Staying Mentally Fit
The brain is like the body: If you don't use it you lose it.
Therefore, if we are going to keep mentally fit, we need to
exercise the brain and keep it active.
There are basically two ways in which to do this:
- Undertake some form of continuing, or adult, education.
This doesn't have to be academic, but it does mean learning
something new, in order to keep the brain working.
- Having a hobby, or hobbies, that requires us to use our
brain. For example, playing bridge or a similar type of card
game is a good way to keep the mind working.
There is, of course, an overlap between the two. For example,
learning to play a musical instrument is a hobby, but you are
also learning something new, so the distinction between the
two is blurred. However, it doesn't really matter: what does
matter is that we keep our brain active and working!
As we have discussed above, there is a blurring of the
distinction between hobbies and education in some instances.
However, if we think about education as receiving some form of
input from an external source, there are many organisations to
which we can go to get some form of education. Some of them are
- Adult Education Classes. This heading covers a
multitude of avenues. Basically, however, we're talking
about day and evening courses at your local college.
Unfortunately, a lot of the funding has been removed from
adult education, so those purely 'recreational' classes are
now not as common as they were. However, they are still out
there and there will be an FE College near you. Do a Google search on 'Further Education Colleges' and add the area of the country that you live in, to find a list of institutions in the further
education sector and then you can click on the one closest
to you to see what they have to offer.
- Open University (OU). The OU has a wide range of
courses to suit anyone who wishes to some academic study of
some sort. The quality of the material is excellent and the
learning resources first class. Distance learning does not
suit everyone but it does give you the flexibility to study
as and when you wish.
- MOOC and Futurelearn
Through the Internet there is a whole range of on-line courses that you can do absolutely free. There is a vast range of subjects and the two most prominent sources of these courses are: MOOC and futurelearn. The former are provided by largely American universities, while futurelearn courses are through British universities.
- University of the Third Age (U3A). The U3A is a university
where you need no qualifications and there are no exams!
You join what is called the Third Age Trust, that provides
administrative and educational resources, but the U3A is
then organised through local groups, with each group
responsible for organising its own activities. Groups can
undertake a huge range of topics, not all of them academic
and all the activities are arranged by the members
themselves. You can be a member of a class in one topic and
lead the class in another, if you wish. There are
now over 1,000 groups in the country, with the number growing all the time. Click on the link to see how to contact
your local group.
- Workers Educational Association (WEA).
The WEA offers a wide range of adult courses covering academic and
leisure-orientated subjects and there is a choice of
part-time day or evening classes.
The WEA is
one of the UK’s biggest charities, and operates at local,
regional and national levels.
these local and regional centres, the WEA now runs over
10,000 courses each year, providing learning for more than
110,000 adults of all ages and drawn from all walks of life.
created and delivered in response to local need, by regional
and local groups, often in partnership with local community
groups and organisations.
Click on the link to find a course near you.
- Learndirect. Learndirect is the UK's
largest 'e-learning' network. It allows you to learn at
their local learndirect centre or anywhere where they can
get access to the Internet. Most of the courses are on-line so if you don't fancy going back
to the classroom or you can't fit a regular class into your
schedule, this could be the option for you. Learning on the
internet means that you can learn at a speed to suit you, in
a place to suit you, and at any time that you like.
Learndirect is particularly appropriate for helping people
in later life improve their IT skills or learn a new
- Activity Breaks. Activity breaks are short
holidays during which you learn something. To find an activity break that might suit you, put 'Activity and Learning Breaks' into your favourite search engine and see all the options that are available.
- Universities. If you find the website for your
local university you will be able to see what it has to
offer. Almost certainly, they will offer activity breaks
during the student vacations, part-time degrees, one-off
courses and lectures and a variety of other things. You can
take advantage of any or all of their offerings and gain
access to all the facilities that universities have to
- Hotcourses. Finally, to get information of all
types of courses from a whole host of different providers,
go to Hotcourses, where there will almost certainly be
something to suit you.
There are all sorts of hobbies that will keep your brain
active and it is worthwhile thinking about them if you don't
want to do any continuing education. We need to do something to
keep mentally fit, so a hobby or pastime is a way of doing so
and enjoying ourselves at the same time. To providet a list of all
the hobbies that will keep you mentally alert would take far too
long, so here are just a few generic groupings to help get you
- Board games, Crosswords, Sudoku Puzzles, Jigsaws,
- Learning a musical instrument,
- Learning any new skill Arts and crafts,
- Creative hobbies such as writing and painting
- Genealogy and other hobbies that enable you to
'discover' things, Local history, Research,
Cards - especially bridge
Remember, too, that voluntary work will almost certainly keep
your brain working as will getting out and about and meeting
people. Activities such as planning your own holiday rather than
leaving it to a travel agent will help (and probably save you
money!) so think of other things that you can do yourself rather
than letting someone else do it for you. There is a final way to keep the mind fit and that's by
developing positive thoughts, strengthening your memory and, in
a sense, enabling 'mind over matter'.
There are any number of
good books on this subject, although it's worth a look around and reading reviews. Keeping fit mentally is an important part of later life if we
are to enjoy it to its full. There are many ways to do it and
they can be very enjoyable and satisfying, so try to ensure that
you don't allow your brain to atrophy. Now read the other pages of this Guide to see how you can
keep fit and healthy in other ways.
||This Guide is written by Retirement Specialist Dave Sinclair supported by members of the LaterLife team. As well as writing on retirement matters Dave is Training Director at LaterLife and responsible for the content and continuous improvement of LaterLife's Retirement Courses.