Tag: ageing well

5 Ways to Promote Brain Health in Retirement

5 Ways to Promote Brain Health in Retirement

“There is no fountain of youth, but there is a fountain of health” states Dr.Carol Ward, geriatric psychiatrist for Interior Health, BC. That Fountain of Health™ is a national initiative “to promote brain health and resilience” particularly for adults in their Next3rd. The science has revealed 5 ways we can protect and improve our cognitive function.

The Good Doctor

Dr. Ward, whom I call Carol, a friend of many decades, has had a passion for helping the elderly ever since she began practicing geriatric psychiatry in 1992. She provides leadership at the national and regional level to enhance mental health care for seniors, and practices what she preaches in her patient care. “Seniors have a whole life story to share and I love learning about their lives.” Carol enthusiastically alerted me to the Fountain of Health™ (FOH).

What is the Fountain of Health™?

Simply put, it’s a fabulous resource for you and your doctor. Founded in 2010 by Dr. Keri-Leigh Cassidy, FOH is collaboration of several research and medical organizations focused on mental health, brain wellness and ageing well. It’s science-based, practical and easy to use. FOH’s findings highlights the 5 actions you can take to improve your brain health.

“It’s a tool and a culture change. It promotes positive aging.”

Dr. Carol Ward

If that’s not cool enough, the FOH has The Wellness App which is a simple tool designed to help you succeed in making small changes that stick. More about that later.

The Five Ways

The 5 ways, highlighted by FOH are key areas where you can “make change” to protect and promote your brain and overall health. The benefits of each area are explained and practical tips for implementing change are suggested. You don’t have to choose all five, just pick one to start if you like.

“Genes account for only 25% of your health condition. The rest is in your hands.”

Dr. Ward

1. Physical Activity

If you’ve read anything about ageing well, this is no surprise. The science is there. Exercise promotes your brain’s neuroplasticity and resilience to stress. “You don’t have to run a marathon” Dr. Ward explains. Just move everyday. Exercise helps reduce the risk of vascular disease including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and stroke. Discover more benefits and tips for success here.

Ideally, aim to raise your heart rate for 30 minutes, 5 days a week.


2. Social Activity

Loneliness is a risk factor to your health, yet as we age we are more likely to encounter social isolation. “Face to face is best.” Research has shown that socializing improves your mood and brain function. Having a “positive confidante”, someone “who has your back”, reduces your risk for stress-induced illnesses. Go for a walk with a friend, join a club, or volunteer are actions you can take to improve your social interactions. Learn more here.

“Figure out how you’re going to stay connected to the world, to people.”

Dr. Ward

3. Brain Challenge

Erase that image of declining brain function as you age! Your brain is ‘plastic’ and can continue to grow through old age … as long as it is exercised! Challenging your brain helps you build your “cognitive reserve”. Sudoko or crosswords, music or languages – get started! Discover more.

“Education and lifelong learning actually improves brain function over time and lowers your risk of developing memory problems and even dementia when you are older.”


4. Positive Thinking

The messages we give ourselves can make a huge difference to our mental and whole well being. Positive thinking (not the rose-coloured glasses stuff), can help you recover faster from health set-backs, improve your mood, memory and longevity. Think … “ageing is good” (not bad)!

In other words, be kind to yourself (and others). It’s not easy to change the way we think, but it can be done with practice. Actions such as writing your gratitudes, reflecting on your strengths, and blocking time chunks to practice problem-solving can help. Click here for more ideas.

“Changing the way you think about yourself as you age might be one of the most important things you can do for your long term health!”


5. Mental Health

“Our brains are not pre-wired to fail.” Poor mental health can translate to poor overall health. The good news is that mental health and life satisfaction can improve with age. Taking care of your mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness. The key is to act now if you have concerns about your mood, alcohol use, anxiety, and the like.

“There’s a movement out there. Positive psychiatry. “

Dr. Ward

Instead of just treating mental illness, positive psychiatry provides a whole approach to mental well-being using additional practices such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga. The goal is to improve optimism, resilience, and an overall sense of well being. The FOH offers these ideas for you to act upon.

