When you retire, you finally have all the time in the world to get out and do the things you love instead of sitting at a desk all day.
But did you know jumping back into your favorite hobbies or finding a new adventure to try can power your brain to ward off memory loss and dementia? When seniors keep their minds and bodies active, they actually create new neural pathways in the brain to help keep it agile for years to come.
Here are a few fun-filled activities with memory-boosting benefits:
- Move to the music. If you ever wanted to learn to play an instrument, now is the perfect time! A study by the University of Montreal found music lessons can improve brain function and memory as well as make players more alert. If you’re more of the listening type, turn on an operatic aria or catch your favorite band live—music is a powerful stimulus that engages memory even in dementia patients.
- Lace up your sneakers. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, especially if it’s done outside, offers numerous health advantages, including reduced stress and improved cognitive function. When you take a walk, meet a friend for a game of tennis or join a senior softball team, that physical activity gives your brain a shot of oxygen by increasing your heart rate and blood flow.
- Give to others. Volunteering is an excellent way to use those skills you may have put on hold since retiring. For instance, cleaning cages and walking dogs at an animal shelter puts different muscles to work and speeds up your reaction time while serving on their board of directors stimulates your reasoning, problem-solving and organizational abilities. Plus, the socialization that comes with activities like volunteering is critical—researchers found those seniors who maintain their social networks delay or prevent cognitive impairment.
- Try something new. Whether you join a computer class, take dance lessons or try yoga for the first time, leaving your comfort zone improves your memory in the long term. Said one researcher from the University of Texas at Dallas, “It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially.”
- Put your mind to work. Even if mobility issues leave you confined to your home, you can rouse your memory in a variety of ways. Play thinking games, like chess, Scrabble or Risk, against an opponent. Balance your reading lists with fiction books that encourage you to use your imagination and non-fiction books that require deep concentration. If you’re a smartphone addict, choose games and apps like Words With Friends that have both a social and competitive component.
- Train your brain. Forcing your brain to do activities it usually doesn’t is similar to improving your muscle tone with new exercises. Brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, closing your eyes while getting dressed and even shaking up your morning schedule alters the brain’s structure, causing it to adapt and respond in new ways to different experiences.
One of the biggest risk factors for memory loss and dementia is a sedentary lifestyle. By switching your recliner for a bike and your TV for a book, you can help prevent the cognitive decline that threatens the independence of so many seniors in their golden years. For additional brain-boosting games, apps and ideas, visit the AARP Staying Sharp website.