Written by Dustin Waters
Retirement provides ample opportunity to pursue your passions, which can yield big benefits for your health
Upon retiring from a career in nursing, Mount Pleasant resident Judy Volkman (pictured above on right) felt a void. “I’d spent years serving others and wanted to continue bringing joy to people,” she says. Brainstorming ways to fill her newfound free time, she recalled how much fun she’d once had helping a friend create balloon décor for a party. She decided to explore that niche passion and, in 2007, founded Balloon Smiles, a Mount Pleasant-based company that brings balloon art (think arches and sculptures), balloon twisting and singing telegrams to events throughout the Lowcountry.
Though it wasn’t Volkman’s chief motivation, learning that new skill has likely boosted her health, says Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Coker. “Studies show that mastering complex skills later in life can improve memory and comprehension and slow cognitive decline and risk for dementia. Maintaining a strong mind requires more than playing ‘brain games’ and memorization puzzles,” she continues. “The goal should be to continue engaging as much of your brain as possible, which can also result in improved mood and decreased risk of depression.”
That last perk is especially important for seniors, as depression affects more than two million Americans age 65 and older. “Some of the highest rates of depression I see are among new retirees,” says Dr. Coker, adding that depression can lead to an increase in isolation and inactivity and a greater risk of experiencing illness.
Pursuing a passion—whether that’s learning a language, starting a business or diving into a new hobby like line dancing—provides a strong sense of purpose, as well. “One of the hardest things for people when they first retire is grappling with the question, ‘What’s my purpose?’” says Dr. Coker. “Having free time all of a sudden can be scary. Filling it with a new project or skill can be hugely rewarding to your health and happiness.”
Paying It Forward
Volkman has put her talents to work philanthropically, as well. When her husband was hospitalized in 2012, a volunteer visited the room and offered to sing to the couple. That act of kindness sparked an idea. Today, she volunteers at Roper St. Francis Healthcare hospitals as a “caring clown” through Bumper “T” Caring Hospital Clowns. Donning a red nose, Volkman—AKA Dr. Silly Goose—walks the halls doling out smiles, stickers and red roses to patients and staff. “Sometimes people will say something like, ‘Thank you—you made my day so special,’” she says. “I mean, how can you say you don’t want to do that?”
Learning a new skill is a great way to engage with your community while staying mentally sharp. A wide range of classes are available at the Lowcountry and Waring Senior Centers meant to help you do just that. Visit lowcountryseniorcenter.com for a full list and schedule of classes, which may be postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19.
- Writing Circle. Have a book idea you’ve always been meaning to write? Or maybe you just want to sharpen your skills? This relaxed group meets every other Wednesday, inviting writers of all skill levels. Wednesdays, 2 p.m.; Lowcountry Senior Center; free for members, $5 for non-members.
- Photography Club. A great way to get out and about while learning the art of photography, this club includes group field shoots. Members gather for monthly meetings to share their photos and work on ways to improve. Thursdays, 10 a.m.; Lowcountry Senior Center; free for members, $10 for non-members.
- Dancing. The centers offer a variety of dance classes, including swing, shag, line dancing, clogging and partner dancing. Class levels range from beginner to advanced and offer a fun opportunity to get some exercise while socializing with classmates. Dates, times, locations and fees vary.
NEW RESEARCH: Got Milk?
According to a new study, the type of milk you drink may affect your longevity
If you enjoy a regular glass of milk, listen up. In January, researchers from Brigham Young University published a study that asserts that drinking low-fat milk—including both skim and 1%—may lead to significantly less biological aging among adults than sipping whole or 2% milk. The study involved more than 5,500 American adults and looked at participants’ milk consumption (how often they drank milk and what type they typically bought) as well as the length of their telomeres, which are end-cap structures on chromosomes that correlate closely with the body’s biological clock. (Every time a cell replicates, telomeres lose a little length, so the shorter they are, the older the body appears physiologically.) They found that, among frequent milk drinkers, every one-percent increase in milk fat typically consumed (so 2% vs. 1%, for example) was associated with a 4.5-year increase in biological age. Somewhat surprisingly, average telomere length among those who never drank milk—about 13 percent of participants—was shorter than among frequent low-fat milk drinkers.