Making Change Stick

This is the beauty of the FOH and its Wellness Project. It provides tools like The Wellness App or downloadable worksheets to help you make change in small steps. You can sign up for positive encouragement from the App if you like, or share the worksheets with your doctor. It’s like having your own brain health coach!

The key is small change. Following the principles of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-stamped), you are encouraged to choose one clear goal. Maybe you decide you want to increase your social activity. Your one small change is to call a long-distance friend once a week. The app and worksheets help you stay on track and see measurable progress!

“You don’t have to overwhelm yourself with change. Narrow it down to one thing that’s tangible and measurable. That’s the elegance of FOH.”

Dr. Ward

Final Words of Wisdom

Dr. Ward sums up what we can do to set ourselves up for a brain-healthful Next3rd:

  • “Managing your risk of vascular disease is truly one of the best things you can do for your health. Move your body.”
  • Take care of your hearing and eyesight; this helps mitigate cognitive loss. “The impact can be quite significant. Hearing aids are almost invisible now.”
  • “Look after your brain. You can always learn something new.”
  • Build your social connections to prevent loneliness. “Get out there.”
  • Enable a good sleep. “There is interesting research on lack of sleep and cognitive impairment.” Natural light helps your sleep rhythms; get outside. Be mindful of caffeine and alcohol use.
  • “The drive to be well is in us, even if we are unwell. You CAN make positive change.”

“Move your body, move your brain, move your mood!”

Dr. Ward

Care to share?

This Retiree’s 11 Tips to Creating Your Next3rd You’ll Love

This Retiree’s 11 Tips to Creating Your Next3rd You’ll Love

She lost 60lbs, travelled to four continents, reconnected with family and friends, embarked on meaningful volunteering, and learned new activities in her next3rd, all from a remote northern community.  What are her secrets to living a retirement life with zest?  Read on…

Meet Margot

She’s a girl of the north with a big heart, big goals, good humour, and a love of the outdoors.  Her dedication to her career in education left little time for anything but her family.  Now?  Let’s just say her retirement is action packed!

“How is life?  I don’t think it can get much fuller!”

Margot started planning her retirement life right away. A “living” plan focusing on her first priorities; her health and fitness, travel, and reconnecting with family and friends.  She’s the one who inspired me to start a ‘60 Things to Do When I’m 60’ list!

“I’ve accomplished 90% of my list with 4 months to go! I’ve learned I can achieve almost any goal I set for myself.”

But There’s More…

Not only has Margot reached most of her goals, she has added meaning to life through volunteering.  She’s preparing a presentation on her trip to China for a senior’s group and helps her church in various capacities including singing in the choir. “Singing makes me happy!”   She was part of a group that brought a refugee family to their small community, helped them integrate, and continues to mentor/tutor the children successfully through school.

“It feels good to give back. I feel blessed to be able to help.”


How She Did It…

Here are Margot’s 11 tips to living the retirement life you’ve dreamed:

  1. Start Financial Planning at Least 10 Years Before Retiring

“You need to know clearly what your financial situation is.”

“For 5 years, we put our income tax refund into a separate ‘travel fund’.”


  1. Go to a Seminar about Retirement at Least 1 Year Before Retiring

Learn the steps you need to take to transition smoothly.


  1. Take Control of Your Health

Margot changed her sedentary working life to a vibrant active life when she retired.  Now she enjoys, biking, tennis, pickleball, snowshoeing and more.  She also joined a diabetes study as a preventative measure which enabled a healthier diet.  “I feel fitter, healthier and happier.”

 “Prioritize your health from here forward.”  


  1. Have a Financial Plan B

Sometimes the unexpected happens.  Margot has seen families struggle financially after a spouse dies younger than expected.


  1. Be Positive

Bad stuff happens.  Margot lost her Mum in her first year of retirement.  Yet, she feels blessed for having that year to spend special time with her.

“When you feel fit, healthy, grateful, and are giving back, you can stay positive.”


  1. Enjoy What’s Around You, Open Your Mind to New Things and New Fun

“Don’t be afraid to try new things.”  Margot tried rock-climbing, tennis, pickle ball and other active lessons.  She helped her hubby with hands-on reno projects and re-learned how to filet a fish.  (The pickerel up there is amazing!)  She even finished 2nd in her category in a 10km run!

