For Seniors: Fill Your Calendar for Better Health
Do you have plans for the coming week? Have you set up a walk with a friend? Signed up for a class at the local community college?
If not, don't just wait for your phone to ring. Experts suggest you make plans to get together with others—and do something.
"Just as you plan a financial portfolio, it's good to develop a social portfolio as you age. Most people who go into retirement don't really plan how they are going to spend their time," says Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., a gerontologist in Washington, D.C.
Take the lead in making plans, says clinical neuropsychologist Paul D. Nussbaum, Ph.D., author of Brain Health and Wellness. "Humans were meant to be with other humans, and staying integrated and involved has been shown to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Socialization, physical activity, and mental stimulation are key to keeping your brain healthy."
Go for it!
Some seniors wonder if it's wise to try new activities at a certain age. Staying connected and engaged is critical as you age, experts say. The Alzheimer's Association has a "Maintain Your Brain" slogan. This emphasizes that social activity is good for the brain.
You can look into senior centers, church groups, bowling leagues, golf clubs, card groups, audited college classes, dance clubs, senior travel groups, mentoring organizations, volunteer opportunities, and the local chapter of AARP.
Activity helps seniors
Dr. Cohen is doing a study that looks at how older adults fare who stay involved in cultural and social programs. He's comparing a group that's active with a group that's not.
"The active group is showing positive changes in general health, mental health, and social activities compared to negative health changes" in seniors who aren't in the cultural programs, Dr. Cohen says. "It's a powerful statement in terms of the benefit of productive activities."
Adds Dr. Nussbaum: "Any mental stimulation that is novel and complex, such as learning a second language, is positive because it literally uses different areas of the brain."
Although studies have shown an association between social engagement and a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease (and/or cognitive decline), the National Institutes of Health says that researchers still aren't sure whether these factors can actually prevent the disease.