People used to think, rather pessimistically, that as you aged, your brain slowed down and it became harder to learn. Losing cognitive ability seemed inevitable, improvement a lost cause. Although your brain ages with your body, and that does pose some challenges, new research in neuroscience is showing this fatalistic mentality is misplaced – there are actually lots of ways to keep your brain healthy as you grow old, and even improve it.
1. Exercise Your Body
Healthy living tips often point out that physical activity prevents heart disease, keeps your body in shape, and has a whole host of other physical benefits, but did you know it also plays a role in improving brain health? A study of over 1,000 New Yorkers looked at how exercise was associated with memory and cognitive abilities. According to Time, the five-year study revealed that those who worked out regularly slowed their brain’s aging by as much as 10 years. Although this study didn’t show exercise could be used to reverse aging, it definitely adds weight to the idea exercise can be used to keep your brain healthy.
2. Exercise Your Brain
Although working out your body will boost brain health, that’s not the only exercise you need if you want to keep your brain young. You need to keep your brain active, too. The Alzheimer Association recommends to keep learning, playing strategy-based games, and reading challenging material. Even though you might associate school with childhood or young adults, continuing to take classes throughout your life, or when you’re retired, will give your brain the workout it needs to stay healthy throughout your life and stave off dementia.
3. Eat Right
Many people have sworn by the Mediterranean diet, but new evidence from the Columbia University Medical Center proves it’s not a fluke – out of 700 people, those who ate lots of fruits and veggies, nuts, whole grains and “good” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats were much healthier according to the Cleveland Clinic. Brain scans actually showed that those on the Mediterranean diet had more white and grey matter, so they’re more likely to have better muscle control and sharper senses.
This isn’t the only diet that’s been improving brain health. According to the Huffington Post, those concerned about healthy living can also follow a diet called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) or a mix between this and the Mediterranean called MND. In any case, all follow common healthy living tips, like eating foods that are more natural while avoiding bad fats like butter and cheese as well as processed foods like fast food and sweets.
4. Build Social Ties
Having few social connections can get isolating with age, and no one wants to be lonely, but cultivating social bonds may do more than make us feel fulfilled and loved. An article published in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services looked at several studies related to social engagement and cognitive abilities in later life. The evidence adds up, having a supportive group of people around, even if you don’t always engage them, can be enough to reduce cognitive decline. If improving brain health even further is a priority- and why wouldn’t it be- you should go a step further and stay active in your social network by regularly participating in activities. That means you can simply spend time with your family and friends, or even other people by volunteering or anything else that gets you to interact with others.
5. Master New Skills
When you’re young, everything is new and stimulating, but adults, especially older ones, have already found their niche and settled in. It’s not that they’ve discovered and done everything, it’s just that they’re comfortable with the routine. However, improving brain health means breaking out of that safety bubble and putting yourself out there again to explore new things. A study of 200 people tested whether learning new and challenging skills could improve memory. The study compared memory in people who learned how to quilt or use digital photography against a control group that just met to chat, do simple puzzles, or listen to classical music according to NPR. The more challenging the skill, the more their memory improved.
Protecting your brain as you age should be a top priority, especially since using skills, memory, and training makes up such a big part of a person’s identity. Also, there are many supplements for memory which can be of use. Unfortunately, just like most things in life, the time-tested phrase use it or lose it seems to apply. If you aren’t actively engaging your brain or your body, it starts to wear down and stop performing the way it used to. Luckily, by following these healthy living tips designed to improve brain health, your brain will remain sharp throughout the years.