From making sure you have the best auto insurance policy to sorting through important documents, you’d be surprised how much you can find to do when you look.
One thing that you could spend hours working on is by planning your own funeral. Okay, this sounds rather morbid but once you start looking into your options, it can actually be an enjoyable way to spend your time. Most funerals are planned in a hurry, usually by grieving family members so it’s actually a task that you’d be saving your family from doing after your death. Who knows, you may even enjoy creating your own DIY cremation urn or planning the menu for your wake!
4. Take Up An Instrument
Much like learning another language, taking up an instrument can provide you with a great way to keep your brain active, learn a cool new skill, and have fun in the process. What’s more, according to the Making Music and Wellness Project, learning an instrument can have stress-relieving effects. While you may wonder why that would be beneficial in retirement (after all, what have you got to be stressed about, right?), depression and anxiety can actually be quite high among retirees.
After living a long and active life, for some people, the reduction in spending time working and filling the day with ‘meaningful’ hours can lead to a feeling of a lack of purpose, and consequently, depression. Music can do a lot to combat that. Aside from the melody, which is known to have a calming effect, the act of producing your own music engages your brain as you concentrate on the notes and use your fine motor skills. All in all, playing an instrument is a form of brain training that can’t be replicated in many other ways.
One of the easiest ways to get into music is to learn the guitar. You can pick up a guitar relatively cheaply, and guitar tutors are numerous, making it a great beginner instrument. Alternatively, you could opt for something more exotic like the harp, mandolin or saxophone, although entry to these options can be tougher due to the high cost of instruments and lessons.
5. Take a Class
Don’t fancy learning a language or an instrument? Well, there are so many other things you can learn that better suit your interests. Although you may think your best learning years are behind you (and it’s somewhat true that we learn best when we’re young), the spare time you have in retirement certainly helps with any lag you may have. Furthermore, with the removal of any stress of having to pass exams and get good grades, learning can be much more enjoyable than the classes you experienced at school.
Online classes are so popular but, if you can, get out there and take a physical class. Meeting new people and keeping social is another proven way to keep you young, so why not kill two birds with one stone?
6. Brain Training Apps and Exercises
While you’re trying to think outside of the box for creative ways to train your brain, don’t overlook one of the easiest ways. Purpose-built apps and brain training exercises are really powerful at keeping your brain healthy and can provide hours of fun too. There’s a reason that people spent over $1.9 billion on such apps in 2018 – they really work!
If you’ve got a smartphone or tablet, there are plenty of apps for both iOS and Android like Elevate and Lumosity, which have proven results. Alternatively, if digital games aren’t your thing, grab a pen and pick up an exercise book for your brain training efforts. Sudoku, crosswords and other activities for which you have to think a little will do the job!
7. Join a Quiz Team
One of the key purposes of brain training is to maintain your cognitive abilities, especially when it comes to your memory and executive function. What better way to strengthen your memory than to undertake activities that ask you to recall information that may be buried at the back corners of your mind? Joining a trivia or a quiz team and competing in quizzes is not only an incredibly fun social activity, but it’s also an extremely effective way to keep your brain active.
Which Brain Training Activity Is Right For You?
Essentially, when it comes to brain training, there are so many ways you can keep your brain active and there is no right or wrong way to do this. As long as the activity you choose has some element of challenging your mind and testing your cognitive abilities, you can consider it a brain training endeavor. The most important thing though is to pick something that you enjoy and you can fill your retirement with the things you love doing.
This article was contributed by guest blogger Nat Juchems.
Nat is the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat helps those grieving the loss of a loved find the right memorial to cherish.
Before becoming the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat worked for six years in the memorials e-commerce industry as a Marketing Director and Ecommerce Director, using his skill set to manage powerful paid search and organic search campaigns as well as implement merchandising strategies and manage the software development teams that made everything work.
Nat enjoys spending time with his family and balancing that with training for triathlons.
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