Mind Workouts: How to Stay Mentally Fit
Staying active mentally can lead to happy and healthy ageing. We speak to some experts and active senior citizens to get you tips on how to stay mentally fit and young!
Every morning, 70 year old Asit Ghose takes a walk around the park in his South Kolkata neighbourhood. The walk is followed by a cup of tea from the tea stall nearby, followed by a round of carom with his friends in a small room that doubles up as an activity centre at the park. “It’s become such a habit that when I visit my son in US, this walk-carrom routine is what I miss the most,” laughs Ghose. His wife would initially grumble at the hours lost “doing nothing” (Ghose leaves home at 7 am and is back by 10 am) but has changed her mind now. “It makes him happy to play carom, walk and meet with his friends. He can talk about his problems, discuss things of interest and get an excitement from playing with his friends. It sets the mood for his day,” says his wife Mandira. Ghose says he feels good to meet his friends and challenge them to a game. He and two friends are planning to start playing Sudoku also very soon. “To sharpen our brains,” he quips.
As one grows older, an active lifestyle becomes extremely important. Not only does it help to keep you spend your time gainfully but also keeps you mentally agile. Frequent cognitive activity in the older years has been associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer disease, according to a study published by the American Academy of Neurology.
Staying mentally fit comes with its advantages. A study by researchers at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago in 2012 concluded that ‘keeping mentally fit through board games or reading may be the best way to preserve memory during late life.’ The study focused on 1,076 people of around 80 years, who were free from dementia, over a 5 year period. The people studied were asked to report how often they read the newspaper, wrote letters, visited a library and played board games such as chess. The conclusion was that being mentally active leads to better cognitive health in old age.
It isn’t very difficult to keep yourself mentally fit and active. Develop a hobby, start learning something new or involve yourself with a regular activity. What’s more, many senior citizens have the time for it too. Here are few things senior citizens can do to stay mentally fit and active.
Exercise the Mind & Eat Healthy
Research shows that a good diet and some amount of exercise goes a long way in keeping not just your body fit but also your mind. Walking is one exercise that anybody can do. According to experts, walking is a perfect way to start exercising, even if you haven’t exercised before. Just get yourself a comfortable pair of shoes, find a spot either in your apartment complex or a neighbourhood park and you are all set.
If you find a good instructor and have the inclination for it, you could also take up Yoga, like Delhi based Mahesh Palta did. This active septuagenarian not only practices Yoga regularly but also does it under water! Yoga has been long known for enabling a healthy body and a calm mind. “Research shows that Yoga offers significant benefits to the elderly. This is true for both physical aspects like flexibility and stamina, as well as mental aspects like alertness, memory, and mood,” says S Varambally, Department of Psychiatry, Advanced Centre for Yoga, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. Ramesh Joshi, a Mumbai based Yoga instructor at 70, adds that “More than 50 percent elderly in India have problems in life and stress and anxiety. Yoga helps in restoring their mental peace and calm the mind, often the reason for various ailments.”
Whichever form of exercise you take up, don’t forget to check with your doctor what would suit you the best. A healthy diet can help all throughout life, especially in the older years. Elders are advised a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
Stimulate your Mind
Keeping your mind challenged and working is a must, especially as you age. Many senior citizens take up activities like solving Crossword or Sudoku Puzzles in the daily newspaper.
Ulfat Rai Jain, 78, feels solving Sudoku puzzles of varying complexities not only keeps his morning occupied but also satiates his lifelong love for problem solving and Math. He also likes playing board games like Monopoly and Scrabble with his grandchildren and teaching Math to his grandson. “It keeps my interest alive and I also feel good that I haven’t forgotten anything that I learnt,” he tells us. Suguna Rangaswamy, 76, plays Scrabble once a week with her friends. It creates a social circle, adds to the fun and keeps their mind active.Not sure where your interest lies? How about trying something new? Read something that is not part of your usual routine, such as a different newspaper or magazine or a genre of book you haven’t tried before.
Learn Something New
Challenge yourself to learn something new, whether it is a new art form like Zentangle or a craft like Origami. There are lots of tutorials on Youtube to choose from at your time and convenience. Just remember that you’re never too old to learn something new. It could be a skill you’ve been meaning to hone or something you’ve been curious about all your life but never had the time to learn. Noida based potter Meena Vohra learnt pottery after the age of 50. “On my 50th birthday, I took the resolution that I’d had enough of syllabus and decided to do something creative,” she says. Art had always been Meena’s forte but the one art form she had never had training in was pottery and she chose to take the challenge up. Today, at 65, she is a successful potter who also teaches others and holds exhibitions.