  1. Respect That You and Your Partner Have Different Days

How you each spend your day can be different.  Margot’s hubby can clock 10,000 steps working outside, while Margot will go out for a spin.  You don’t have to be, or travel, together all the time.  “You have something to share at the end of the day or trip.”

“You need to have your own space when you retire.”


  1. Count on Yourself to Be Disciplined

“I am more disciplined just counting on myself.”  If you have specific goals, or daily practices, its up to you to get them done.  Be it a ride at 6am, or daily meditation, “count on yourself first and that means discipline”.

“If no-one else is around to do it with, I’ll do it anyway.”

  1. Plan to Renew Relationships

Margot’s loved ones are scattered across our vast country and she purposely visits or calls long-term friends and her fam jam frequently.  She travelled with various family members, and planned family reunions which strengthened those bonds.

“I feel blessed to re-connect with old friends and bring my family closer.”


  1. Make a List of Things to Do for a Milestone

She’s already working on her 65 Things to Do When She’s 65 “This worked really well for me.”  Include little things and big things.  The list mobilized her dreams and really did create a very full retirement.  Full of adventure, meaning, connection and fun!

“I love lists. I love checking things off. I love that my family and friends wanted to make my goals happen with me.”

  1. Count Your Blessings

Those are my words.  Margot said, “Be positive again”.  As we chatted, I heard her reflect on how blessed she felt, which in turn gave her a positive feeling. “People want to be around you when you’re positive.” In her first year of retirement, she wrote her top ten things for which she was grateful, daily.  Now she ‘counts her blessing’s each week.

“It helps you be more aware, and it gives you something positive to talk about.”


Thanks Margot, have fun working on the new list!

Care to share?

3 Retirement Lessons from the Inca Trail

3 Retirement Lessons from the Inca Trail

Built in the 1400’s and hidden from the Spanish, this 45km, 4-day trail through the stunning Peruvian mountains to the unforgettable Machu Picchu Inca ruins is a trip of a lifetime. It’s not easy, and it may not be for those expecting 5-star accommodations, but it does cause you to see things with a new lens. Especially when we face one of life’s biggest changes, retirement.



  1. You Can Do More Than You Think You Can

I wasn’t sure I was up to it.  Hiking in high altitude, from dawn to dusk, for 4 days, sleeping in tents and no showers! Three mountain passes, the highest, aptly named Dead Woman’s Pass, is 4,215m high. I’ve never been that high, and my body is, you know… ageing.  Old sports injuries are ever present along with other aches and pains, and you just didn’t know how you’d react to the very high altitude.  Could I keep up?

But, I had a list.  60 Things to Do Before I Turn 60.  Hike the Inca Trail was the BIG stretch goal.  Time to put my dream to action.  Enter Jocelyn, my energetic, tough, but encouraging physical trainer.  She helped me overcome injuries, strengthen the bod, and build up my cardio capacity.  More importantly, she helped my mindset.

“You’re not old. You can do this!  Age is just a number.”


She would remind me, when I would doubt injury recovery, and question my ability to do this trek.  She was right!  Going to the gym, raised my confidence level, but the big test was on the mountain.  I was the oldest of our group and I could keep up!   I did it!  Completing this trek, helped me realize I can do more!

I will never forget that exhilarating feeling of reaching the top of Dead Woman’s Pass and ‘whooping’ as loud as I could over the Andes mountains! 



  1. The Right Tribe is Uplifting

“We are a family”, Rudy, our outstanding trek guide told our group of nine people, aged 22 to almost 60, and of various backgrounds and nationalities.   “We stick together and remember, PMA – positive mental attitude.”  That was our mantra for the four days of personal challenge for all of us. It worked. No need for competition, no race to the top. No one left behind.

We started out as strangers with different reasons for doing the trek, and we ended as a ‘family’ with a special bond after sharing a remarkable experience together.  We supported and encouraged each other through altitude sickness, travellers’ bellies, sore knees, the cold nights and a cold.  Snacks, meds and other remedies were shared (thankfully one trekker was a nurse) along with the local wisdom of our guide.   We enjoyed coca tea happy hour and Peruvian meals together in the dining tent, along with laughs, stories and a collective awe of where we were!

