We’re all aware of the importance of getting in a daily dose of exercise, especially as we age. The benefits of exercise are numerous and include improved balance and coordination, muscular strength, joint health, bone health, and flexibility. All of which are important functions needed to live healthy and active lives well after retirement age. Just as exercise improves our physical well-being, it’s also essential to incorporate activities and habits that promote good brain health.
Stimulating and taking care of the brain can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia. Start incorporating some or all of the following suggestions to ensure that your brain stays active and healthy for years to come:
Play Brain Games
Engaging in brain games and regularly learning new things is crucial as we age to help fight against cognitive decline, short-term memory loss, and forgetfulness. Furthermore, brain games, coupled with exercise and healthy eating, can build up your cognitive reserve. Any activity that stimulates your thinking can be classified as a brain game. Some of our favorites are chess, crossword puzzles, scrabble, jigsaw puzzles, and online games and apps meant to train the brain.
Learn a New Hobby
Experts on aging caution that staying too far inside our comfort zones does little to stimulate the brain activity necessary to maintain healthy cognitive function as we get older. Rather than reaching for the familiar, we should be pushing ourselves towards learning skills entirely new to us to stimulate new neuron pathways. Learning something can also potentially slow down the buildup of the beta-amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Consider picking up a new hobby, such as painting, cooking, knitting, playing an instrument, or writing poetry to stay alert and engaged.
A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients can lower the risk of cognitive decline. “Brain foods” can protect against plaque formation, decreased blood flow, and inflammation, all of which may contribute to cognitive impairment. Eating a variety of healthy and colorful foods that include unsaturated fats, leafy green vegetables, fruits, lean protein, Vitamin C, and Omega-3 fatty acids will fuel the brain and help promote memory retention, clarity, and mental sharpness.
Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise may boost the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that aids in verbal memory and learning. Regular exercise also is proven to reduce anxiety and depression, boost overall mood, and promote good sleep, all of which have a positive impact on brain health. While it may seem overwhelming to embark on a new fitness journey, even short bouts of five to ten minutes of exercise spread throughout the day can be beneficial. Walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, stair climbing, and chair aerobics are great options for seniors.
Get Good Sleep
We’ve all experienced a bad night’s sleep and then suffered from feeling cranky and irritable the next day. Getting enough good sleep has many benefits, including increased mood, less risk for developing depression, and better cognition. Experts recommend that seniors over sixty-five get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. To improve sleep habits, avoid naps, stay on a schedule, and getting plenty of exercise.
Implementing some of these lifestyle habits should have long-term positive effects on your brain health and overall well-being. As Euripides said, “We must take care of our minds because we cannot benefit from beauty when our brains are missing.”