We’re living and working longer; we’re more active and engaged later in life; we’re pretirees, and we’re on track to be superagers—older people “whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds.” Knowing that studies of superagers demonstrate that their brains are spry because these superagers keep challenging their brains and bodies, we’re aware of how perfectly pretirement fits into the superager path.
In addition to working later in life, which translates into keeping the brain engaged and challenged longer, by new clients and their unique needs, as well as by adapting to and synthesizing with different generations, industry developments, and technological tools, here are a few practical ways suggested by studies at Harvard Medical School to stay cognitively and physically challenged, and thus to stay mentally sharp as we age:
Be a Lifelong Learner
Pushing your brain to master a new skill requires mental exercise that experts believe helps maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. In addition to a job that keeps you mentally active, pursue a previously unexplored hobby, try to learn a new skill, or volunteer for a project that involves a skill set you don’t often utilize. All this can improve neurological agility and as well as improve memory.
Engage Your Senses
The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain that will be involved in retaining the memory. Brain imaging indicates that the main odor-processing region of the brain becomes active when people see objects originally paired with odors, even though the smells are no longer present and the subjects aren’t trying to remember them. So, try a pottery class; cook with spices you’ve not used before; incorporate herbs or essential oils into your home or workplace; explore new landscapes with fresh views, textures, smells and topographies—challenge all your senses as you venture into new experiences.
Negative stereotypes about aging can contribute to your confidence in your memory. Middle-aged and older learners did worse on memory tasks when they were first exposed to negative statements about aging and memory, and better when the messages were positive about memory preservation into old age. So know that when you believe you can improve your mental recall and agility, and you translate that belief into practice, you have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.
Prioritize Your Mental Energy Use
Don’t waste mental energy remembering where you put your keys or when that party starts. Experts say you’ll be better able to concentrate on learning and remembering new things if you take advantage of organization tools like calendars, maps, lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible and free up your brain for more engaging activity.
Repeat to Remember
Your best chance of recalling something you’ve recently heard, read, or thought is to repeat it aloud or write it down. In doing so, you’ll reinforce the memory or connection. For example, if you’ve just been explained a new concept, reiterate it either verbally or in writing and summarize what you’ve just learned.
Space It Out
When you’re trying to learn a new concept or skill, repetition is most effective; however, it needs to be properly timed. Rather than cramming in small information-heavy bursts, approach it more like endurance training—review the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time (once an hour, then after a few hours, then once a day). Spacing out your periods of focus and study can help improve memory and it’s most effective when you’re working to master complicated information and recall essential details.
Get Out and Get Connected
Finally, remember the importance of foundational healthy habits: getting good sleep, staying physically active, and maintaining relationships and social connections. Thanks to the fact that you work remotely and flexibly, you’ve the advantage of avoiding unhealthy amounts of sedentary time that many professionals clock while in commuter traffic or in standard office environments and hours. You’re able to devote that freed up and flexible time to getting adequate sleep, and to a variety of impactful exercise and activity (individual and social), as well.
As one psychology expert on aging and cognition says, what’s important as you age is not to shirk the fulfillment and benefit that ongoing challenge and exertion provides: “if people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it.” When it comes down to it, wahves are on track to be superagers, and with these tools we’ve discussed today, even more so likely to be healthy, vigorous, and sharp people and professionals, for years to come.