Retaining cognitive skills throughout retirement is easy — as long as you keep using them, that is. Researchers from Concordia University have determined that the more you enjoy using your brain, the more likely you are to stay in cognitive shape later in life. In a new study, they identify the three major factors of mental decline in retirement.

1. The more one seeks out and enjoys cognitively demanding activities, the less likely one is to experience cognitive decline later in life.

The brain, like the rest of your body, is strengthened by exercise. As you relieve your brain of the mental travails associated with full-time employment, your cognitive skills may begin to suffer. This can be problematic during the initial months of retirement.

“Retirement usually occurs right around the time when normal age-related declines in cognitive function come to the fore,” lead researcher Larry Baer said in a press release. “So it is important to understand what is happening to brainpower during this period and to identify risk factors for mental decline, as well as factors that will help protect against it.”

2. Doing a variety of different cognitive activities helps boost brainpower post-retirement.

To stave off cognitive decline, it may be beneficial to put your brain through a diverse and exhaustive “exercise program.” Today, more and more healthcare centers are offering personal training sessions designed to promote mental abilities. An example is Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s (BIDMC) Brain Fit Club, where therapists coach young concussion victims as well as seniors warding off decline. These programs are modeled after the science of neuroplasticity — the cerebral process whereby mental abilities are maintained and improved by the formation of new brain cells.

3. People who exhibit even mild signs of depression are more likely to show a decline in brainpower once they leave the office for good.

The findings also indicated that preexisting mental strains may further influence the likelihood of decline. Baer and his colleagues now hope that their discovery will help improve current prevention strategies, as it illuminates the importance of preemptive measures. Even if the decline or depression is slight, immediate action may be worthwhile.

"It is my hope that these results will influence the design of future interventions aimed at maintaining the cognitive health of retirees,” Baer told reporters. “This can be done by focusing on getting people to intensify their engagement in a variety of cognitive activities even if they have lower levels of motivation to do so.“

Source: L. H. Baer, N. Tabri, M. Blair, D. Bye, K. Z. H. Li, D. Pushkar.Longitudinal Associations of Need for Cognition, Cognitive Activity, and Depressive Symptomatology With Cognitive Function in Recent Retirees. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 2012; 68 (5)