Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Keep busy if you want to live long and prosper

Time is such a nuisance. What are you supposed to do with it all? Fill it, obviously. But how? Work seems to be the answer. Particularly if you're getting older and want to avoid dementia.

A new study shows those retiring at 60 rather than 65 or later are 15% more likely to suffer the dreaded illness.

Many of us know folk who packed in work early and quickly went downhill. By the same token, we'll probably know others who thrived, keeping up with interests, hobbies and travel.

The key is the same: stay busy. A team of boffins from the Institut National de la Santé et de al Recherché Médicale in yonder France kept themselves busy by analysing the health and insurance records of 429,000 self-employed workers.

They found a lower risk of being diagnosed with dementia for each year of working longer.

Dr Carole Dufoil said their findings were pretty much in line with the old adage "use it or lose it".

And, as you get older, it seems you can't afford to hang about. For a new book by psychologist and broadcaster Claudia Hammond explains that time really does pass faster as you get older.

Partly, this is caused by a trick of memory called the "reminiscence bump". When we're young, everything is new and imprinting these memories takes up lots of brain energy.

When we're old, so is everything else and few things make much of a mark as being worthy of note. Hence, recent years and decades appear to have taken less time than earlier ones, which were crammed with stuff caused by new memories, which take longer to review in your mind.

Hammond's point, in Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, is that it's how you experience time that determines how quickly or slowly your days pass.

Emotions, attitudes and openness to new sensations play a part, and to that extent allow you to get time a little under your control.

One crucial attitude is to stop spending all your time worrying about tomorrow. Otherwise, your life'll be over before you know it. And then you'll have something to worry about.

Interestingly, our thoughts of the future are framed round images drawn from our past.

The idea gives me the excuse to pass on the best bit of self-help you'll ever need. It's from Paul McKenna's books, and here's the gist.

What's the most distressing thing in your life? Something that still bothers you? All right, as soon as you think of it, you get an image, a leitmotif of the situation in your mind. Correct?

Right, take the image. Magnify it and make the colours brighter. Bigger and brighter still. Now turn it gradually to sepia. And start shrinking it. Shrink it right down till it's gone. Et voila, it's just that: away.

Worked for me anyway. Sometimes you've got to take your mind in hand or it can torment you terribly. And that includes worrying about the future, deploying flakey images of yourself that, very likely, will not come to pass.

That applies to Alzheimer's. Don't sit worrying yourself to oblivion about it. Stay busy. Keep working, at your job or your garden or your great unpublished novel or your knitting.

That way, time'll fly in the short term. And you'll have more of it in the long.

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