How to Keep Your Mind Alert, Active and Young
Like other organs in your body, your brain experiences changes as you get older. However, it's a common misconception that aging causes you to lose your cognitive abilities. Aging simply changes the efficiency with which you process information.
If you feel as if your memory has failed you one too many times, it could be time to start implementing these habits that can help sharpen your mind.
9 Ways to Promote Brain Health
There are several things you can do to help slow down the effects of aging on your brain.
1. Get Moving
When it comes to brain health, incorporating physical activity into your daily routine has two major benefits:
- It helps reduce your risk of conditions that may harm your brain.
- It increases cell regeneration and connectivity in the part of your brain that's responsible for learning and memory.
In addition to improving your circulation, physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins that boost your mood and ease anxiety and depression. Working out daily can also help improve your sleep patterns and keep your blood pressure in check.
When you work out, focus on different activities and types of exercise. The best brain health workouts are well-rounded and include activity that incorporates both physical and mental demands such as dancing, circuit workouts, and golf.
Aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderately intense activity a week, but consider your physical limits, personal needs and abilities. Start at a comfortable level of effort and build up slowly from there.
2. Eat a Balanced Diet
Your diet plays a major role in brain health and function. When it comes to choosing a brain-healthy diet, incorporate foods that encourage good blood flow and sustain a healthy heart. This includes limiting the intake of sugar and saturated fats.
The next time you're writing your grocery list, don't forget:
- Fruits (blueberries, cherries, apples, tomatoes)
- Veggies (spinach, onions, broccoli)
- Good fats (avocado, walnuts, canola or olive oil)
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas)
- Healthy grains (barley, quinoa, brown rice)
- Fish (salmon, trout, tuna)
Leave the steak, full-fat dairy foods, snack foods and soda on the shelf.
3. Stay Hydrated
Drinking water provides essential energy to the brain, as it keeps your nerve signals firing, removes toxins and delivers nutrients to the brain. When you go too long without drinking enough water, it can lead to brain dysfunction and inflammation.
Some symptoms of prolonged dehydration include:
- Fuzzy short-term memory
- Problems focusing
- An overall lack of mental clarity
Drink 12-16 ounces of water as soon as you wake up to help fire up your metabolism and flush out toxins. It can also help to keep a bottle of filtered water with you to ensure you remain hydrated throughout the day.
4. Don't Skip Your Morning Coffee
Studies show that caffeine intake may have substantial effects on short-term memory and cognition. A healthy consumption of caffeine boosts memory consolidation*, helping you recall and retain information more easily.
One study found that people who drank at least 3 cups of coffee a day were 65% less likely to develop Alzheimer's or dementia than those who were less caffeinated.
*Speak with your doctor before adding caffeine to your diet.
5. Make a Personalized Playlist
There is extensive neuroscience research that shows that music has powerful effects on brain health. When you listen to or play music, your brain has to do quite a bit of computing to make sense of it.
In addition to improving your memory and alertness, listening to music can have therapeutic effects on sleep and agitation, dementia, blood pressure, anxiety, depression and even Alzheimer's disease.
Listen to both new and familiar tunes, and take notice of which types of music seem to help you unwind or concentrate best.
6. Remember to Breathe
Research shows that high levels of stress impairs learning and memory. Doing something as simple as breathing deeply can help keep your nervous system calm and your mind alert.
When you inhale deeply, it brings a chemical called nitric oxide from the back of your nose into your lungs. This widens the air passages in your lungs and does the same to the blood vessels surrounding them so you can get more oxygen into your body and brain.
Try using meditative breathing exercises on a regular basis. Intentionally slowing down your breathing can help to relieve stress, anxiety and depression, and allow for better brain cell function.
7. Swap Crossword Puzzles for Video Games
Research has found that video games may offset or even reverse the negative effects of aging on seniors' brains. One study found that adaptive, interface-rich video game training improved subjects' brain plasticity and its ability to change over time.
