By Abby Hayes, Feb. 8, 2017, US News & World Report
We tend to have a mental image of retirement as relaxing. You might spend your days fishing in a quiet lake at dawn, taking a casual stroll down the boulevard or maybe traveling a bit. But avoiding everything that is too strenuous or straining could actually be bad for your mental health.
Mental effort might actually help keep your brain healthier and improve your memory. But it requires some serious mental effort beyond a weekly crossword puzzle. The mental strain you exert to solve a complicated mathematical problem or learn a new language could help keep your brain sharp.
Physical exertion might help too. Research from the University of British Columbia suggests that regular aerobic exercise might increase the size of the area of your brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Regular moderate exercise could increase your brain volume in as little as six months or a year.
However, with both mental and physical exercise, you need to push yourself. Learning more about history from a documentary may be interesting, but it doesn’t provide much of a challenge. And taking a slow walk around the block can be great for stopping to smell the roses, but it might not change your brain the way slightly more strenuous exercise could.
If you’re ready to stay in peak mental condition during retirement, step away from the remote and try these ideas instead:
1. Learn something brand new. Learning new things forces your brain to make new connections. You could learn something completely new, such as an instrument if you’ve never been musical before. Or you could translate an old skill into a new one. For instance, you could take up playing the guitar if you’ve played piano in the past. Trying to speak a new language is another way to challenge yourself. Learning a new skill, especially a difficult one, is a good way to keep your brain engaged and growing.
2. Play difficult games. Some “brain games” marketed to keep your brain young are challenging and interesting, but some aren’t strenuous enough. If something is too easy, it’s probably not growing your brain. But you can definitely find board games and online games that take real mental effort, and playing those can help keep your mind active.
3. Meet new people. Meeting new people is another way to force your brain to make new connections, both literally and figuratively. It’s even better if you can form new friendships and learn new skills at the same time. You could take a class at a local college and make new friends in the process.
4. Brush up on old skills. If it has been a while since you’ve spoken French or done a calculus problem, take the time to brush up on those skills. Relearning these things can be almost as challenging as learning them for the first time.
5. Travel. Being somewhere new makes your brain work harder. You can’t follow your old ruts and rhythms. You’ll have to consult the map, and maybe even speak a different language to get your basic needs met. Even if you stay close to home, but go to a new city, navigating a new area can be a challenge.
6. Take up a new sport. Learning a new sport serves several purposes at the same time. Not only will you work up a sweat physically, but learning the rules and regulations of a new sport gives your brain work to do. And if it’s a team or competitive sport, you might also meet some new people.
7. Set exercise goals. Instead of being content with a walk around the block, set some difficult exercise goals. Run a 5K or join your grandkids in an adventure trek. Meeting tough physical goals takes mental grit, and the physical exercise is great for your overall health.
Don’t let your retirement be boring. Doing difficult things during retirement helps your brain stay more agile, so you can better enjoy your golden years.
To Your Successful Retirement!
Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®