We made it to the beautiful wonder of the world, Machu Picchu, together, each of us uplifted and happy for each other!



  1. Travel is Sooooo Good For You

Especially in our next 3rd stage of life.  It causes us to be adaptable, open and curious. It puts our minds to work, researching sites, planning itineraries, or understanding different languages and protocols.  It can also test our stress resilience!

We learned so much on our trek through the Andes, while our comfort levels were tested. I was amazed at the marvels of Inca architecture and engineering on steep mountain slopes. We were introduced to the local culture, history and customs thanks to our valuable Andean guide and the local village people. Praying to the Sun and Mother Earth for good karma on our trek, eating alpaca and guinea pig, and of course sipping Pisco Sour, the tasty national cocktail.

Yet, we had to forgo our first world comfort and even sanitation expectations. (Always carry your own TP and hand sanitizer!)  Things we take for granted, like a seated toilet, were luxuries, but the magnificent mountain views, the Inca ruins, the starry night skies and the friendly people were definitely worth it!

The beauty of the place and the Inca civilization reminded me of how truly amazing this planet is.  I’m inspired to see more!


Remember this When Pondering Retirement

Check your attitudes to ageing, retirement and your ability.  You CAN do it!

Nurture tribes that uplift you.  Choose PMA people!

Travel – not just in a comfy way, but out of your comfort zone.  Let the world amaze you!

Care to share?

Retirees: Are You Unknowingly Accepting an Ageist Bias?

Retirees: Are You Unknowingly Accepting an Ageist Bias?

You aren’t really over the hill, are you?  Do you believe your best years are behind you?  Are you holding back from doing things you love because of fear or worry?  It’s easy to do, given our culture’s tendency to value youth and dismiss retirement as a “less than” life.  Here’s how to change that lens.


What’s More Valuable, Your Younger You or You Today?

That’s a loaded question.  And the crux of society’s ageist bias.  Sure, your younger body might have been able to do more, faster and that was great for that time.  Now, you are wiser, and your unique individuality is shining through.  Perfect for this time.  Want to be happy in retirement?  Stop comparing you today to your younger you.  Just stop – you’re comparing apples to oranges.  Start recognizing that now is the best time of your life!

“Age is perhaps the most inaccurate measure of personal identity, capabilities, intelligence, pace and stamina.”  Dr. Richard Johnson


Luster or Lack-luster?

Listen to yourself.  Are you complaining about your aches and pains and how difficult things are?  Are you reminiscing of your good old days… a lot?  Are you worried about tomorrow and what might happen?  Have you turned into a know-it-all cynic?  Or, are you excited about your hobby, committed to a special project, exhilarated by reaching new goals?  The difference is luster.

Yes, you’ve still got it baby!  That zest and vitality comes from being fully engaged in life today. Optimism, enthusiasm, humour, adaptability, balance and your uniqueness are elements that give you luster.  Being content in your life right now, is one of 15 success factors for a happy retirement identified by Dr. Johnson, expert on retirement and adult development.  (He calls it “current life stage satisfaction”.)  Check out this post on 7 habits to happiness, or this one on how to find your new purpose to shine up your luster.

“Don’t ever lose your luster!” Earl Nightingale


Live Fully in the Now

You’ve heard this, probably many times, but it can be hard to do.  It takes practice for some of us, and we must continually remind ourselves to be fully present in life right now. We can’t change the past and we can’t predict the future, but we can seize today.

“Yesterday is a cancelled cheque, tomorrow is promised to no-one.  All we really have is right now.”   Dr. Wayne Dyer


Retirement can bring you so many possibilities if you are open to them. It is a time for personal development, and taking on new learning, hobbies or leisure activities.  It’s a time to reflect on and live your life’s purpose and truly savour meaningful relationships.  Best of all, it’s a time to honour your uniqueness and spark your sizzle!   It really can be the best time of your life!

Care to share?

Retirement: How You Perceive Your Health Makes a Difference

Retirement: How You Perceive Your Health Makes a Difference

Vitality. Most of us want it, especially in retirement. Yet, nearly 70% of Canadians over 60 have at least one chronic condition that may hamper this desire to live a life full of zest. Arthritis, high blood pressure and back problems might put a hold on your retirement dreams. Or not.  It depends on how you look at it.


