While making healthier choices has always been essential to your overall well-being, doctors are increasingly urging older people, in particular, to consider how vital those strategies are for brain health and memory support. Here are a few ways you can start protecting your cognitive function today.
Improve Your Diet
Need the motivation to eat more veggies while consuming fewer chips and cheeseburgers? The benefits of "brain food" aren't just an old wives' tale. Eating right supports mental clarity in several ways.
- Cholesterol. Watching your cholesterol also is vital. Maintaining recommended cholesterol levels doesn't just decrease your risk of a cardiac event. It also lowers your risk of developing severe cognitive decline.
- Blood pressure. Healthy blood pressure is an important tool for fighting brain function decline in older people. While a stroke is the most dramatic possibility, hypertension can also affect your cognitive function. Diseased and clogged blood vessels deprive brain cells of oxygen and nutrients.
- Blood sugar. Stabilizing blood sugar levels is another crucial element for brain health. Diabetes and dementia disorders such as Alzheimer's disease are increasingly linked in medical research.
So what is the best type of diet as you age? Popular eating plans like the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes lean or plant-based proteins (like fish, seeds, and nuts), healthy fats (such as olive and flaxseed oils), veggies, and fruits are still among the best options.
Don't Neglect Those Workouts
Regular exercise improves your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, just like your diet. That means you reap similar health benefits as a good eating plan – including protecting your brain health. Exercise can help people maintain their cognitive abilities as they age. Many studies have found that physically active older people perform better than sedentary older people on cognitive tasks such as reasoning, vocabulary, memory, and reaction time.
If you're not already physically active, you'll probably have the best success by trying workouts you look forward to. Don't worry if you don't get very far at first. Going on short walks, taking a comfortable water aerobics class, or lifting light weights are good strategies for getting you on your way. Try to mix cardio activities with strength-training moves, like the ones in Wellness Director Chloe Hough's Wellness Wednesday series, for the best overall physical and mental fitness benefits.
If getting started with an exercise routine sounds overwhelming, keep in mind that starting anywhere is better than not starting at all.
Sometimes older people feel they need less sleep than they do. While it's true your body may no longer require a full eight hours, you will get the best brain-health results by having a regular, disciplined sleep cycle. We all know the foggy thinking that comes after a sleepless night. Imagine that feeling compounded by habitually losing sleep.
Of course, not getting enough rest isn't always a conscious decision. Many people suffer from sleep apnea, which can rob the brain of oxygen at night. If your spouse mentions your snoring or you never seem rested, no matter how diligent you are about your schedule, ask your doctor whether a CPAP machine might help. This move is a "no-brainer," so to speak. "In a way, it is one of the only 'reversible' types of dementia," Braun said about sleep deprivation.
Flex Those Brain Muscles
Even if you don't like to shake up your life, as a rule, trying new things becomes even more critical as we age. That's because learning additional skills or adding to your areas of knowledge stimulates the brain in ways that keep those mental synopses constantly firing. Crosswords and similar mind games are often recommended, but attending a lecture in your community center, learning a new language, or taking up a new hobby also is engaging.
But keep in mind that there is no "magic bullet" that will keep cognitive loss at bay. Just as taking one vitamin supplement won't make up for other physical and mental neglect, simply doing a sudoku puzzle in the morning won't be enough to keep your mind stimulated. Instead, aim to keep yourself interested all day. The positive impact of doing so can be significant for your current mood and long-term brain health.
Spend Meaningful Time With Others
Your social life should be considered as crucial to your brain health as the other elements on this list. Spending time with family and friends helps in two ways. First, it combats depression and loneliness, which have been linked to cognitive decline. Second, these types of interactions stimulate parts of your mind that you can't "work out" while being alone.
Being able to socialize is vital for people already struggling with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of cognitive loss. The number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias is expected to grow as people aged 65 and older continue to increase in the United States. By 2060, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease will grow from 6.5 million to 13.8 million. People living with dementia and their care partners are encouraged to have an active social life to reduce stress, brighten their moods and keep their relationships strong.