This is the first in a series of four articles in our Fall Into Better Health series.
Maintaining our health as we age ensures wellness, happiness, and longevity. Through routine checks of our blood pressure, heart, eyes, and even bones, doctor visits are a must, but we tend to forget about checking in on one critical part: Our brain. The good news, however, is that there are many ways to ensure it stays healthy and sharp, and with the new discoveries surrounding brain aging, there are many important reasons.
In a 2015 study, “SuperAgers,” which are individuals in their 80s or older who exhibit cognitive function that is comparable to that of an average middle-aged individual, were the focus of in-depth brain research. Conducted by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, the study compared SuperAgers with a control group of same-age individuals. They found that the brains of SuperAgers shrunk at a slower rate than their age-matched peers, resulting in greater resistance to the typical memory loss observed with age.
The takeaway? Age-related cognitive decline is not inevitable. Here are some ways you can help to prevent it from happening to you:
Keeping your brain active starts with keeping your body active. Why? Because consistent physical activity results in the increased oxygen intake needed to maintain blood flow to the brain. This not only helps your body perform optimally, it also reduces your risk for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Just 15-30 minutes a day can go a long way, so whether you prefer walking outside or creating your own little “gym” at home, a daily routine that includes small bursts of cardio or light weights for strength training will prove beneficial. Dancing has also shown to have an anti-aging effect on the brain of seniors. A study conducted by the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases found that while regular exercise can reverse the signs of brain aging, the most profound effect was seen in people who danced.
Walking. Fishing. Golfing. Gardening. There are a number of low impact outdoor activities that offer significant brain health benefits. Nature walks, for example, have memory-promoting effects that other types of walks don’t. In a study conducted by the University of Michigan, students were given a brief memory test, then divided into two groups. One group took a walk around an arboretum, and the other took a walk down a city street. When the participants returned and did the test again, those who had walked among trees did almost 20% better than they had the first time. The people who had taken in city sights instead did not consistently improve. Gardening is another less strenuous activity that can offer more benefits. Zen gardens are a great option and continue to rise in popularity by offering a peaceful and stress-free environment that can reduce anxiety levels and even alleviate mental discomfort associated with some diseases.
It’s no surprise that socializing is hugely important for your overall well-being, but it may also lower the risk of cognitive decline. In research published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 217 men and women ages 63-89 were tracked while taking part in a Harvard Aging Brain Study, a trial aimed at identifying early signs of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers assessed seniors' levels of social engagement (such as spending time with family and doing volunteer work) and their mental cognitive function at the start of the study, as well as an assessment three years later. Among seniors with high levels of amyloid beta, the findings showed that those with lower levels of social engagement at the start had greater mental decline after three years compared to those who were socially active. So whether you’re interested in joining a new club, playing games with friends or thinking about volunteering in your community, finding ways to interact with new people will help to increase your physical, emotional, and cognitive health.
As you get older, the foods you eat can affect your mind just as much as your body, as shown in this recent study surrounding superfoods that boost brainpower, or “brain foods.” When it comes to choosing the right options, it’s important to think about healthy vitamins and antioxidants that can help protect your heart and blood vessels, such as nuts and berries, fatty fish, green leafy vegetables and tea and coffee. And incorporating a healthier menu might be easier than you think. Whether you’re doing your own shopping or enjoying the convenience of a home-delivery meal service to get the nutrition you need, these foods are easy to find, and fortunately, even easier to consume.
Memory lapses happen from time to time, but significant memory loss doesn’t have to be a normal - or accepted - part of aging. These tips are just a few ways you can start sharpening your mind, along with plenty of sleep and rest. Continually challenging yourself through small, simple activities, or more daunting situations or tasks is another approach to help keep your brain active.
Looking for a good challenge*? We include one in every post of this four-part blog series so that you can start today!
Participating in arts and crafts is one of the easiest ways to stimulate your mind and hone in on creative skills you may not typically use. So this week, pick one new activity, or even an old skill you used to have mastered, and give it a go. Think needlepoint, knitting, woodworking, painting, creating a scrapbook, or just coloring with grandchildren – anything to keep your mind stimulated and get those creative juices flowing!