Ask Bill Whitaker, 80, anything about cars and he has an answer. He speaks with passion when taking about his prized possessions: a 1954 Hudson Hornet convertible, or his latest purchase, a 2002 Ford Thunderbird with just 1,500 miles on it.
Recently retired, Bill is able to devote his time to collecting and restoring antique cars. “I was always interested and fascinated with cars,” Whitaker said. “I was born with an addiction. It’s in my DNA.” However, this is more than just a hobby. It is keeping him engaged and may help to prevent cognitive decline and, also, add years to his life.
A growing amount of research is suggesting that keeping your brain active will help you stay sharp at any age. Published in July 2013, a study found that such activity may actually slow cognitive decline. Based on the analysis of 300 people, the results revealed that those who were engaged in mentally stimulating experiences throughout their lives were less likely to develop problems with their memory.
According to Samuel Gandy, MD, PhD, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health in New York City, when it comes to preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia, “mental stimulation and physical exercise should be part of the routine, whether a hobby or a disciplined regimen. Both help maintain cognition, as does reduction of all heart-related risks such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The mental activity should be engaging and ideally should involve socialization.”
Living a social life is also key. Another 2013 study, this one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that people living isolated lives are more likely to die prematurely than those who engage in social activities.
Whitaker now travels for car shows and is able to spend time with a close circle of friends. “I enjoy it all,” he said. “At lunch today, I was talking about cars with a group of people,” he said, noting that he’s quite aware that “social engagement helps ward off Alzheimer’s.”
“My health overall is excellent,” Whitaker said, noting that his involvement with antique cars definitely helps him feel and stay young. “Most of my cars are convertibles, and when you drive around in a Thunderbird with the top down, it keeps you feeling young on the inside,” he said.