Cognitive change is a normal part of the aging process. Some cognitive abilities, like vocabulary, are resilient to brain aging. Others, such as processing speed, conceptual reasoning, and memory, gradually decline over time. Keep your brain functioning at its best with these nine tips.
Keep your heart healthy
According to a 2014 longitudinal study on Cardiovascular Health and Cognitive Function, “Smoking, physical inactivity, and poor diet, along with obesity, fasting glucose, and blood pressure have been independently associated with poorer cognitive performance.” The study found that an increase in cardiovascular health is associated with greater cognitive performance.
Engage in intellectual activities
Intellectually engaging activities like doing a puzzle, reading a book, using the computer, participating in discussion groups, playing bridge, playing board games, playing musical instruments are associated with high cognitive function in older adults.
Learn a new skill
Learning a new skill is another way to keep your mind active. A study published by The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry followed 22 older adults aged 65 to 76 years over the course of 10 weeks as they attended a weekly two-hour class on learning how to use a tablet. The study concluded, “Engagement in a new mentally challenging activity (tablet training) was associated with improved processing speed. Acquiring skills in later life, including those related to adopting new technologies, may, therefore, have the potential to reduce or delay cognitive changes associated with aging.” Learning a new language, learning about photography, and learning how to knit are just a few skills you could pick up to help your brain stay sharp.
Exercise helps memory and thinking both directly and indirectly. According to Harvard Health, “The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors–chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.” While indirectly, “Exercise improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.”
Jog your memory with heart-rate increasing activities like walking or swimming.
According to Harvard Health, research suggests that leafy greens like broccoli, collards, kale, and spinach, which are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like beta carotene, folate, lutein, and vitamin K, may help slow cognitive decline.
Green leafy vegetables, other veggies, berries, and seafood are neuroprotective. According to a study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vitamin E, B vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids could help prevent dementia, while saturated fat may have harmful effects.
Additionally, a study by the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases links chronic inflammation with memory loss. An anti-inflammatory diet consisting of Omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon, flaxseed, and walnuts), turmeric, ginger, less meat, probiotics, and less sugar can help keep inflammation in check.
Maintain a healthy weight
A high Body Mass Index (BMI) increases the risk of dementia. A study published in 2018 found that “Being obese in your aging years can lead to dementia, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.” Exercising and eating healthfully is the magic combo when it comes to keeping your waistline in check.
Late-life engagement in social activities is associated with a decreased risk of dementia.
Harvard Health suggests maintaining mental skills and memory by establishing and maintaining close ties with others.
Retirees should find a replacement for the interaction they no longer have co-workers. As US News points out, “Sitting alone at home will not help your mental acuity. You need to stay engaged, involved, and challenged.”
In addition to friends and relatives, caregivers, religious communities, and other organized groups like local senior centers can provide social support. But if you need ways to meet new people, try volunteering, signing up for a class, or joining a book club.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress, anxiety or depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating and other problems that disrupt daily activities.” Chronic stress can lead to health problems, including impaired cognitive function, and is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Combat stress using one of The Four Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention, yoga, and meditation.
Get enough sleep
Older adults need just as much sleep as their younger counterparts: 7-9 hours a night.
Sleep is critical to learning because if you haven’t gotten enough sleep it’s hard to focus. Sleep has a critical role in memory, as both REM and non-REM sleep are likely required for memory consolidation (aka filing your memories away).
Going to bed and rising at the same time daily, avoiding screens an hour before bed, exercise, and avoiding caffeine late in the day can all help you get a good night’s rest.
Listen to music
University of Central Florida professors, neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya and world-renowned violinist Ayako Yonetani, teach a class called Music and the Brain which explores how music impacts brain function, including “improving cognitive and motor skills, spatial-temporal learning, and neurogenesis, which is the brain’s ability to produce neurons.”