Exercise: we know it’s so important to maintain our flexibility and agility, to keep our heart healthy, and our weight under control. But equally important as physical exercise is the need to exercise and sharpen our minds, especially as we age.
Decades ago, we used to believe that senility in older years was a given, and that no matter what we do, memory and brain function just decline. Although this may be true for persons afflicted with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, it is not true for the remainder of the elderly population. Studies have shown that the aging brain will continue to function at full-speed as long as it is exercised and cared for, say authors Alan D. Bragdon and David Gamon, Ph.D. “Use it or lose it!” they report, in their book by the same title.
Granted, the aging brain can and does show signs of mental slipping without a dementia diagnosis. You may notice more forgetfulness as you age, like forgetting where you left items, or not recalling the name of someone you recently met. And though people of all ages have normal momentary lapses in memory, it becomes concerning when degeneration and frequent lapses in short-term memory are noticed.
Often, though, the elderly just falsely assume that their brains are failing and give into the “inevitability.” This belief leads to practices that will reduce brain function with repetitive bad habits: watching TV all day, isolating, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and not setting goals or seeking new challenges. These habits harm every organ in the body, especially the brain. The good news is, much can be done to improve memory, and the sooner you begin, the greater the return.
Here are just 3 practices that, if developed into lifelong habits, will keep your brain thriving:
- Challenge Yourself with Something New Every Day.
Trying new experiences, learning new things, and challenging your mind with activities that are unfamiliar are excellent ways to keep your mind alert and agile. In older adults, the boost to mental acuity that comes with just short mental exercises can make a big difference. The confidence that comes from learning something new not only helps the synapses, it improves quality of life and problem-solving skills. Learning a new language is great for the brain, but even simpler tasks like memorizing poetry, doing a crossword puzzle, playing chess with the grandkids or planning the ins and outs of a vacation to an unfamiliar destination are all ways that will keep your mind active and sharp. Learning new things can significantly improve important everyday skills, like driving reaction times and memory. Mixing up your normal routine by shopping at a different store, taking another route home or changing habits regularly also helps to create new brain pathways and makes life interesting along the way.
- Brain Food Nurtures Neurons.
Make a point to plan your nutrition with your brain in mind! Maintaining a balanced, healthy diet is imperative to improving brain health. It has been shown that eating fresh fruit and vegetables, and foods loaded with antioxidants like fresh blueberries, plays an important role in memory function. Coffee, teas, and other caffeinated beverages have also been shown to help improve brain function. And, keeping an appropriate weight can be vital in maintaining brain health. Those who are overweight develop circulatory challenges and diseases like diabetes that degrade blood vessel nerve cells and adversely affect brain health.
- Physical Flexibility Promotes Mental Flexibility.
Really! Your brain health is connected to how physically fit and active you are, as exercise improves the circulatory system, including circulation to the brain. Researchers aren’t sure why, but there are also many memory benefits from exercise that are not linked to blood circulation. It may be because exercise helps to improve mood and decrease stress, thereby improving brain function. Any kind of regular exercise is helpful, even if it is as simple as alternating standing on one leg for 20 seconds.
Want more tips on helping older loved ones optimize both physical and mental health? Contact the Phoenix aging care experts at Nightingale Homecare!