A growing body of evidence indicates that your social life also plays a large role in your physical, mental and cognitive functioning.4
Strong social ties can lower stress levels as well as strengthen mental processes such as memory and attention. Maintaining regular interactions and strong relationships can also help prevent feelings of depression and loneliness, which can cloud the mind and slow cognitive function.
Fun activities around the house with friends or loved ones can benefit your brain as well. Studies have shown playing cards or board games, working on puzzles together and engaging in group discussions correlate with a lower risk of cognitive decline over five years.5 Simple pleasures like putting the finishing touch on a puzzle or having a little friendly competition can go a long way toward lasting cognitive health.
When socializing at home or going places with friends or family aren’t options—as might be the case for some retirees during the coronavirus pandemic—you can always stay socially engaged online. Try sharing photos and stories with loved ones to test your memory, join a fan group of a favorite activity or cause for some invigorating discussions, or even follow your local library to see which books they’re recommending—and then share your thoughts about them. Social media provides many opportunities for retirees to keep their minds active. In fact, 40% of people age 65 and up are already using at least one social media site.6
Many retirees make their physical health a goal, and that can also have positive effects on your brain. Getting enough physical activity isn’t just about maintaining strength and mobility or staving off various chronic diseases—although those are critical goals as we age. Exercise has also been shown to stimulate the brain’s ability to enlarge those parts of itself that deal with memory and learning.7 Studies have even shown that existing memory problems can be improved through regular exercise.5 Aerobic exercise is believed to be the most effective in decreasing a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s,8 though any type of exercise can help.
When it comes to physical activity, be sure to exercise at a pace that works for you, being careful not to overdo it. A personal trainer or your physician can help you create a routine that factors in your age, existing conditions or lifestyle to keep you safe as you work out. You can even obtain expert guidance from home, thanks to telehealth services offered by many physicians and covered by Medicare. In general, federal fitness guidelines recommend that older adults move for 30 minutes a day, five (or more) days a week, unless chronic conditions prevent that. Consider something more strenuous if you’re up for a challenge and your doctor gives you the all clear.
Maintain your overall mental and financial health
Exercising your mind should always go hand in hand with protecting it. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep as often as possible. Sleep helps your brain recharge and solidify learning and memories. Routine health screenings are also vitally important. Conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes can negatively affect brain function. Keeping up with screenings can help you catch these conditions early to potentially benefit your cognitive abilities and help keep your long-term healthcare costs down.
Remember that many of these approaches to preserving cognitive health are intertwined. For example, it’s easier to get a good night’s sleep after you’ve gotten some exercise, and it’s easier to learn a new hobby or skill when you’re well-rested. The important thing is to start somewhere—and then add new habits as you’re able to.
By maintaining your cognitive well-being and potentially avoiding many of the healthcare expenses associated with various brain disorders, you’ll be able to better enjoy retirement on your terms and cherish memories for years to come. For those who are living with a cognitive disorder, it’s never too late to slow its advance. And to help reduce the potential impact the disorder can have on your family, there are ways you can help ease the financial burden on them. To learn what options you might want to consider and incorporate into your financial plan, contact your TIAA Wealth Management Advisor.