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Use It or Lose It

Mike Drak, 2:34 am ET

THERE’S AN EXPERIENCE I keep thinking about. I was visiting Italy pre-pandemic, enjoying a great dinner with a lovely family. I was introduced to two nonnas—grandmothers in Italian—who were in their 80s. Although fine physically, they were both suffering from dementia.

That got me thinking about how that could have happened. I’ve read plenty of research on how retiring to a simple lifestyle, and not being challenged mentally, accelerates cognitive decline. I wondered whether that’s what happened to the two nonnas. Their lives consisted of living the same day over and over, following the same basic routine for the last 60-plus years. They were rarely taxed mentally.

My contention: It’s a mistake to let the fire go out when we retire. Transitioning from a mentally challenging job to a sedentary lifestyle, where you spend a lot of time sitting around watching TV or on social media, is going to cost you.

I’m saddened when I see new retirees intentionally dumbing down their minds, trying to adjust to the slower pace of their new lives, because I fear that’ll only accelerate the decaying process. You can see it in their eyes, and in how they talk and act. They’re shells of their former selves. They’ve lost their spark, energy, inspiration and excitement about life, and it’s sad to see that happening.

When we stop growing intellectually, our memory fades, our cognitive ability diminishes and our brain physically shrinks. That is why it’s so important to create a retirement lifestyle that engages and challenges us, one that forces us to use our brain the same way we did while working. Don’t feel like you’re exerting yourself mentally? You might even consider going back to school.

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Nagaraj Arakere
Nagaraj Arakere
3 months ago

It is possible the two nonna’s have dementia. But the Italians must be doing many things right with their lifestyle. Their life expectancy (84.1 years) is far higher than the US population. Italy is #6 on the list, while the far more affluent USA (79.1) is # 46. Hongkong is # 1 (85.29), Japan is # 2 (85.03), and so on. Almost every European country has a higher life expectancy than the US. Croatia (79.02) and Albania (78.96) are nearly on par. Does lifestyle alone explain the higher life expectancy of European and some Asian countries? Bill Bryson brings up this issue in his recent wonderful book ‘Body’. I do not know if a greater percentage of the population suffer from dementia in countries with higher life expectancy than the US.
https://www.worldometers.info/demographics/life-expectancy/

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
3 months ago

I believe one’s chosen lifestyle drives longevity. I also believe the strength of relationships with friends and family play a big part. I’m not surprised to see the countries at the top of the list nor am I surprised to see the US rank so low.

w0_0dy
w0_0dy
3 months ago

the British medical journal, Lancet, asserts that there are 12 potentially modifiable risk factors for the prevention of dementia: less education, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, low social contact, excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury, and air pollution.

https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(20)30367-6/fulltext

parkslope
parkslope
3 months ago
Reply to  w0_0dy

While this is an excellent article, the authors note that there is limited evidence for several of their recommendations.
“We recommend keeping cognitively, physically, and socially active in midlife and later life although little evidence exists for any single specific activity protecting against dementia.”

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
3 months ago
Reply to  w0_0dy

And now you know why I’m going through a major change in lifestyle.

betsy larey
betsy larey
3 months ago

I sold my business and retired at 50. I decided to go back to my first career as a Golf Professional ( teaching ). I work with many different clients, but really enjoy the high school golf team the most. I live in FL in the winter, and find it hard to hang out with my retired neighbors who don’t do much.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
3 months ago
Reply to  betsy larey

I also find it hard (a little boring) to hang around retired people. It’s much more fun hanging around retirement rebels they are the people having all the fun.

parkslope
parkslope
3 months ago

I agree about the importance of keeping physically and mentally active. However, I found it somewhat offputting that you think the two nonnas’ dementia may have been caused by their having lived a lifestyle that has most likely been the norm in their Italian community for many centuries.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
3 months ago
Reply to  parkslope

I’m always looking for patterns and commonalities and I’ve come to the conclusion that living a life on autopilot is going to cost you long term.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
3 months ago

I completely agree with the “use it or lose it” approach. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things. I plan to continue this as long as I can.

One thing I have read numerous times is that the activity that is most frequently correlated to continued cognitive health is walking. Walking an thinking is a great duo.

Donny Hrubes
Donny Hrubes
3 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Yes sir Mr. Rick, Getting out to nature is so soothing. Walking with your gaze out in front, looking and noticing elements in the distance and contemplating life as you see it is what I find invigorating!
Also a few pounds of weight in the pockets helps the old bones!
Thanks for your insight over the years Rick!

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
3 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Your right Rick walking on a regular basis has a lot of longevity benefits attached to it.

Jerry Pinkard
Jerry Pinkard
3 months ago

Excellent article. I totally agree. I am 77 and retired 11 years. I serve on the boards of 2 non profits, one of which has 65k members. This and other activities keep me mentally engaged and challenged. Too much leisure is not good for the body or mind.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
3 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Pinkard

I can tell you are not bored Jerry!

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
3 months ago

Volunteering to assist those less fortunate may offer cognitive benefits for BOTH yourself and others.

Last edited 3 months ago by Mik Cajon
Rick Connor
Rick Connor
3 months ago
Reply to  Mik Cajon

Absolutely. I’m in my third year of AARP TaxAide volunteering. There are always new tax laws, and family situations that challenge you. Many of the returns are fairly simple, but each session there is usually at least one family that you really help.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
3 months ago
Reply to  Mik Cajon

Totally agree Mik

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