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Planning Retirement Online

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!

Continuing Education

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 as follows.

  • 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. Through 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. Courses are 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 language.

  • 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 offer.
  • 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.


Staying Fit and Healthy Links

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 thinking:

  • 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
  • Quizzes
  • Go to and participate in, or even initiate, debates about some of the issues that affect us all. You can do it on line or in face-to-face ‘Pie and Pint’ groups and the outcome of these debates may then be passed on to decision-makers in order to assist them.

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.

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