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Exercising Your Mind

Visions of a relaxing retirement with 4pm happy hours help many of us hang tough during our working years. Unfortunately, brain health science reveals that the leisure life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

Studies show that exiting the workforce – especially in our early 60s and younger – can weaken our minds and escort us right into dementia. However, don’t panic just yet: as an Escapee, you are in the best position possible to avoid it.

Don’t Let Retirement Eat Your Brain

We might grow tired of our jobs during our working years, but our brains secretly loved it. Whether nursing in a hospital or designing engineering marvels, daily work tasks challenge us to communicate with others, think on our feet and solve complex problems. Those activities feed our mind the right formula to stay sharp. But the moment we clock out for good, our brains begin to wither.

Once we no longer need to perform for a paycheck, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may follow. Not quite dementia and more like the “senior moments” that retirees love to joke about, MCI can sometimes develop into full-blown dementia unless the right precautions are taken.

For example, in one highly cited study of nearly a million retired workers in industrialized countries, scientists revealed that when a person retires at or just slightly below their country’s average retirement age, they were at greater risk of developing dementia than peers who stayed on the job. The 2010 paper called “Mental Retirement,” demonstrated that the longer one stays in retirement without any meaningful work to occupy their days, the higher the risk of cognitive decline and greater the odds of being falling victim to dementia. A study performed by human cognition scientists in France backed this evidence with their own data that showed “strong evidence of a significant decrease in the risk of developing dementia associated with older age at retirement.”

The Solution: Brain and Body Workouts

Don’t let the brain health studies scare you. You can stay mentally sharp without having to return to your old job, just by incorporating more “work-like” activities into your life, such as:

Engage in meaningful work.

The demands and expectations of the workplace are the perfect nutrients for a happy brain.  But you don’t necessarily need to ask for your old job back. In the Mental Retirement study referenced above, scientists discovered that when people place themselves into a stimulating environment on a regular basis, better brain health follows. Engaging in activities that require your mind to rise to the occasion – like taking a part time job doing something enjoyable, workamping, starting a second career or a business, or regularly volunteering with a worthy cause like Escapees CARE Center – all create challenging settings that strengthen your brain.

Work your body, exercise your brain.

Brain health studies show that the connection between exercise and brain health cannot be argued. When you put healthy, safe demands on your cardiovascular system, your muscles and your brain get nutrient-rich oxygen to help keep your entire body strong. Scientists believe that physical exercise helps build new neurons (brain cells) in the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for learning information, storing long-term memories, and regulating emotions. 

Work with your doctor to find the right level of exercise for you. And remember, any exercise is better than none at all, but for the best result, shoot for a minimum of three days a week. For the best results, incorporate routines that combine cardiovascular workouts such as walking, running and aerobics, with weight training and resistance exercises. As a SKP you have many ways meet other RVers looking for the same thing. Just check the Escapees Discussion Forums, Facebook page or magazine to find an activity or group that interests you.

Eat “Superfoods” to stop brain drain.

In the book “9 Signs You’re Experiencing Brain Drain,” brain health specialist Janet Rich Pittman explains why our dementia risk increases when we eat a diet filled with processed foods, hydrogenated oils, white starchy foods, and cow’s milk. In short, these ingredients choke our arteries, promote inflammation in the body and prevent essential food nutrients from reaching our brain cells.

 

To win the war on cognitive decline, Pittman recommends eliminating man-made food ingredients and eating a diet rich with unprocessed foods such as dark, leafy greens, anti-oxidant rich berries, fish oil / Omega 3s and green tea. Plastics and aluminum cooking utensils are other brain-fog inducing items to eliminate from your kitchen.

Work with your doctor to find the right level of exercise for you. And remember, any exercise is better than none at all, but for the best result, shoot for a minimum of three days a week. For the best results, incorporate routines that combine cardiovascular workouts such as walking, running and aerobics, with weight training and resistance exercises. As a SKP you have many ways meet other RVers looking for the same thing. Just check the Escapees Discussion Forums, Facebook page or magazine to find an activity or group that interests you.

Get out and be social.

Strong, positive social connections and a life rich with group activity exponentially decreases the risk of dementia and buffers us against depression. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this happens, but they believe that social engagement encourages nerve cells in the brain to grow, connect and thrive. So don’t be shy: your mind benefits whether you’re saying hello to your neighbors, spending time with an Escapees Birds of A Feather (BoF) club or just shooting the breeze at the local Starbucks.

Retirement is meant to be enjoyable and relaxing, but don’t escape to Margaritaville without giving your brain a daily workout. Brain drain is avoidable and once you stop believing the myth that “senior moments” are inevitable, you’re on your way to living that fulfilled, happy and fun retired life that you always wanted.

Live Work Dream - Jim Nelson & Rene Agredano

Author

Rene Agredano #103274

Rene and Jim are enjoying their 11th year as full-time RVers and location-independent entrepreneurs. Follow their travels at LiveWorkDream.com.

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