08 Apr

Retirement might be associated with being put out to pasture, but, as world memory champion Daren Denholm so nicely puts it, retirement is the start of the best years of a person’s life

story and pictures andrea abbott


Studies have shown that the peak age of great innovation is later than you’d think. In one such study, Professor Philip Franses of the Erasmus School of Economics in Rotterdam found that the Nobel laureates, composers and artists included in his data set had lived on average about two-thirds of their lives before reaching their creative peak.

Retirement, then, is a time to shine and to focus on what you’ve always wanted to do but sidelined for lack of time. However, as Leonardo da Vinci said, “Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigours of the mind.” And, as Daren points out, people entering retirement often believe they can’t learn any longer. Yet, we can build neural networks and body mass until the day we die.


Strategies to keep brain and body fit include:

  • CULTIVATING A POSITIVE OUTLOOK. Psychologist Dr Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, says adopting “learned optimism” over “learned helplessness” – the belief that negative events or adversity eg, a sense of irrelevance as one ages are beyond a person’s control – brings benefits such as better health, whereas a negative outlook can result in depression and illness. And while the reality of growing older cannot be changed, finding new purpose, as Daren says, can result in aging gracefully.


  • BEING PART OF A COMMUNITY AND MAINTAINING SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS. Daren reminds us that the brain needs two things to thrive: glucose and relationships. Fear of aging can cause people to become isolated and lonely. Social isolation is recognised as a significant health risk whereas social interactions are key to health and longevity.


  • EXERCISING AND A HEALTHY DIET. Rewiring instead of retiring requires commitment and effort. Aside from boosting fitness and energy, regular exercise provides social opportunities. Take hiking, for example. The Durban Ramblers Club advises: “When like-minded folk get together for our common cause there is always much chat and laughter. Friends are made, muscles challenged and lungs gasp the clean air often scarce in our city.” If walking’s not your scene, why not take up snorkelling? Michelle Morris of Salt Rock based Tidal Tao snorkelling safaris says, “Snorkelling is one of the best ways to keep fit and happy. Not only will you feel relaxed and calm, but you also get a good, but non-strenuous workout.” Another bonus is that it increases maximal oxygen uptake.


  • EXPLORING YOUR CREATIVE SIDE. According to SA Writers’ Circle, creative writing yields benefits ranging from enhancing self-confidence and imagination to enabling artistic self-expression. Joining a writing group also opens new social opportunities. Similarly, art groups foster the creative drive and widen social circles. Who knows what dormant talents might arise?


  • LEARNING A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT. Playing a musical instrument does for your brain what a physical workout does for your body. Can’t play an instrument? It’s never too late to start learning!


For every one of these ideas, there will be dozens more. And as Daren points out, taking on new challenges can spark areas of the brain that have seldom been used.




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