Retirement: that time when many envision long-awaited relaxation and leisure, free from the demands of a hectic work life.
But it doesn’t always pan out this way.
The unfortunate truth is that when many retire, they lose the mental sharpness they need to actually take advantage of this time.
Others, however, stay mentally sharp and enjoy a fulfilling retirement, the kind that most of us would envy.
What’s their secret?
They adhere to certain daily habits that foster both physical and mental well-being.
Today, we dive into five of the most important.
Let’s get to it.
1) They prioritize social interaction
This is such a huge one. Social interactions are key to keeping our minds sharp.
This is supported by a mountain of research, yet it often flies under our radar.
Take the longest-ever study on happiness conducted by Harvard researchers since 1938. What’s the secret sauce to living a happier, longer life?
You might think it’s money, success, or leisure time.
But no, it’s all about people. The study revealed that positive relationships are the cornerstone of happiness. And get this – they even found that good relationships in our middle years are a stronger predictor of longevity than even cholesterol levels.
When the study zeroed in on retirement, it uncovered something interesting, too.
A common concern for those nearing retirement is the fear of losing purpose without their jobs. But it may not be the job itself that’s missed, but the social fabric it provided.
When asked what he missed about being a doctor, one study participant summed it up perfectly by saying:
“Absolutely nothing about the work itself. I miss the people and the friendships.”
This idea is further reinforced when we look at Blue Zones – regions around the world where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives. As noted by Healthline, folks in all of these areas are wrapped up in healthy social circles.
So, how can you stay socially engaged?
Dive into clubs, groups, or volunteer work.
These are fantastic avenues to keep the social wheels turning and your mind razor-sharp.
2) They are active as part of their routine
This one is hardly a surprise.
Engaging in regular physical activity is not just good for the body; it’s a game-changer for the mind, too.
For instance, did you know that a brisk 15-minute run or an hour-long walk can reduce the risk of major depression by 26%?
Well, that’s what the research says.
Staying active also keeps our minds sharp, boosts our self-esteem, and builds resilience. I could write a full article on this, but I think we are all aware that exercise is good for us not only physically but also mentally.
What about Blue Zones?
In these places, being active is second nature. But here’s the twist – folks in these regions don’t hit the gym with a workout plan.
As noted by Healthline, in these areas, people “ don’t exercise purposefully by going to the gym. Instead, it is built into their daily lives through gardening, walking, cooking and other daily chores.”
A study of the men in Sardinia’s Blue Zone attributed their longevity to their active lifestyles, which included raising farm animals, navigating the mountainous terrain of their homes, and trekking longer distances to their workplaces.
And here’s a fascinating nugget from the bestseller Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia: Nearly all centenarians (those remarkable folks who’ve hit the 100-year mark) maintain a garden.
So, what can we learn from this?
Take up gardening, opt for walks in nature, or even make daily chores a part of our exercise regime. The key is to integrate movement into our routine in a way that feels natural and enjoyable.
3) They eat healthily
We’ve all rolled our eyes at the saying, “My body is a temple,” but cliché as it may sound, it’s spot-on. What we eat matters immensely.
Harvard Health puts it perfectly:
“Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the ‘waste’ (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.”
So, what’s on the menu for optimal brain health then?
As disappointed as some of you may be, research shows a stark contrast between “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean and traditional Japanese diets, and the typical “Western” diet. The former, rich in natural and wholesome ingredients, is linked to a 25% to 35% lower risk of depression.
As I said, what we eat matters…and not just for our physical health.
Diving into the dietary habits of those in Blue Zones who continue being mentally sharp long after most of us have passed.
Their diets are abundant in vegetables, which are packed with fiber and have a plethora of vitamins and minerals. Such a diet significantly slashes the risk of heart disease, cancer, and mortality.
Legumes, including beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas, are staples as well, celebrated for their high fiber and protein content. Studies have linked such legume consumption with a decreased risk of mortality.
Another interesting practice observed in these longevity hotspots is the concept of eating until you’re 80% full. It’s a simple yet effective guideline to prevent overeating while ensuring you’re sufficiently nourished.
Adopting such mindful eating habits, coupled with a diet rich in natural, nutrient-dense foods, could significantly enhance your health and cognitive function in the years to come.
4) They make sure to get enough quality sleep
This one should be a no-brainer. Sleep is foundational for everyone, regardless of age, to maintain both physical and mental health.
But don’t just take my word for it.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “decades of studies—many of which have used the method of disrupting sleep and examining the consequences—have confirmed that sleep is necessary for our healthy functioning and even survival.”
Diving deeper, adequate sleep has been linked to improved memory retention.
As put by Webmd, “If you are sleep-deprived, you are at risk of developing a number of serious health problems, such as Sleep Deprivation and Memory Loss hypertension, obesity, and diabetes, and your ability to learn and retain new information may be impaired.”
You get the idea. Sleep is important, to say the least.
But how much sleep do we actually need?
The National Institute on Aging suggests that older adults require the same 7 to 9 hours of sleep as younger adults, though older people might find themselves hitting the hay earlier and rising with the dawn more so than in their younger years.
And what about napping?
Well, insights from the Blue Zones, where longevity is the norm, show that short naps can be beneficial. Research indicates that daytime napping doesn’t negatively impact heart disease risk or mortality and may actually decrease these risks.
However, it’s advised to keep naps under 30 minutes to avoid any potential adverse effects on heart health.
Struggling to catch those Z’s?
The National Institute on Aging offers several tips for improving sleep quality:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends and while traveling.
- Limit naps, especially in the late afternoon or evening, to avoid nighttime sleep disruptions.
- Establish a calming pre-sleep routine, such as reading, listening to soft music, or taking a warm bath.
- Reduce exposure to screens in the bedroom, as the light can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
- Keep your bedroom environment conducive to sleep by maintaining a comfortable temperature and minimizing noise and light.
- Engage in regular physical activity, but avoid exercising too close to bedtime.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed, as these can disrupt sleep.
It sounds boring, but by incorporating these habits, you can enhance your sleep quality, contributing to overall health and well-being in your retirement years.
5) They pursue a purpose
Picture this: the day of retirement finally arrives, and while it’s a milestone for many, it also brings with it an unexpected guest—a loss of purpose.
When we go from spending most of our waking hours at an office to having most, if not all, of our days free, it can be a shock to the system.
So what’s the solution?
Well, it’s often noted that individuals who maintain their sharpness and live longer don’t really “retire” in the conventional sense. This concept is closely tied to ‘Ikigai,’ a Japanese philosophy that embodies living with a purpose or a reason for being.
Interestingly, the Japanese language doesn’t even have a word that directly translates to “retire” in the context of permanently exiting the workforce.
Of course, continuing to live with purpose doesn’t mean sticking to the grind of a 9-to-5 job. It’s about engaging in activities that fulfill you.
Take, for example, the practice of gardening. Earlier, I touched on how ‘Ikigai,’ as explored by Hector Garcia in his book on the Blue Zones, found that nearly all centenarians—those who live to or beyond 100 years old—tend to their gardens.
Gardening, in this sense, isn’t just about physical activity; it’s a nurturing practice that provides a deep sense of accomplishment and connection to life, embodying the essence of having a purpose.
For you, it could be something else: volunteering, running a club, helping out your community, or even writing a book. The options are endless.
But do have some purpose.
The bottom line
Embracing retirement boils down to staying connected, staying active, eating wisely, prioritizing rest, and living with purpose.
Adopt these habits, and you might just find yourself in a vibrant new chapter filled with growth, joy, and longevity.
As always, I hope you found this post valuable.
Until next time.
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