Keep Your Brain Young Long After Retirement

By Richard Asa and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
February 28, 2022
Two elderly men playing a video game --- Image by © I Love Images/Corbis

What can you do now to keep your brain sharp as you age? Work out more, laugh and enjoy life, play games to boost your brain power, and eat a healthy diet.

Long before we retire, evidence suggests we need to complete tasks in both everyday life and our work that prepare our brains for after retirement. Challenging your brain now may help preserve your thinking skills and memory later. In general, researchers have found that people who hold “highly complex” jobs — such as architects, lawyers, surgeons, and musicians — do better on reasoning tests at the age of 70, even after taking account of their ability as a child. Conversely, those with less complicated jobs — carpet layers, painters, and telephone operators – had lower scores at age 70.

There is also evidence that putting off retirement is linked to less cognitive decline after retirement, especially for people with jobs that require education.

But here’s the surprise:  the overall effect of occupation on later-life skills may be small.


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There are other ways to stimulate your brain, whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a trash hauler.

When it comes to the brain, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Because the human brain has an incredible ability to change and adapt, which is known as neuroplasticity, the right stimulation can train your brain to form new neural pathways.

Boosting memory deliberately

Everyone loses their keys, forgets to take out the trash, and can’t find their car in a parking lot, now and then. To preserve your memory, consider these tips from the Harvard Health Letter.

Use all of your senses

People seem to have stronger memories if they associate images with smells. An activity like cooking involves planning, taste, and smell — listen to music while you cut up vegetables and you will stimulate your brain even more.

Believe in yourself

People do better on memory tests when they hear upbeat messages about the possibility of staying sharp as they age. Negative stereotypes are discouraging and lead to poorer performance.

Repeat what you want to remember

It helps to take notes or say a new name soon after you learn it.

Good health for a strong brain

Other good health habits will protect your brain function. These include:

  • Working out. Physical exercise increases the amount of oxygen to your brain and a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF) that is needed to grow and keep neurons, while reducing your risk for illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, that lead to memory loss. It may help to add other stimulation to exercise — dancing or playing sports is social, for example. Exercising outdoors with greenery cuts stress.
  • Making and keeping good friends throughout life. This, like exercise, takes work. Meaningful relationships and a network of support are critical to brain health. But, if you don’t give, you can’t take. Social isolation increases dementia risk by about half.
  • Using hearing aids. Even slight levels of hearing loss are linked to cognitive decline. In a study of nearly 6,500 Americans with an average age of 59, cognitive skills declined steadily with hearing loss.
  • Laughter. Laughter gives many regions across the brain a good workout. So, if you’re a grump, snap out of it. There must be something in your life to laugh about, even if it’s yourself. Self-effacement can go a long way. Laughter is laughter.
  • Reducing stress. In this fast-paced, technologically fueled world of today, it’s easier than ever to stress out. Maybe you’ll chill if you know that stress kills brain cells and harms the hippocampus, the part of your brain that forms new memories and stores old ones. Health, mental and physical, may not actually be everythingbut there’s a lot you can’t do without it, so take a break from stressors in your life.
  • Eating a diet that’s good for your brain. The MIND Diet is a cross between two other well-known diets and is linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. You’ll eat vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, fish, beans, and poultry, along with drinking a little wine.
  • Adequate sleep. When you're sleep deprived, your brain can't operate at full capacity. Creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are compromised. Lack of sleep is associated with cognitive loss over time.
  • Controlling high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Both can lead to heart disease, stroke, and, in turn, may increase your risk of dementia.
  • Don’t smoke, and limit drinking. Both can increase risk of dementia.

Finally, once you do retire, you can make your life as mentally stimulating as your work — or more so. Learn new skills, like playing a musical instrument, or a hobby that requires hand-eye coordination. Or travel, which takes forethought, planning, and adaptation. As the saying goes, use it or lose it.


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February 28, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN