Staying sharp in retirement (Part 1)

Staying sharp in retirement (Part 1)


by Fran Parker

Fran new pic

I’m finishing up month five of retirement and boy do I love it! As I left my job on June 1, I stated my intent to spend the summer and fall relaxing and having fun.   After that, I’d think about whether I was going to seek out paid employment again.  But, I haven’t decided, and at this point have no intention of working very hard at figuring it out.  Life is good.  I am content.

Try as I might, I haven’t found a routine yet.  Lately, I’ve been staying up until midnight and getting up around 7.  Of course, getting up means getting out of bed, feeding Daisy and Lily and then going back to bed with my breakfast and newspaper.  Getting dressed and getting going is another thing entirely.  

But, I do get going.  There’s always lots of fun and interesting things to do – working on collages for my mixed media class, volunteering, meditating, yoga, hiking, reading, attending my Friday night film class, and playing ping pong.  And, if I HAVE to, there’s always the not-so-fun stuff, like cleaning (which I only do when someone is coming over) and business like paying bills or doing my income tax (procrastinated until October 16 this year).

In my last blog, I wrote about actively shaping the future I want to live in retirement.  Having spent a fair amount of time worrying about what’s going to happen as I age and my memory deteriorates, I was encouraged to discover that research has shown that it is possible to prevent and perhaps even reverse age-related cognitive decline.

One of the books I read is Staying Sharp, by Henry Emmons, MD and David Alter, Ph.D.  They identify nine keys to having a youthful brain:

  1. Physical activity
  2. Adequate sleep
  3. Good nutrition
  4. Curiosity
  5. Flexibility
  6. Optimism
  7. Empathy
  8. Social connection
  9. Living authentically

Since having a youthful brain is important to me, I’ve decided this is a good time to do a self-assessment of how I’m doing in terms of living a life that includes the nine keys to a healthy brain.  In this blog, I’ll rate how I ‘m doing with the first three keys.

Physical Activity

We’ve heard a lot about how physical activity is good for overall health and prevention of chronic disease. It’s also good for the brain! Neuroscientists have learned that our brains have the ability to grow bigger and stronger. Emmons and Alter refer to physical activity as “fertilizer for the brain.” Movement also helps protect memory, improve mood, and relieve stress. ALL kinds of movement count, from walking to yoga to resistance training to dancing.

Fran-in-Creede-COMy grade: C+

I was doing better a few months ago than I am now.  I started out strong, but the heat of summer is gone, and I don’t have the weather as a motivating factor to get up and exercise early.  I’m still going to yoga and walking, but not as frequently.  My use of the outdoor resistance training circuit at Canyon View Park has declined.  I’m going to work to reverse this trend.

Adequate sleep

The authors state “Sleeping well is the most powerful means we have to promote mood, memory, and healing…it regulates our internal clock, and it cleans out the brain.”   Since many Americans are sleep-deprived, and it often gets more difficult as we grow older, they offer a number of suggestions for improving both the quality and amount of our sleep.

My grade: B+

I’m one of the fortunate people who rarely have sleep problems.  I love to sleep, and I do it well!  I’m not giving myself an A+ rating because I keep on saying that I’d like to go to bed earlier and get up earlier.  And, I say that mostly because I think I’d be more inclined to get my physical activity in if I’d start moving earlier in the day. But, I’m getting plenty of good quality sleep, so perhaps my grade is a little harsh!

Good nutrition

Most of us know the standard American diet consists of too much processed food with too much sugar, too little fiber and not enough healthy fats.  And, many of us eat too much.  In Staying Sharp, Emmons and Alter provide an explanation of how diet affects our brain.  The three biggest dietary threats to health are a result of excess glucose, metabolic stress, and inflammation.  All of these factors can be improved by eating the right amounts of healthy food. 

My grade: C+

Though my nutritional habits are better than most, I have to admit I’m disappointed in myself.  Having lost 32 pounds between October 2015 and May 2016, I’m sorry to say that I’ve gained 12 of them back since retiring.  I‘ve relaxed the no-sugar, no flour practices I used to lose the weight. The size 8 jeans I bought in May are too small now. 

I like those size 8 jeans.  They are still in my closet, waiting for me to get rid of the “diet mentality” and fully accept that my eating changes need to be permanent. No, I don’t look terrible and many women would be happy weighing what I weigh.  But, if my goal is to prevent age-related cognitive decline (which it is), I need to kick the sugar and flour habits again.

It looks like I’m scoring a B- to a C+ when it comes to the first three keys for promoting a youthful brain. My goal is to do better.  It comes as no surprise that nutrition and physical activity are a challenge.  I’m just as busy in retirement as I ever was while working.

When it comes to the remaining keys, I think I’ll score better.  In my next blog, I’ll discuss curiosity, flexibility, and optimism.

P.S.  Overall, retirement is still an A+!!

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