Whether retirement is approaching or you’re a seasoned retiree, there’s no time like the present to dream up new and interesting ways to spend the valuable spare time you’ve been looking forward to your entire life — and maybe knock a few years off your chronological age in the process.
It is inarguable that staying active — mentally, physically and socially — can help anyone stay younger longer. Studies have shown that both physical and mental activity can go a long way toward repairing cells, generating new cells, increasing blood flow, restoring energy and health, and generally turning back the clock on abilities — and it’s never too late to start. The world is full of successful people who followed their dreams to find engaging and fulfilling endeavors after their official “retirement” date.
Ronald Reagan wasn’t elected to his first public office until he was 55 years old, and he became President of the United States at age 69. Julia Child made her television debut in The French Chef at age 51. Anna Mary Robertson Moses, also known as Grandma Moses, is one of the biggest names in American folk art, and she didn’t even pick up a brush until she was well into her 70s — she cranked out her first canvas at age 76. Harland Sanders didn’t become the Kentucky Fried Chicken mogul until he was 65. Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame, was 65 when she began writing some of the world’s most beloved children’s books. Georgia O’Keeffe, the famed American artist of flowers and desert landscapes, painted, drew and sculpted into her 96th year, and George Burns acted and made people laugh for three-quarters of a century.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people aged 65 and older will more than double by 2030 and improving the quality of life for those living longer means increasing activity.
Stretch Your Mind
Through research with mice and humans, doctors suspect that brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological “plasticity” and building up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss. Learn something new; take a class. By law in Virginia, residents aged 60 or older can apply to take free college courses at various colleges and universities in the state, on a space-available basis. At Rappahannock Community College (RCC) and its many satellite campuses across the region, seniors can take free classes for credit towards a degree, depending on some income requirements. However anyone is eligible to sit in on classes for no credit, with few limitations, if space is available. For more information about classes, call RCC at (804)333-6786, or visit www.rappahannock.edu. Also, consider taking classes online from universities around the world. Learn a new language, skill or hobby. Log on to www.edx.org/course, to browse a free, online series of course offerings taught by instructors at universities around the world.
Think about teaching. Regardless of what your skill set is, there is someone who needs to know it. You can teach someone to read at your local library or offer to teach a sewing or gardening class at a community center. In addition, read anything and everything — books, magazines, newspapers. Keep a book with you when you go out, so you can read while you wait. You may even want to join a book club. Play games —Sudoku, crossword puzzles, word search, or cards. Challenge your kids or grandchildren to a game of Words With Friends, available to download online or from your smart phone. You’ll get a mental workout and enjoy the added bonus of a bit of friendly competition.
Whether you visit a fitness center for yoga or tai chi, or simply lace up your sneakers for a walk in the neighborhood, using your muscles will also help your mind. Harvard Medical School studies have shown that regular exercise may increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain responsible for thought. Increasing blood flow through physical activity also may spur the development of new nerve cells and enhance the connections between brain cells. Water exercise offers a wide array of workout options for people looking for low impact exercise because of difficulties with joint pain or because of post-surgery limitations. There’s no disputing the fact that exercise increases balance and mobility, and lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, fights diabetes, helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces stress. So get moving, and while you’re at it, look for ways to improve your diet — keep calories in check, eat the right foods and remember your vitamins.
Finding a hobby or pastime that engages the mind and the body can be particularly rewarding. The list is endless, but endeavors such as playing an instrument, painting, sculpting, photography, tinkering with mechanical things, restoring furniture, gardening or cooking have benefits beyond simple entertainment. You’ll be planning, solving problems, using motor skills, often interacting with like-minded friends and family, and having something wonderful to show for your efforts. Your expertise and creativity won’t go unnoticed — you’ll find yourself to be a valuable resource to a wide community of admirers.
Travel can be a hobby whether you go anywhere or not. Those with the resources and the luxury of retiree time often make travel the main activity of their senior years, venturing across the country or across the continents; while others enjoy being armchair travelers and pouring over stories and photos of different destinations and cultures. Annual or semi-annual trips with friends for fishing, hunting, shopping or the arts can be an interesting diversion, while relocating for a season (maybe to warmer climates) is also popular. A day trip across town to be a tourist in your own city is a cost-effective entertainment. Finding senior discounts can be no more complicated than a click or a call.
Lend a Hand
Something that most community programs and non-profits have in common is the help of one or more indispensable senior volunteers who give their time to get things done. Seniors serve at veterans homes, schools and churches and do everything from food prep to mentoring. Helping others provides physical activities and emotionally uplifting connections, and it fills needs for organizations. Serving family and friends, providing childcare, tutoring, serving meals or giving rides is leisure time well spent and well appreciated. As Abraham Lincoln said, “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.”
Strong social ties have been associated with lower blood pressure, happier attitudes and longer life expectancies. Join a club that corresponds with one of your interests. Gather a group of people to dine or socialize. Whatever you can imagine, you can do, and take a couple of friends along with you. A recent study from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that highly social seniors had a 70 percent lower rate of cognitive decline than their less social peers. Another study by researchers at the University of Alabama discovered that internet use was associated with a 30 percent decrease in depression. Make an effort to maintain close personal relationships with important people in your life, even if they’re not close by. Use email or social media platforms like Facebook to share news, information and photos among family and friends.
The bottom line is this: Stay active mentally, physically and socially and you’ll be able to share the wisdom you’ve spend a lifetime collecting, and stay younger in the process. Remember, it’s never too late to add years to your life and life to your years. For more information about senior programs in your area, contact Bay Aging at (800)493-0238.