16 Ways To Maintain Brain Function As You Age
No matter how healthy we are, our physical and mental faculties begin to decline as we get on in years. Some of these changes begin to occur when we reach middle age. To combat this, most of us focus on continuing to do physical exercises to keep our bodies fit and in good shape. However, we often fail to realize that our brains should also be given the same attention. Just as our body starts to deteriorate without proper maintenance, so does our brain.
According to clinical psychologist Dara Schwartz of the Santa Mesa Vista Hospital in San Diego, you can give your mind a good workout without having to go to the gym just by doing some everyday activities and utilizing the ordinary things you have at your disposal.
This recommendation is also supported by Ruth Curran, a brain injury survivor and author of “Being Brain Healthy”. By engaging in these beneficial activities, your mind will stay healthy and alert and you can retain most of your cognitive abilities as you age.
Here are some effective strategies you can incorporate into your daily pursuits that will help sustain brain health through the years:
1. Learn new complicated things.
Dr. Schwartz suggests doing a sort of “circuit training” for the brain wherein the more complicated and challenging the activity is, the better it is for your brain. Some of these include learning how to fix a car if you don’t have a high aptitude for machines or memorizing the lines of a poem for those who are not so eloquent.
2. Create a new approach to routine activities.
Aside from learning new things, it also helps to keep our brain active when we put a variation to the usual way that we do routine activities. Ruth Curran suggests weaving back and forth instead of keeping a straight line while walking, or walking on curbs rather than the sidewalk. We stimulate our brain when we require it to perform a deeply-ingrained task in a way that deviates from what is familiar.
3. Practice public speaking.
If you sometimes have difficulty recalling a word, that is a sign that your verbal fluency might be starting to decline. To help retain verbal fluency, Dr. Schwartz recommends engaging in public speaking. One way to practice this is to read about an unfamiliar topic and then talk about it for a few minutes. You don’t have to do your speech in front of an audience –you can do it alone. Speaking aloud is beneficial enough.
4. Do multi-sensory stimulation.
It is actually beneficial to the brain if a combination of 2 senses is being used when engaging in certain activities. An example of this is listening to music while cleaning, or sniffing a small bottle of essential oil while out for a walk. Integrating multiple senses can help develop new pathways for your brain.
5. Reminisce about the past.
Remembering past events can help develop memory and concentration. As an exercise to improve cognitive function, Dr. Schwartz recommends stimulating both long-term and short-term memory by picking a year of your life and recalling significant happenings that occurred during that particular year.
6. Show love and affection.
Forging emotional connections can stimulate the release of the feel-good hormone called oxytocin in the brain which is often minimized as we age. Touching, holding hands, or looking deeply into another person’s eyes are some of the ways that you can show affection through interaction with others.
7. Organize your mind.
Too much mental and sensory stimulation can overwhelm your brain. This can cause impaired memory and concentration. You can help improve your mental clarity by practicing mindfulness. For starters, you can perform single-sensation mindfulness by concentrating only on one of your senses for a minute a day. What can you hear, see, feel, taste, or smell? This exercise helps to enhance brain function.
8. Minimize stress.
Stress should also be minimized because it makes you secrete hormones that cause older brains to recover longer from emotional upset. Try to practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, or taking a warm bath.
9. Get enough sleep.
Ideally, it is best to sleep from 7 to 9 hours per night. Older people who do not get enough sleep tend to think slower and put themselves at higher risk for dementia. Moreover, some sleep medications can actually worsen cognitive problems. Try to practice some good bedtime routines such as doing some light reading or drinking warm milk to help prepare your body for sleep.
10. Avoid emotional disturbances.
Brain health can be adversely affected each time you undergo extreme emotional conditions such as anxiety or depression. When you are depressed, anxious, tired, or sleep-deprived, it makes you score lower on cognitive function tests. The best thing to do is to talk to your doctor, counselor, or any professional who can help get you the treatment you need for your condition.
11. Engage in physical exercise.
When you do physical exercise, it strengthens the blood vessels which helps to improve blood flow throughout your body, including the areas of your brain that control thought. Studies show that 15 to 30 minutes of daily physical exercise can help prevent or delay the development of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Blood carries vital oxygen and nutrients to your brain which is necessary for optimum brain health and development no matter what age you may be.
12. Avoid head injuries
Sometimes, old people unintentionally bump their heads or get hit by some thrown or falling objects. Apparently, even mild injuries to the head can increase the risk of cognitive impairment even without being diagnosed as a concussion. Repetitive head injury also increases the chances of having long-term brain issues.
13. Use your imagination
One way to exercise your brain is to use your imagination. For example, every time you’re out for a walk, try to guess the names of the plants, shrubs, and flowers that you encounter around the block or think about what color you’d like to paint your neighbor’s houses next door.
14. Change your diet.
Good nutrition does not only benefit your body as you get on in years –it also benefits your mind. Studies show that people who live in Mediterranean countries tend to have a longer lifespan and are at lower risk of developing dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment. This is attributed to their diet which consists mostly of fish, nuts, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables that are common to the region. Other foods that improve brain function are dark chocolate, turmeric, eggs, berries, whole grain, and green tea.
15. Get mental stimulation.
Utilizing all types of reading materials such as books, newspapers, and magazines can give your brain a boost and help in word recall. According to a study on aging done by the Mayo Clinic, engaging in cognitive activities like reading, solving math problems, doing crossword puzzles, drawing, and painting can actually generate new brain cells and prevent memory loss in the future by as much as 50%! You can also try to switch hands by using your less dominant hand for simple everyday tasks like writing or eating in order to stimulate the brain.
16. Develop social networks.
Mind games are an effective way of maintaining brain health but it is just as important to engage in social activities that help you keep your independence. Seniors who have built a strong social connection with others are found to have lower blood pressure, lower risk of developing dementia, and are likely to live longer. It’s time to be more active on online social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or join community groups with people of similar interests like dancing, gardening, cooking, or sewing.