After you retire, do something (especially if you’re a woman)

When you retire from work, make sure you have another big challenge to tackle – and that seems particularly true if you’re a woman.

Women are more likely to suffer from mental decline if they don’t replace their job with something just as challenging when they retire. Men don’t seem to be affected anywhere near as badly from the major lifestyle change, say researchers at North Dakota State University. Although plenty of studies have confirmed that people who do very little after retiring are more likely to suffer mental decline, researchers haven’t looked at who is likely to be affected and why.

The North Dakota researchers tracked the health and mental wellbeing of 732 retirees, half of whom were women. They discovered that women who engaged in other activities, which included problem solving and mental stimulation, were far less likely to suffer cognitive decline than other women who didn’t find another activity in retirement.

But the same wasn’t true in the men.

There was very little difference in the cognitive decline of the men who did find a new pursuit and those who didn’t. It could have been because most of the men were in a higher socioeconomic class, and they were surveyed early in their retirement, so any decline could happen later.

Nonetheless, it’s not a given that doing little after retirement will inevitably end cognitive decline, the researchers say. If finding challenging activities is difficult, retirees could also do more reading or play word games, and these too could stimulate the brain’s gray cells.

Psychol Aging, 2020; 10.1037/pag0000453

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