That Mind-Body Thing

What you tell yourself, your body listens.  Keep telling yourself that you are old and decrepit, and you behave accordingly.  Your body will likely oblige as well.  Although, healthy maturing adults have just as good an immune system as people half their age, research has show that our attitudes about our health and life impact how well we fend off disease and discomfort.

It’s that PMA thing again.  Having a Positive Mental Attitude (covered in this happiness post) can help make the difference in creating a retirement life of vitality.  In fact, our general attitude to retirement may need a re-set as shared in this post.  The body is a marvel.  Do you focus on everything that’s wrong with it, or what an amazing machine it is?

 “How old would you be if you didn’t know your age?” Satchel Page


5 Ways to Deal with the Cards We’re Dealt

Having a mature and positive approach to wellness is one of the 15 retirement success factors, determined by Dr. Richard Johnson, founder of Retirement Options.  He shares one study that identifies 5 different approaches people in retirement take regarding their health:

  1. Mature: We take responsibility for our health and wellness, make necessary changes, and develop and carry out options to maintain good health.
  2. Rocking chair: We are passive about our wellness, and only act when forced to do so.
  3. Armoured: We are rather obsessed with our health, constantly on the lookout for something wrong and may over-do exercise, dieting and other health practices.
  4. Depressed: We may either neglect our health and wellness or become somewhat of a hypochondriac when we are feeling very low
  5. Angry: We shun professional health care and take on the full burden ourselves, rather than in partnership with the professionals


How you respond to your health in retirement impacts your retirement vitality.


You Just Might Be Surprised by What You Can Do!

Our goal, of course, is the mature response where we take responsibility and action to improve and manage our health in partnership with health care professionals. I am reminded of Gary, who I interviewed for this post and who shared his attitude and (mature) approach to being diagnosed with cancer in retirement. Inspiring.

Perhaps a visit to a physical therapist will arm you with new exercises to manage an old injury.  Working with a qualified personal trainer to build your functional fitness may open new possibilities for you.  A modification to your diet and sleep habits may also add life to your years. Mindfulness and nurturing your social circles can bring you joy.  Make the most of what you’ve got.  Its in your hands!

Want to really be inspired?  Olga competed and won many medals in World Masters track and field in her 90’s. Her story is shared in the book “What Makes Olga Run” by Bruce Grierson which examines her lifestyle, attitude and biology for secrets to her good health and longevity.  Listen to her wise words in this short video clip.

“I am an optimist and I take the most hopeful view of matters.” Olga Kotelko


Care to share?

How Not to Be Archie Bunker in Retirement

How Not to Be Archie Bunker in Retirement

Remember Archie of the TV sit-com “All in a Family”?  That narrow-minded, opinionated, grey-haired guy in the armchair barking orders to his wife, Edith?  As we age and move into retirement, we run the risk of becoming that ‘grumpy old person’.  Unless, we develop a certain trait.

Lessons from Darwin

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution taught us that we must adapt to survive.  Dr. Johnson, a leading expert on adult development and gerontology agrees.  He has identified adaptability, the personal flexibility you can exercise at any given time in any given situation, as a key factor for retirement success.  We must adapt not only to survive, but to thrive in retirement.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” —Charles Darwin


Ch Ch Ch Changes…

Won’t stop in retirement.

Contrary to common perceptions, we will likely experience more change in retirement than any other time in our life.

Our body changes and will keep changing. Our lifestyle changes significantly as we end the formal work chapter. We will face changes in our family, from the loss of parents or perhaps a spouse, to the addition of sons or daughters-in-law and perhaps grandchildren.  We may move out of the family home, or to a new community; our social circles will change.  New interests, hobbies and leisure activities may emerge and perhaps your purpose in life will evolve.

Add to these, changes in technology, social norms, politics, demographics, the economy, the environment and other macro influences, and you get the picture.  Change is everywhere, all the time. When we fear or resist change, we seek sameness, search for that elusive certainty and security, and revert to rigid schedules.  We fall into a rut.  We get stale.  We become Archie!

 Adapting to change, not resisting or hiding from it, is the ticket to a smooth retirement ride.


