Is Retirement Bad For Your Brain?

October 7, 2022

Is Retirement Bad For Your Brain?

May 29, 2023

Thanks to Tash from Australia for turning me onto this TEDx talk that demonstrates how essential it is that we “retire to” something as opposed to “retire from” a job.

This team of researchers did an ongoing, longitudinal study of retired people compared to those of the same age who didn’t retire. Ultimately, they found rapid cognitive deterioration amongst the retired set partly because the neuro-connections in their brains became more dormant, which is pretty much intellectual speak for “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Healthy living (at any age) depends on the connections we make.

Ross Andel, the TEDx speaker, believes that having a sense of purpose and developing routines are essential in retirement (if you don’t like the word “routine,” consider “ritual”). He says, “Circadian rhythm is maintained much better when we have certain tasks that we regularly perform, like getting up at a certain time, doing something regularly, going to bed at a certain time.” Andel suggests to anyone contemplating retirement to find a meaningful new routine. As Andel puts it, “purpose is about investing yourself into something that has meaning.” And, remember, it doesn’t have to have meaning to others, just to you.

Andel also suggests that instead of thinking of retirement as a permanent holiday, it might be more helpful to perceive it as a time of personal renaissance—to see our post-work life as a “wonderful opportunity to reinvest in things that truly matter to us, including taking up a few of those hobbies we always wanted to pursue.” Andel’s not a big fan of crossword puzzles or sudoku unless you genuinely feel passionate about those activities. Routine without passion bores the brain.

Over the past five years, I’ve seen a wide variety of “rewirement” activities that MEA alums have pursued, each of which created more vitality in their lives, including writing a family memoir, traveling the world for nine years (exclusively using affordable Airbnbs), becoming a master of Japanese ikebana, learning to scuba dive at 60 (Dad did more than 2,000 dives between 60-80), helping create a community park in a local neighborhood, and joining Bill McKibben’s "Third Act" to address climate change and other social justice issues. The list is as endless as your imagination and powerful as the passion you bring.

Choose something that speaks to your heart, perhaps something that has been quietly nudging at you for years. You might already know what it is. There’s never been a better time to find an idiosyncratic ritual that guides your life, which is pretty much “Chip speak” for finding that “something” that lights up your world.

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