Maintaining brain health and staying sharp in retirement are goals that everyone has. In retirement, you want to be at your best physically and mentally so you can enjoy your time after working hard over the years. As Dr. David Poulad, a neurosurgeon at IGEA Brain and Spine in Union, NJ, notes, "It is never too late to improve your powers of recall. Your brain continues to develop neurons and build new connections to strengthen memory as you age."
If you are looking to preserve your mental well-being in retirement and wondering where to begin, here are five lifestyle habits to consider adopting for better brain health.
1. Get Creative
Studies have shown that reading poetry or finding similar creative outlets can improve brain function. Retirement is the perfect time to embark on a new creative endeavor, such as taking a painting, ceramics, drawing or photography class. You might choose to devote additional time to creative outlets you already enjoy or take up an engaging new hobby that you didn't have time for previously. Visiting your local senior center or arts council may be a good way to spark your interest. By pursuing an engaging and fulfilling pastime, you can maintain your brain health and enjoy something new and interesting at the same time.
2. Stop Multitasking
Let's face it, we all like to get as much done as possible, but multitasking can actually be a detriment to healthy brain functioning. Scientists studied this phenomenon by asking research participants to complete two tasks at the same time while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Results showed a split in the brain, with participants forgetting important details and making three times as many mistakes as those not multitasking.
Another study from the University of London saw a decrease in IQ scores among participants who multitasked during cognitive activities, yielding scores that were similar to those of individuals who had stayed up all night. Where possible, try to focus on completing one task at a time before moving on to the next item on your agenda. Doing so can help you remain attentive, avoid unnecessary stress and perhaps even accomplish more in your day.
3. Spend Time with Grandchildren
A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Marriage and the Family analyzed data from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe and showed that attending to grandchildren weekly boosted grandparents' brain function in the area of verbal fluency. Another study, published in the Journal of the North American Menopause Society, found that older women who spent one day per week babysitting their grandchildren had the highest cognitive scores among individuals surveyed in the study.
Consider spending some time babysitting and bonding with your grandkids to elevate your spirits, sooth your mind and keep your brain engaged.
4. Dig in the Garden
Studies have shown that working in a garden can reduce stress, help the brain retain fine and gross motor skills, and improve memory. You could start small with a few potted plants or take time to develop a lush backyard garden as a long-term project. Consider checking the resources available at your local garden club, community garden or library to get started.
5. Improve Your Sleep
Maintaining brain health and staying sharp are closely tied to getting enough sleep. Poor sleep can contribute to numerous medical issues and decrease quality of life, and research estimates that approximately 40-70% of older adults have chronic sleep issues.
Fortunately, there are proactive steps you can take to improve your sleep and keep your brain healthy. For instance, you could try to limit napping during the day, keep a schedule of bedtimes and waking times, limit alcohol and caffeine later in the day, keep phones and TVs out of the bedroom, and practice good general sleep hygiene, which includes keeping your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
As you look to take steps to improve your brain health, make sure that any changes you make contribute to your happiness and are safe for you. Always check with your doctor before taking on any new physical activities or health routines.