Plopping down on the couch and relaxing is probably tempting if you’ve just retired from the workforce with upwards of 40 years under your belt. But if you want to keep fit in your twilight years, you’ve got to stay active – physically as well as mentally.
“It comes down to embracing life with all its bright and dark sides, ” says psychologist Christine Sowinski of the German Foundation for the Care of Older People. Here are nine tips from experts on how to keep your grey matter in the pink – even under grey hair.
Chess both exercises your mind and is fun to play. “You can still learn it in old age and invite someone over regularly for matches with you, ” remarks Erhard Hackler, managing director of the German Senior Citizens League (DSL). An alternative: the card game Concentration, which helps hone memory.
It’s never too late to start exercising, even for lifelong couch potatoes – so long as your family doctor has no objections. Sports clubs and similar groups in your area may offer special courses for seniors. “Among other things, physical activity helps to keep your brain well-supplied with oxygen, ” Sowinski notes.
Doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles falls short in sharpening memory since the cognitive processes involved always repeat themselves, points out Nicola Roehricht, who heads the digitalisation and education division of the German National Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso). To really improve your memory, she says, you’ve got to constantly challenge your brain with new and varied mental tasks.
Memory-boosting courses are often offered by senior centres as well as adult education centres. “When the brain reacts flexibly, it can form new connections between neurons, ” Roehricht explains.
Moving rhythmically to music while you look your smiling partner in the eye is definitely a feel-good activity. “The movements demand concentration and good coordination, ” which improves your short-term memory and reaction time, Roehricht says. Dancing also helps stabilise balance and thereby lessen the risk of falling.
Roehricht adds: “Seniors are among themselves when they dance, and socialising heightens their enjoyment of life.”
Cultivating social contacts is truly a fountain of youth, ” Sowinski says. It guards against loneliness.
It’s important to meet with, or phone, family members as well as friends, acquaintances and neighbours. Making new contacts is also possible in old age, be it through volunteer work or visits to a senior centre.
Seniors can stay in shape, both mentally and physically, by heading to the supermarket every day. “Apart from the exercise, you’ve got to find your way around the store and compare prices, for instance, ” Sowinski points out. Another benefit of going shopping, she says, is that “you run into neighbours or acquaintances and chat with them.”
Staying active fosters seniors’ mental fitness. Better yet is when you’re also always open to new experiences. Your grandchild wants to show you how to shoot a video with a smartphone? Be all for it! You’ll learn something and have fun besides.
“Taking care of others boosts mental fitness, too, ” Sowinski says, because it requires planning, organising and attending to their needs.
The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends a varied, mainly plant-based diet that includes plenty of fruit and whole-grain products. It says milk or other dairy products should be consumed daily, fish once a week, and no more than two servings of meat a week. “Vegetable fats such as rapeseed and olive oil are preferable to animal fats, ” Roehricht notes.
Sitting down and chronicling your memoirs requires reflecting on your past and putting events into words. “This keeps you mentally fit, and your grandchildren will thank you for it, ” Hackler says. After all, what grandma and grandpa did is a key chapter in the family’s history. – dpa/Sabine Meuter
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