How to Be More Adaptable

My yoga teacher uses the word, ‘release’ versus ‘stretch’ and that is how I would sum up adaptability.  You’ve got to let it go, not force the stretch.  To be more adaptable, we may need to change our attitude, decisions and actions.  It will likely mean letting go of the need for control and certainty and having faith that you, and the world, will be OK.

To be more adaptable means to be more:

  • Accepting than critical
  • Agreeable than argumentative
  • Forgiving than judging
  • Pleasant than harsh
  • Calming than upsetting

Doesn’t that sound like the perfect, wise elder?  The anti-Archie!


Start Removing that Crust

I admit it. I can be a tad crusty as I age.  A bit fixed in my opinions and view of the world. Maybe it’s the “I’ve seen/done that before” cynicism that’s creeping in.  Before we know it, we are encased in a thick crust of inflexibility.  Just like Archie.  It’s takes a conscious effort to remain flexible, malleable and adaptable, but we can do it.  When, we do, our life is richer, interesting and happier.

Care to share?

Retirement: Why a Life of Leisure Isn’t.

Retirement: Why a Life of Leisure Isn’t.

Ask soon-to-be retirees about their plans, and they will most likely answer with vacation itineraries.  Can retirement truly be a permanent vacation, a life of leisure?  Leisure is a fundamental human need, but a life of only rest and relaxation may not be good for us.


What is Leisure?

Dr. Richard Johnson, founder of Retirement Options and expert on adult development and gerontology, describes leisure as:


“Personally satisfying endeavours outside work which rejuvenate your body, stimulate your mind or enrich your spirit”


It’s a break, breather, vacation or diversion from our everyday lives that gives us pleasure and new energy. In other words, it’s not passive TV or movie watching! (That’s called compensatory leisure – compensating for lack of energy.) Leisure can give us respite in many different forms, and is essential to help us refocus and refresh. In fact, it is one of the 15 retirement success factors identified by Dr. Johnson. But there’s a catch.


The Paradox of Leisure

After decades of working hard, you may be looking forward to a life of leisure in retirement. Think twice about that!


Leisure isn’t leisure if it’s the only thing we do.


Herein lies the irony of leisure. It must be a diversion from our everyday to give our brains and bodies the true benefits of our reprieve. If it is the only thing we do, our leisure activities become our work. Leisure must remain secondary to give us its true benefits.


The Golf Course is not Your Office

When leisure becomes your ‘work’, it no longer gives you that respite that you need. We can see this on the golf course. When your focus turns to results, scores, competitiveness and perhaps pursuing perfection, you’ve lost the pleasure and reprieve that a game of golf can provide. Golf is no longer a diversion, but your ‘work’. Your mind and body will need a ‘vacation’ from golf!


One Person’s Leisure is Another Person’s Work

This bit of wisdom is particularly important to couples. Have you had the retirement ‘leisure’ conversation with your partner yet? Be prepared, you may have different leisure activities you each want to pursue. My hubby likes puttering and fixing things. It’s a diversion for him, but for me? Yuk. It’s chores and work. I prefer hitting the trails for the day. That’s too much ‘work’ for him.
Understanding your own, and each other’s, leisure preferences will help you navigate your retirement choices and decisions. Typically, you will prefer one or two of the following types of leisure:

6 Types of Leisure Preferences

  1. Socializing
  2. Spectator entertainment
  3. Artistic expression
  4. Intellectual stimulation
  5. Physical exercise
  6. Solitary relaxation


Not sure, where you sit on the leisure spectrum? The LifeOptions Profile TM, is an excellent assessment tool provided in the “The Choices We Make” coaching program that helps you understand your leisure and other retirement lifestyle preferences.


Live a Leisurely Life, Not a Life of Leisure

What’s the difference? A life of leisure is a life of scheduled activities that become tasks without much purpose or meaning. It evolves into a life with emptiness, and ironically, stress. It leads to the gradual wearing away of life’s luster, vitality and healthfulness.

A leisurely life is balanced with purpose and leisure, with meaning and pleasure. You are neither under-utilized, nor over. Satisfying your personal leisure preferences helps you live in the present, feel joy and be yourself. Leisure plays a secondary role in your life energizing you to fulfill your primary role – your life’s mission!

Care to share?