Updated: Feb 16
Your mental wellbeing is important. Which is why I’ve dedicated this month’s blog posting towards Mental Health Awareness. Today’s topic addresses natural cognitive decline, more specifically how your brain needs exercise. Before retirement, work provides much of the stimulation it needs to stay sharp. But once you retire, you’ll need to begin a new regiment to maintain your sharp wit. -- Peter
As you get older, your memories may become more difficult to recall. Names may slip your mind, learning a new skill may take more time, and you may forget what you entered a room for. And retirement living can contribute towards this memory loss.
Studies show that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline. According to Susann Rohwedder and Robert Willis, authors of Mental Retirement, there is a correlation between the age you enter retirement and cognitive decline. Rohwedder and Willis studied participants from countries where it is culturally more likely to retire early and compared them to individuals from countries where it is more likely to retire later in life. American participants, for instance, scored nearly twice as well as Spanish participants. In the U.S., more than 20 percent of people over the age of 64 are still in the workforce; in Spain, only 2.5 percent of that age group are still working.
But there is hope of slowing this “mental retirement”, and that is by engaging in activities that include lots of thinking and problem solving.
Here are some ways to stay mentally sharp without going to work every day.
1. Put Your Skills to Use
You’ve spent your working years developing and improving your skill set. Keep those skills sharp by applying them even during retirement.
Volunteer at a local organization that could benefit from your skills. Research found multiple benefits to volunteering, including greater life satisfaction, higher mental function, and a stronger social network. If you were an entrepreneur consider volunteering with SCORE to help budding business owners.
2. Develop a New Skill
Learning new skills stimulates neurons in the brain, which forms more neural pathways and allows electrical impulses to travel faster across the brain. Plus, the more you learn the denser the white matter of your brain becomes, improving learning performance.
Make learning social by enrolling in a course. Many colleges and universities offer reduced college tuition or the opportunity to audit courses to senior citizens (typically adults 60 and up).
Reading is a complex task that requires multiple parts of the brain to work together. It improves memory and strengthens language processing regions of the brain. Plus, if you make reading before bed a daily ritual, it will help you sleep better as well.
Bring a social element to your reading habit. Join a book club or create a profile on Good Reads (this will connect with your Facebook profile so you can see what your Facebook friends are currently reading as well).
4. Write Frequently
When you write by hand you are giving your brain’s encoding process a supercharge. Handwriting’s combination of touch sensation, visual perception, and motor skills reinforces the natural learning process. Essentially, writing by hand focuses the brain to process information in a more detailed fashion, helping to solidify information into your memory bank.
Write to-do lists, jot down your goals or thoughts, begin outlining your memoirs, or record important notes. When you write these thoughts down, you will find you often will remember them without ever reading them again. However, another benefit of this tactic is the information is always right there when you need it.
5. Play Cards
Playing cards boosts math and strategic thinking skills. Card games -- such as spades, bridge, poker, and blackjack -- can be cognitively demanding, exercising the part of the brain that processes information, evaluates data, and makes decisions.
Playing cards also brings a social element to your game play regardless of this being online or in person. This interaction encourages friendly competition and conversation, which will combat loneliness.
Physical activity increases the amount of oxygen in the brain while also releasing dopamine and endorphins in your brain. These feel-good brain chemicals improve moods and reduce stress.
It is not necessary to run marathons or do anything strenuous. Take a brisk walk daily, garden, bicycle around your neighborhood, hike a near-by trail, or do any other physical activity.
7. A Sound Night’s Sleep
It’s normal for sleeping difficulties to emerge with age, but insufficient sleep can impair memory and learning. Going to bed and waking up at the same time can help. However, if you have a sleep disorder, consider seeking qualified assistance.
Make lifelong learning a priority.
Building and preserving brain connections is an ongoing process. Your brain is filled with your experiences, treasured memories, and the very essence of who you are. By maintaining a regular routine filled with mental stimulation well into your retirement years, you and your family will be able to enjoy your sharp wit and life experiences for decades to come.
Other Useful Resources:
Freakonomics Ep. 225 “Am I Boring You?” -- Excellent explanation of how being understimulated (ie. bored) leads to cognitive decline.
Is my fading memory a sign of Alzheimer’s disease? -- It is important to note that the article above is meant to assist those with normal cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s impacts the brain very differently.
Are you comfortable with your progress towards retirement? Have you properly allocated funds towards future health costs? If you have a net worth over $2 million and need help from a wealth manager, the Peak Wealth Planning team can assist you.
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About the Author
Peter Newman is a Chartered Financial Advisor (CFA) and president of Peak Wealth Planning. He works with individuals nationwide that have accumulated wealth through company stock, ESOP shares, real estate, or running a business. Peter applies his unique background to help clients achieve their specific goals and enjoy peace of mind.
Peak Wealth Planning provides concierge services to meet your wealth management needs. Services include: financial planning, investment management, esop diversification, retirement income, insurance, and estate planning advice. Peak Wealth Planning is a fee-based financial advisor based in Champaign, Illinois, and Fraser, Colorado.