One of the joys of retiring is having more time to do the things you always put off; traveling, reading new books, starting new hobbies, and meeting new friends. Unfortunately, one of the facts of life facing all people as they age is that the brain, which has been in decline since it turned 40, increases its rate of decline once you reach your 60s. Hence we notice ourselves forgetting things as simple as a friend’s name or an important fact being told mid sentence. It’s always small things that used to be automatic, that frustrate and build up over time. Right now, over 70,000,000 baby boomers and many millennials are facing structural changes in the brain as they age. It’s something no one can avoid. But along with this change, recent studies have shown that humans can generate new brain cells into their 90s. With a few tweaks and changes to our lifestyle and motivation, we can keep our brain healthy and functioning without noticeable decline, and fully enjoy our twilight years.
Diet is an important key to ensuring the aging brain remains healthy and strong. In fact it has been proven that a healthy diet rich with certain nutrients supports brain function. Things like Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E have proven to be highly beneficial to the brain. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel are loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids while nuts and whole grains provide strong antioxidant support. Granola has always been a favorite source of antioxidants as it combines whole grains and nuts. It also boasts natural plant based protein that boosts energy. Dark green leafy vegetables should be included in a brain healthy diet. Don’t forget the dark chocolate which studies show improves brain cognition.
We already know that exercise helps to keep us flexible, improve our heart health and lose weight. Now exercise has been discovered to be a key factor in regenerating brain cells. Swimming, biking, fast paced walking and even yoga are all beneficial low impact exercises for maximum brain health. Make sure you keep your routine fun so you stay motivated. Mix it up on occasion, go out for a night of dancing or bowling. Even love making has been shown to be a wonderful way to improve your cognitive function!
Exercising the mind is equally important to a healthy brain. Taking time to do a crossword puzzle, sudoku games, solving jigsaw puzzles, or calculating your monthly accounts (using pencil and paper) all work to strengthen cognition. Taking up a new hobby such as knitting or painting, learning a new language, or writing daily in a journal are ways to keep your brain strong. Teach yourself the game of chess then find a partner and play a few times each week. Give yourself everyday challenges to keep your brain functioning.
Creating new experiences for yourself is another way to stimulate your mind. Traveling is a wonderful way to experience brand new cultures, languages, food, and sites. The whole time your brain is working hard to process this new information. Right now, travel is on hold for many, but keep it on your long term agenda for when the world reopens its doors.
Experiences are not just limited to travel. Take yourself to your nearest museum or art gallery. Don’t just explore the exhibits, read the descriptions, think about what you see, ask questions. This is all about stimulating your brain. Go to a classical concert or take in the ballet. Never been a sports enthusiast? Learn about the rules of the game and actively participate in the details of what’s happening as play continues. It’s all about doing something you have not done before or enhancing what you know with further study. Many retired adults have built cognition by signing up for courses at their nearby colleges or universities. I’m not talking about going back to school for a new degree, this is about auditing a course that teaches you something new. In most states, auditing courses are free at state supported schools and many private schools. You typically just need to ask the professor if you can join
Of course all your efforts to stimulate your brain will be null and void if you insist on continuing some bad habits. Smoking is the foremost vice that works to exacerbate the structural decline of your brain. This is due primarily because it is limiting oxygen to the brain. Numerous studies confirm this and there is simply no way of getting around it.
A poor, high fat diet, as opposed to a nutrient dense diet as mentioned above, is detrimental to brain health along with being dehydrated. Dehydration is an easy fix, just be more strategic about drinking water. Don’t forget the hidden ways to rehydrate such as eating fruits and vegetables, drinking coffee and tea, and having soups for dinner.
Are you getting enough sleep? The brain is a major organ in the human body and requires ample sleep to recover and regenerate. Most of us know first hand how difficult it is to function after a poor night’s sleep. Imagine the cumulative toll on our brains if sleeping poorly is normal. According to the CDC all adults should be getting between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night. Proper sleep simply leads to good health.
We have worked hard to have the free time to enjoy our retirements. A strong brain as we age is possible. All it takes is a few simple adjustments that can be easily adapted to any lifestyle.