Age is a state of mind, at least to a degree. As people begin to grow older, however, many fear that their mental capacity inevitably will decline. The thought of the mind becoming weaker can be even more frightening than the potential loss of physical ability.
But are memory lapses and other mental issues associated with old age truly unavoidable? As it turns out, no. If certain proactive steps are taken, the brain is much more resistant to the effects of age than usually is supposed. Here are a few recommended ways to keep the brain young.
- Try new things. At any age it’s easy to get stuck into the same old routine and fall into boredom. But as you age, it’s even more important to actively work against this by regularly seeking out new things to do in life. Expand your horizons, be spontaneous, say “yes” to everything, no matter how out-of-character it might seem.
The brain responds positively to fresh experiences. New things naturally challenge the brain in unfamiliar ways, which helps to preserve the brain’s youthful adaptability. While it might be a stereotype that older folks hopelessly are stuck in their ways, there’s no reason for that to be true. It is always possible, at any age, to try a different hobby, visit a new place or participate in another sort of novel activity.
- Stay socially connected. Retirement is not the time to become isolated – especially since social contact is critical to keeping the brain agile and strong. Researchers have found that seniors with a strong network of close friends and family are much less likely to experience significant mental decline. That’s probably because emotional health is important to brain function – depressed people, for example, are likelier to suffer from cognitive deterioration.
In addition, instead of always mixing with the same circle of friends, you should make an effort to meet new people. New friends give you new perspectives and insights, and it will stop your thinking from falling into predictable patterns.
- Learn. The brain needs to be kept active through learning. A person who learns something is providing the brain with a valuable challenge. Learning fights cognitive slowdown by encouraging brain cells to communicate and form new connections with each other. Remaining inquisitive about life and the world as you age is important. By stretching yourself in new directions, your brain will keep the ability to make new neural connections easily, and the effects will be felt across your life.
Learning also helps the brain stay in strong, youthful form. For instance, don’t rely on younger relatives to handle computer and smartphone technology issues for you. Stay at least a little in touch with tech to help keep you grounded in this fast-moving world.
- Be active. Keeping the body in good shape is vital to maintaining cognitive strength. Scientists have found that regular exercise encourages the growth of new synapses in the brain. Synapses are critical to cognitive strength because they serve to connect brain cells to each other. In addition, working out helps increase the number of blood vessels that transport oxygen to critical areas of the brain.
A short walk in the sunshine will do far more to keep your mind sharp than planting yourself in front of the TV, particularly if it becomes a habit. People who take the time to invest in their physical health are happier and stronger than those who decide to watch the years go by, thinking of better times.
- Eat a healthy diet. Appetite often declines with age, but eating healthily isn’t about amount. Make sure your diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and as few processed, fatty, sugary products as possible, although treating yourself from time to time is perfectly fine. If you don’t eat well, your brain will lack the basic fuels it needs to operate at its peak.
Consuming fewer calories also is beneficial, since high caloric intake has been associated with greater cognitive decline. In addition, seniors should avoid smoking, drink only in moderation and get plenty of sleep.
- Strive for emotional well-being. Those with emotional issues do relatively poorly on tests of cognitive ability, it has been discovered. Whether it’s stress, anxiety, depression or another condition, emotional problems sap the brain of flexibility and youthfulness. Fortunately, there are many ways to become mentally healthier.
For example, stress can be fought through activities like yoga or meditation. Other emotional problems can be addressed through confiding in a friend or family member, or perhaps by visiting a therapist.
The brain is a whole lot more resilient than most people think. Cognitive abilities do not automatically degrade as the years pass by, so seniors should not accept mental decline as an inevitability.