It’s clear that certain mental health issues, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, are tied to age. However, an increasing amount of research is being devoted to the link between cognitive or “brain” health and these mental issues. Keeping the mind active appears to have many benefits for seniors, including helping to prevent such mental issues later in life. Find out more about how seniors can boost their brain health through simple exercises and activities.
How Aging Affects the Brain
Just as seniors need to pay special attention to their physical health, it’s also important for them to take care of their cognitive health. Impairments in brain health can have very serious consequences for an older adult, especially if it causes them to become injured or lose their ability to take care of themselves. Cognitive decline is associated with aging, but it can often be prevented or slowed down through regular mental stimulation.
You might think that the only way to keep your brain healthy is by trying to learn new things. In fact, that’s just one of many ways that seniors can boost their brain health. Here are some of the important brain-healthy habits that all older adults should try to adopt:
- Eat a healthy diet: Did you know that certain foods are actually good for your brain? Dark vegetables and fruits, for example, contain antioxidants which are thought to protect brain cells. Beans, nuts, spices and whole grains offer the same benefits. In general, a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is the way to go. Make sure you have your cholesterol levels tested regularly since high cholesterol is linked to stroke and brain cell damage. (Also read: Longevity Diet: Amazing Foods For Better Health & Longer Life.)
- Be physically active: Exercising and engaging in other physical activities is essential for maintaining proper blood flow to your brain. It also encourages the growth of new brain cells. When you stay physically fit, you decrease your risk for health conditions like heart attack, stroke and diabetes which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Be socially active: The research shows again and again that social interaction is vital to brain health. There are lots of ways to stay in touch with others. You could volunteer or join a group or travel, for example. Whatever you do, focus on forming and maintaining close personal relationships that provide emotional support.
- Relax: While most methods for brain health focus on activity, it’s also important to take time to relax. Studies show that stress (particularly chronic stress) can disturb cognitive function.
Ways to Keep Your Mind Active
Using the brain-healthy habits above is a great start to improving cognitive health. However, it’s important that you also find new ways to challenge your mind as you age. This is great way to keep brain cells active and connected while also forming new brain cells.
There are plenty of methods and techniques you can use to keep your mind active. Below are a few suggestions for boosting your brain health with challenging and stimulating activities:
- Take a class to learn something new – many community colleges and adult education centers offer great courses for seniors (wine tasting, knitting, language classes, etc.)
- Do a variety of puzzles – crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, etc.
- Try some memory exercises
- Play games – card games, board games or even video games
- Read books about unfamiliar topics
- Pick up a new hobby – learn an instrument, start a garden, etc.
- Play a sport – golf and tennis are two great options for seniors
- Build or create something
- Attend lectures, plays and other similar events
Benefits of Boosting Brain Health
One of the most important reasons to keep the mind active and challenged is to stave off mental conditions that could alter a senior’s lifestyle. However, it’s important to note that genetics and other factors beyond our control do play a part in determining whether and how these mental issues affect us. While there’s no sure way to prevent conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia, research suggests that taking steps to improve brain health can reduce a senior’s risk for these types of cognitive impairments.
Helping to prevent disease isn’t the only thing that better brain health does for seniors, however. There are many advantages to staying mentally fit, and seniors can experience all or some of these based on how they choose to keep their mind active. Many find that learning new skills and trying brain games and puzzles helps them to gain self-confidence and enrich their lives. Meanwhile, others reap the social benefits of joining groups or clubs to keep their brain in top form. Still others find that their feelings of stress, loneliness or anxiety are reduced by engaging in new activities like these. Of course, those who choose to eat right and exercise also get the physical benefits of keeping their brain healthy.
Seniors are becoming more and more aware of how their brain health affects their daily living. Use the brain-healthy habits and methods for staying mentally active described above to ensure that you live a full, healthy life as you transition into your golden years.