Staying Engaged and Alive: Another Key to Cognitive Fitness

May 7, 2009 at 1:00 am 3 comments

image Kicking back, putting your feet up, and watching the world go by from a rocking chair on the front porch.

Maybe weekend fishing trips, knitting booties for the great grand kids, but nothing too strenuous, nothing tiring.

That’s been our vision of retirement for decades – golden years spent settling into a comfortable rut, detaching and relaxing, a time of lowered activity.

But as the Boomer generation reaches retirement age…

Our vision of retirement is changing, and for the better.  Today’s vibrant Seniors are unwilling to accept a sedentary life of ever increasing isolation. They’re more involved with their communities and their families. They’re politically active, they’re advocates for special causes, they attend and organize a variety of special events and clubs..  They’re maintaining their attachments to beloved people, places and things — and they’re staying engaged with the world around them.

And as it turns out, that may well be crucial to healthy, successful aging, especially in regards to cognitive fitness. There’s still a lot we don’t know, but evidence is mounting to support the importance of social involvement in brain fitness.

Humans are built to be social creatures – and our brains reflect that socialness in their function and structure.  In  The Healthy Aging Brain: Sustainng Attachment, Attaining Wisdom, author Louis Cozolino, PHD, goes so far as to refer to the brain as a “social organ”, and has this to say about it:

Stimulation, challenge, and being needed by others tell the brain to be alert, learn new things, and grow.  Lack of stimulation, repetitive routines, and isolation tell the brain to direct the body’s energy elsewhere.    While many of us work hard to earn the right to be comfortable and avoid challenge in later adulthood, this strategy runs the risk of sending our brains the message that they no longer need to keep growing.    For neuroscience, this is probably the worst message you can give to an organ of adaptation.

And Remember Those Beautifully-Aged Sisters from the Nun Study?

They live in a supportive community that keeps them  challenge and engaged both with each other and the world around them.   Cozolino believes that the extended family of their sisterhood contributes greatly to their longevity and brain health – and that the rest of us could learn a great deal from their example.

One of the most important lessons to take away? That a sense of belonging, purpose and connection is important to us as individuals and as a culture, and it becomes especially important as we age.

Over time,  our purpose may change, our connections may change, the community we belong to may change…. but the human need for finding meaning in our lives remains a constant.   The nuns find it, in part, through their faith… but also through their relationships with one another, their works in advancing their chosen cause of education, and  even through their participation in the Nun Study, itself.    For them, aging hasn’t meant sitting back and watching the world pass by, but participating with new perspectives, finding new meanings and new ways to be valuable.

Not everyone can (or should) live like the Sisters –  and retirement may be a more significant change in lifestyle for many of us.  Aging may mean setting aside some of the more stressful parts of life, giving up a career and some responsibilities, but it  also opens the door for new ways to engage the world around us, build and strengthen relationships, and interact with our communities.

Who knows,  down the road, maybe when people talk about retirement planning, they wont just mean  their financial futures.

Maybe some day soon, retirement planning will mean planning how we will stay engaged with the world around us, once we’ve set aside our careers and hectic days of running after children and grand children..  and maybe that planning starts with setting aside our vision of  a life spent in a rocking chair, and envisioning something far more vibrant, active and alive…

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Retiree Jane  |  May 20, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Finally someone speaking with some intelligence about aging in our country…

    I am an older person according to many social standards and long retired. And it is an extremely difficult transition to make when everyone around you makes you feel like you’re finished with your productive years. I’ve searched high and low for meaning and ways to get back into the game of life and after a long bout of depression and some health issues am figuring it out. But its different for eveyone. My husband never figured it out and I lost him before I could help him.

    Anyone who relates to what I’m saying please take a look at this video about images of aging and ageism in our society. It’s a bit long but it may change your life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBk-58qCPzE

    Thanks for this writing and please please please put more of these up and give older people ideas (aside from joining the Sisters in a convent) of what to do to find purpose, need, and meaning in retirement.

    Reply
    • 2. Tori Deaux  |  May 21, 2009 at 12:20 am

      Wow, I’m glad it’s resonating with you, Jane! I hope we’ll see a lot more of that sort of positive approach not only here, or from Dakim, but across the US – much of the rest of the world seems to “get” it better than Americans do, with our youth centered culture. And yes, more specific suggestions on purpose and meaning along with other things will be coming soon – along with the brain, finding or making purpose and meaning are of special interest to me. And thank you for the video link, I’ve saved it to check out later!

      Reply
  • 3. Brain Fitness News  |  June 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    […] brainfitnessnews In response to one of last week’s posts, “Jane” had some touching words… “I am an older person according to many […]

    Reply

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness

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