Sanghamitra Sengupta, 66, has gone back to her first love singing after her husband’s death. As a caregiver for the last 10 years, her interest and love for music had been at the backburner. Today, she is the youngest in her music class and perhaps the most keen student. “I recently performed a group song in a cultural function and felt really good,” she says, adding that she wishes to continue learning and even appear for exams.
You could even learn a new language! Research has shown that learning a new language could help delay the onset of dementia by years. Samvedna Care, an activity centre for elders in Gurgaon, offers Spanish classes for its members as learning a foreign language may slow down the advent of dementia. “Our members are really enjoying it,” says Archana Sharma, founder of Samvedna Care. OP Maheshwari, who moved to Bangalore with his son’s family eight months ago, is learning Kannada, though a Whatsapp group called Kannada Gottila. “Nobody in the family has the time or interest to learn. So I thought, why not try? Will help me in interacting with the local population also!” Asha Philar, cookbook author and grandmom, recently cleared the Sarala Sanskrit Pariksha held by Sanskrita Bharati of Karnataka and secured 100 per cent marks. She had never learnt Sanskrit earlier and decided to challenge herself by mastering a brand new language!
Staying Engaged Socially
Keeping in touch with family, friends and other groups socially plays a huge role in keeping elders fit and agile mentally. “In silver years, company becomes vital. Cultivate relationships either professionally or with family and friends or by getting involved in activities of interest where you may find like-minded people. This will go long way in ensuring both physical and emotional well-being, advises Dr. Mathew Abraham, Senior Consultant Neurologist, Neurology Clinic, Kochi.
You could look out for a senior citizens club in your neighbourhood, who often organize interesting activities and get togethers. Silver Talkies organizes events for senior citizens on a regular basis. Many seniors who meet at these events, go on to become friends. Similarly, there are other organizations like Mumbai’s Dada Dadi Park, Secundrabad’s Senior Citizen Association, Bangalore’s senior groups like Senior Citizen’s Enrichment Program (SCEP), Jnanajyothi and Senior Citizen’s Bangalore, that meet regularly and conduct activities based on the interests and philosophies of its members. Many apartment complexes also have Laughter Clubs, a happy way for senior citizens to meet.
More than anything, it helps you avoid loneliness. Srikala Bharath, Professor at Dept. of Psychiatry, NIMHANS, says seniors should be prepared for children leaving home. “Widen your social network. Be part of local social activities. Being part of support groups help too. These could be local senior citizen forums, bhajan groups, walking groups, laughter clubs, etc.”
Follow Your Feet
The post retirement years can be the best when it comes to following your interests. There is time in your hand and in many cases, no pressing demands of children and work either. Travel is an interest that could be an eye opener. In 2014, 79 year old Padmanabh Arkalgud decided to follow his heart and complete his long cherished dream of a trip to Antartica. This year, he is planning to travel to Russia and Berlin. “After retirement there’s plenty to do if you want to. In my case, staying active improves my own self worth,” he tells us. Indrajit & Sumana Chatterjee enjoy travelling and have made a list of countries to visit. “Traveling has always been a hobby and more so after my retirement,” Mr Chatterjee tells us. “During my working days, I used to travel to many countries but didn’t have enough time to see the places like a tourist. Me and my wife now made a wish list of places to revisit at leisure with the family.”
Do something Positive
Gunmala Jain, 76 is deeply into spirituality and volunteers at her neighbourhood Jain temple. It not only gives her immense pleasure to devote her time to spiritual pursuits but also keeps her mentally calm and away from negative thoughts. Many seniors also spend their time in a positive way by volunteering with organizations where they can help, be it reading to blind children or teaching a deserving but needy student. Members of Senior Citizens Bangalore, a group of elders in the city, regularly contribute to schools and organizations that need help. From donating scholarship awards to uniforms to government school children, these seniors have spread positivity and goodwill all around.
Get a Hobby
A hobby can help you while away your time, keep you from getting bored and give you something interesting to do. Developing a hobby and staying motivated to pursue it can be very positive for your self esteem and help keep your mind healthy. Select a hobby that you can pursue easily and have a real interest in. I Balasundaram from Bangalore loves painting and tries his hand out at sketching, shading and painting at regular intervals. Suman Prakash of Bangalore loves to knit and cannot be seen without a knitting needle in her hand. She has even turned her hobby profitable by showcasing her work in exhibitions. Jayasree Chakraborty loves to paint and runs a home business of hand painted saris and dupattas. “Even if I did not have this a business, painting is a hobby for me. I cannot fall asleep at night unless I paint. It gives me great pleasure and keeps me creative and thinking,” says the 68 year old. So whether you decide to take up Quilling or revive your long forgotten stamp collection or develop an interest in photography or learn art, find a hobby that will give you both joy and purpose.
Here’s to working your mind in the best ways possible!