Maintaining the health of your brain as you age is just as important as staying physically fit. In fact, many studies show that brain fitness can play an important role in warding off dementia. According to the Center for the Longevity of the Brain, more than 24 million people are living with this disease, so the stakes are high. The good news is that there are easy and fun ways to keep your brain sharp. Some simple lifestyle adjustments and engaging activities can make a world of difference in brain health!
Eating a healthy balanced diet is always important, but for brain health, it is essential. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins is an excellent place to start. Eating a healthy diet can also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and other health conditions that contribute to cognitive decline.
Martha Clare Morris, ScD, an associate professor of internal medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, has found that a diet that incorporates one meal a week high in omega-3 fatty acids can slow cognitive decline by 10% each year. Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that are also called “good fats.” Our bodies need this type of fat in order to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Some of the best natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish, nuts and flax seed.
In addition to diet, physical exercise is important for a healthy body and a healthy mind. Two studies presented at the 2011 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris suggest that that exercise can protect one’s brain against mental decline and promote brain health. Exercising four to five times a week for at least 30 minutes is preferable. Simply going for a brisk walk or even exercising from a seated position will yield measurable benefits. Remember that it is important to check with your doctor before starting any new physical exercise program.
Brain Health Can Be Fun!
Exercising your brain is just as important as exercising the rest of your body. Effective brain exercise includes reading a book (preferably aloud), engaging in a favorite hobby, doing simple arithmetic or learning a new skill. Hosting a game night, doing a crossword puzzle, playing card games, learning to dance or play an instrument are just a few other suggestions. The brain is like a muscle and the more it is used, the stronger it will be! Promoting brain health can be fun.
Interestingly, another important way to support the brain health is through social interaction. Research supports the notion that social interaction plays a positive role in one’s cognitive abilities and overall health. According to the National Institute on Aging, “Several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults, [while] social isolation may have significant adverse effects for older adults.” In other words, stay in touch. Online social networking has its benefits, but nothing beats the lasting impact of in-person socializing.
Another good way to stay in touch is to volunteer. Meeting new people and starting new friendships can be exciting and may give you a renewed sense of purpose. See how your skills may be a perfect match for local volunteer opportunities at www.createthegood.com.
The trick is to be open-minded and willing to make an effort to stay engaged with your body and your brain. Getting started is often the hardest part of making even minor changes to your daily routine. Stimulating your brain activity to help keep your mind sharp can be as simple as engaging in something that incorporates one or more of your senses such as gardening or attending a concert.
For more information on brain health research, go to the DANA Foundation website www.dana.org or the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke . You can also find out more about AARP’s Staying Sharp initiatives at www.aarp.org.
Brain health can be fun. Keeping your brain fit, engaged and active now can help you maintain mental alertness throughout your life.
Jane Margesson, AARP Maine Communications Director