Although there isn't a magic fix that can prevent you from experiencing cognitive decline as you age, there are plenty of steps you can take to keep your brain sharp. Here's what you can do to modify your lifestyle and support your brain health.
1. Challenge Your Brain
Studies have shown that a higher level of education is associated with better brain function in old age. Although this doesn't mean that you need to pursue a Ph.D., it does mean that you should consistently challenge your brain with mental exercises. This stimulates connection among neurons in the brain and helps keep them active.
Whether you decide to practice a hobby, learn a new skill or volunteer, there are plenty of ways to improve mental acuity as you age. Colleges and senior centers offer inexpensive lectures for older adults, which can include photography, computer skills or foreign language. You can also pick up a musical instrument, which has been shown to improve memory function in older adults.
You probably already know that exercising is great for your physical health, but did you also know that it can benefit your brain as well? One study discovered that engaging in aerobic exercise increased the size of the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Doctors generally agree that you can see optimal benefits with 30 minutes of exercise a day. This can include running, brisk walking, biking, hiking or swimming. If you're having trouble motivating yourself to exercise, try recruiting a friend or family member to join you. Not only can they make the event more enjoyable, but they can also hold you accountable for exercising every day.
3. Eat a Nutritious Diet
Although it can be difficult to stay away from processed and sugary foods, your brain will thank you for eating a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods contain a plethora of vitamins and minerals, which nourish the brain and provide natural anti-inflammatory benefits. The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest options due to its emphasis on fresh produce, legumes, poultry and fish. Not only can adhering to a Mediterranean diet improve cognitive function, but it can also reduce the risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
4. Get Enough Sleep
You can't expect your brain to function at its best when you're not providing it with the rest that it needs. Although the amount of sleep your body needs depends on many factors, it's generally recommended that adults get seven to nine hours a night. In addition to keeping your brain sharp, getting a good night's rest can also enhance your mood, boost your immune system and allow you to control your weight.
If you're having trouble sleeping at night, be sure to:
- Maintain a consistent bedtime
- Power off electronics at least one hour before bed
- Turn down your thermostat
- Avoid eating or exercising for four hours before bedtime
5. Pick Up a Book
In a study published by the journal Neurology, researchers found that reading later in life lowered the rate of memory decline by 32%. Reading activates many brain functions, including phonemic awareness, visual processes and comprehension. Similar to engaging in a hobby or learning something new, reading activates your brain and encourages communication among neurons.
If you want to make reading a habit, set aside time each day to pick up a book, magazine or newspaper. Be sure to only read what you enjoy and don't force yourself to finish something if you're not interested. You can also join a book club to motivate yourself to read more often.
Although cognitive decline is often associated with aging, it doesn't have to be if you take steps to improve your brain function. Implementing these five tips into your daily routine can help your brain stay in optimal condition as you age.
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