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How To Become Mentally Strong: Protecting Your Brain as You Age

posted: 08/24/17
by: Katie Morton
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Aging is an inevitable part of the human experience. None of us have the power to turn back the clock or slow down the march of time. One issue many older people face is the decline of memory and overall brain health. The good news is that medical research shows that lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on protecting our brains from the negative effects of aging.

1. Mentally Strong Tip #1: Maintain a Brain-Healthy Diet

Medical research provides compelling evidence about how dietary choices can impact brain health and longevity. Certain food choices are associated with improving cognitive function and lowering risks of dementia.

The "MIND" Diet (Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet) has shown exceptional promise in reducing cognitive impairment in older populations. In fact, research has shown that those who adhered to the MIND diet lowered their later risk of developing dementia in the form of Alzheimer's diseases by almost 53 percent. Those who didn't adhere to the complete MIND diet still reduced their risk by 35 percent.

For more on the cognitive-protective benefits of the MIND diet--and how you can add these foods to your daily menu--check out How to Fight Alzheimer's With Your Diet.

2. Mentally Strong Tip #2: Never Stop Learning

Your brain is like a muscle. As with any other muscle, the brain needs to be exercised regularly in order to stay in fighting shape. One common problem many older people face is finding a way to stay cognitively challenged and connected after they're retired from their professional careers.

The advent of online learning means that you can learn a new skill, trade, hobby, or just dabble in topics that interest you from your own living room. It may surprise you to learn that some Ivy League schools even offer online courses. The best news: Harvard Extension School Open Learning Program offers FREE online courses taught by Harvard professors. Learn more about how to enroll and take a look at what courses are offered on Harvard's website.

3. Mentally Strong Tip #3: Nourish Your Spirit

We've covered your body and mind... Now, what about your spirit? Nourishing your spirit is simply a matter of making time to enjoy the activities which bring you joy. Whatever makes your heart sing is something you should dedicate time and energy towards doing.

Here are some ideas for how to nourish your spirit for a healthier brain:

  • Volunteer in your community
  • Spend time with your children or grandchildren
  • Adopt a companion animal
  • Cultivate an appreciation of the arts by attending a local play or art exhibit
  • Learn a new hobby (playing an instrument, painting, or gardening are all ways to keep your brain engaged)
  • Learn computer skills (many community colleges offer classes for adult learners)
  • Spend time in nature (walking, fishing, boating and camping outdoors have been shown to boost mood and lower rates of depression).
  • Visit and explore new places

4. Mentally Strong Tip #4: Cultivate Your Social Ties

Many people find the hardest part of aging is losing cherished connections. Part of staying mentally strong involves staying connected with your family, friends, and social network.

According to the National Alliance on Mental illness more than 6.5 million seniors are diagnosed with depression. When your brain is depressed, it may not be working to its full potential--memory, mood, sleep, and energy levels are all impacted by depression.

It may not shock you to learn that loneliness can impact your risk of developing depression. But you may be surprised to learn that ongoing loneliness can also depress your immune systems and increase your chance of heart disease.

 

How can you stay connected? Find ways to be part of family gatherings, stay active at your religious center, or volunteer in your community. Making an effort to stay connected and cultivate social ties will benefit both your brain and your overall good health.

5. Mentally Strong Tip #5: Workout Your Body to Keep Your Mind Fit

Research has shown that physical exercise is crucial to maintaining an active, healthy mind. Consistent exercise can boost reasoning and memory. That's right; new brain cells!

The good news is that you don't need to train for a marathon to keep your brain and body in fighting shape. Strive for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise each day to significantly boost your overall health.

Growing older doesn't mean that your brain needs to slow down. Lifestyle, diet, social support, and activity levels can all help you keep your brain fit and healthy. No matter how many candles you have on your next birthday cake, you can take steps now to protect your brain for better overall cognitive ability and long-term health.

For more tips on protecting your brain as you age, visit The Dana Foundation's Successful Aging & Your Brain.