To help boost your brain performance and restore your working memory and sustained attention, pick a 3D game that is immersive, requires problem solving skills and includes more spatially complex tasks.
Research shows that socialization is an essential component to brain health and longevity. When you retire, the transition may result in feeling like you've lost a sense of purpose or identity.
Stay cognitively and socially stimulated by engaging in activities that replace the structure and social connections of your prior job. By staying socially engaged and connected, you can significantly reduce your risk for cognitive decline and impairment. Volunteering is a great way to do this.
This article can help you find ways to serve your community as a volunteer.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential for a healthy brain, especially as you age. In fact, a study conducted by Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore found that the less older adults sleep, the faster their brains age.
Other reasons to get adequate sleep:
- It helps sharpen your memory
According to Dr. Nicolas Dumay, a psychologist from the University of Exeter, “Sleep almost doubles our chances of remembering previously unrecalled material. The post-sleep boost in memory accessibility may indicate that some memories are sharpened overnight. This supports the notion that, while asleep, we actively rehearse information flagged as important.”
- It boosts your mood
A lack of sleep can cause you to be more irritable and make it harder for you to regulate your emotions.
- It makes you more alert and ready for daily tasks
If you've ever gone to work on just a few hours of sleep, you know how much sleep deprivation can affect the quality of your work. A good night's sleep prepares you for the day ahead and enables you to remain more focused.
Unfortunately, many seniors are sleep deprived. This could be because insomnia is common for seniors, “partly because of health issues, partly because of the anxiety and concerns of aging, and sometimes because of medication,” says neurologist Jack Gardner, MD.
Tips for a Better Night's Sleep
- Stick to a sleep schedule
Create good sleep habits by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
- Create a bedtime ritual
This can include making a cup of tea, meditating or reading.
About an hour before bedtime, turn off all of your electronic devices and dim the lights. This will signal to your brain that it is time to start winding down and prepare for sleep.
- Don't consume caffeine late in the day
The effects of caffeine can last several hours, so be sure to skip that afternoon cup of coffee.
What Happens to Your Brain as You Age?
As you get older, you'll start to experience some age-related decline in your cognitive skills. Some of these changes are listed below:
- Your brain's volume will shrink
As this happens, nerve cells can shrink and lose connection to other nerve cells.
- The blood flow within your brain will slow
This can impair memory and lead to changes in cognitive skills.
- The hippocampus may begin to deteriorate
This part of the brain is responsible for the formation and retrieval of memories.
- The hormones and proteins that protect and regenerate your brain cells may also begin to decline.
These structural and chemical changes correspond to age-related differences such as slower information processing and more difficulty recalling information. The good news? Your brain is capable of producing new cells and connections at any age.
As long as you keep it healthy, the impact of aging on your overall cognitive performance should remain minimal.
Threats to Brain Health and Function
Brain disease and substantial memory loss that are often perceived as age-related are actually caused by genetic and environmental factors that affect brain activity over time.
Serious brain deterioration and disease are brought on by things like:
- Stress and depression
- An unhealthy diet
- High levels of cortisol
- Drinking alcohol
- Certain medications
- Some health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and arthritis)
Most people experience increased risk of health conditions and disease that attribute to cognitive deterioration as they get older — but for those who aren't genetically predisposed to brain disease, implementing these simple brain health strategies should help you prevent any major memory loss, improve your cognitive abilities and keep your mind alert and young.
When to See a Doctor
Alzheimer's, dementia and other brain diseases are more prevalent in people over 70. Many times, these diseases go undetected. If you are experiencing memory loss that is disrupting your daily life, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss whether or not your symptoms are typical age-related changes or something more serious.
If you have Medicare coverage, Medicare Part B helps cover some mental health and neurology services. However, you may be responsible for some out-of-pocket costs including deductibles, coinsurance and copayments.
Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) can help pay for some of these out-of-pocket costs.
To find out which Medigap plans are available in your area, speak with a licensed agent.
Recommended further reading for lifestyle and wellness:
*This content is not medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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