The older you get, the more difficult it becomes to keep your brain active. But there are ways seniors can stay in shape mentally and even build new neural connections that will help them stay sharp later in life. Mental decline is just as damaging and difficult to cope with as physical decline, so it’s important to try and combat this as much as possible. How can you do this?
1. Stay Active
Exercise as a senior citizen is vital for the maintenance of brain health, and even more so for the prevention of cognitive decline with age. In a bid to stay sharp and limit brain atrophy later in life, seniors should take advantage of all types of brain-boosting exercise from walking to gardening. The benefits can be seen in the brain’s memory center and will vastly improve brain function even when you’re asleep. All types of physical activity are good, even just 30 minutes a day of slow movements can make a difference.
2. Use Puzzles and Memory Games
Whether you’re into puzzles or memory games, or both, they stimulate areas of the brain that are important for attention, concentration, and memory recall. For example, in one study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), participants were given a set of puzzles to do twice a week. These participants showed signs of reduced brain atrophy in certain areas of the brain. Another study by NCBI, showed that crossword puzzles might reduce the risk of cognitive decline via their effect on improving cognitive reserve.
Alternatively, there are certain ways to stimulate your brain beyond the classic tic-tac-toe or crossword puzzles. A study called Revitalizing the Aged Brain by Europe PMC, found that playing chess on a regular basis caused normal cognitive aging to slow down. Chess can also influence changes in the prefrontal cortex, which is where decision-making happens, and the white matter of the brain, which helps with problem-solving.
3. Brush Up On Your Social Skills
Seniors should make an effort to engage in one-on-one social interactions with other people because it improves communication skills and increases the connections between different areas of the brain. Added to this, being social helps prevent mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, both of which negatively impact the way your brain works. Overall, there are a great number of health benefits to staying social and interacting with others.
4. Read Fiction
Although it’s not clear why it’s so beneficial, reading fiction can help improve reading comprehension and memory recall. It is thought that this is probably because people who read a lot tend to have bigger vocabularies, which makes it easier for them to make connections between different types of words when exposed to a larger amount of written materials.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is critical to the prefrontal cortex function, which is responsible for both memory and executive functioning. One NCBI study, looked at the connection between not sleeping enough and cognitive decline. It’s also believed that cognitive impairment in people with insomnia is due to a lack of deep sleep.
6. Participate in Arts and Crafts
One of the best ways to stimulate the brain is through art. Being creative, activating your imagination, and seeing things differently all help keep your brain active. Regularly participating in arts and being creative also improves people’s ability to make decisions.
7. Deal with Stress
Stress can inhibit the release of hormones in the brain that help to support memory and learning. Stress will only ever affect you and your brain negatively, so find out how you best deal with your stress, whether that be seeking therapy or increasing your exercise.
8. Never Stop Learning
The brain is a “use it or lose it” organ, and this means that the more you challenge yourself to learn new things, the more healthy your brain is going to be. Learn something new every day, whether it’s a language, a musical instrument, or anything else that stimulates your brain. Remember that the older you get, the more it’s important to keep learning things that help you stay mentally fit and sharp.
9. Eat Brain-Boosting Foods
Specific nutrients can help you think better and improve your cognitive function. Dozens of studies have found that seniors who eat foods rich in omega-3 have been proven to be less likely to develop dementia, most likely due to the fact that DHA (a type of fatty acid) is involved in neuron communication. Seniors should take a high-quality fish oil supplement as well, which will help their brain function better and stay sharp. It’s important to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle that includes regular exercise, social interactions with those your own age, helping others, and performing arts and crafts. If you’re under a lot of stress then it’s important to find ways to cope with it to not become mentally frazzled.