Retirement & Financial Planning Report

Opinion | Commentary

Charles F. Vaughan, PhD, P.E.

I read an article a while back that got me thinking. The article, Challenge Your Brain, appeared in the Arizona Daily Star, and was a reminder of the importance of mental exercise, especially in the later years.

The point of the article is that there are things we can do to keep our brains functioning at a high level throughout our lives. As a recent civil service retiree I’m interested in this topic because I want to keep my brain functioning at the highest level it can throughout my retirement years in order to get the most out of them.

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The article refers to neuroplasticity as “a process that allows the brain to continue to function at a high level throughout life” and notes that “the more you mentally challenge yourself, the more you can increase your brain’s ability to maintain and even improve many brain skills, especially memory.” (And Britannica defines neuroplasticity as the capability of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage or dysfunction.) Essentially, that’s what I’m looking for: maintaining and even improving my brain skills, especially memory, as I get older.

The article continued, “the key to neuroplasticity is constant challenges. It doesn’t really help to do activities you already excel at, like puzzles and games,” the key is novelty – new challenges that forge new neural connections and pathways.

Many of us with federal careers have earned pensions and saved up and are already enjoying or getting ready to embark on retirement, and want to enjoy all the years ahead, not just some. We all hope to have enough retirement income and good health during this time to continue to travel, meet with friends, play a round of golf or two, socialize and so on.

We’re bombarded with advertisements for financial and pharmaceutical products that can sometimes distract from the need to keep our mental faculties in tact – and critically, exposing our minds to things we have never done before. (I’m mentally challenging myself by learning to play classical guitar and learning to use C++ to create a computer program of satellites in orbit and then analyze the performance of different constellations of satellites. I’ve had to purchase a couple of books or instruction manuals but other than that, it hasn’t cost me much and it feels like I stand to gain a lot.)

Do you want your brain to be functioning at its highest level when you retire? Then take a minute to think about what you can start doing that’s engaging and new and that will help you enjoy the years to come even more.


Charles Vaughan is a recently retired DR-03 of the Department of the Air Force.  He began his government civilian career in 1987 as a GS-11 with the Department of the Navy.

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