A decline in cognitive functions is a normal part of aging. While vocabulary, for example, doesn’t change or even improves with age. Other abilities, such as reasoning, processing, attention, and memory, inevitably worsen. This is more pronounced in patients with dementia or a mild cognitive impairment (MCI) but is not strictly reserved for them. The valuable Seattle Longitudinal Study reported that cognitive decline is rarely present before the age of 60, while it is present in all subjects and almost all measured abilities by the age of 74.
This is important now and will be even more important in the future. It is projected that the number of people over 65 will double by 2050. Medicine has advanced and enabled us to live longer mostly by finding ways to manage physical diseases and disabilities. With a decline in cognitive health, however, that long life may be of poor quality.
And while the parole “use it or lose it” stands for almost every aspect of physical health, the same can hardly be said when it comes to cognitive health. The latter one has a great deal of inherited characteristics involved, and these cannot be changed, no matter how hard and how much your brain is being used.
However, some lifestyle changes are scientifically proved to be helpful and effective when it comes to keeping a sharp mind at an old age. Here’s a list of them for you to try!
Be Physically Active
Being physically active is of great importance for maintaining physical health; it prevents and modifies diseases of the heart and lungs, strengthens muscles, improves balance, and exerts positive effects on the mood. But, did you know that higher levels of daily physical activity were also associated with better cognition?
It would be optimal to practice moderate aerobic exercises for half an hour each day. However, if you haven’t been very active recently, it would be better to start low and go slow. Going for walks regularly is good to start with, and you can gradually increase the intensity of your activities as your strength and fitness improves. Ask a doctor for advice – they could make you a personalized exercise program.
Some studies suggest that practicing yoga is especially beneficial. Join a yoga class; that might be an excellent way to exercise and make friends at the same time, too!
Train Your Brain
In 2003, a study by Verghese and colleagues showed that people who participate in leisure activities, such as reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments, and even dancing, are at a lower risk for dementia. Others even point out the particular benefits of playing chess and bridge in these terms.
Even though many other studies found no significant long-term cognition improvement, it is still recommended to participate in your favorite fun, time-killing activities as much as possible. You’ll surely see improvement at least in some aspects of functioning, memory, for example.
Another great way to keep a sharp mind is by having a hobby, and so is volunteering. It was proven that formal volunteering is perfect for working memory and processing. And, since all the listed activities will also bring you fun and quality time, there is no reason not to start discovering your favorite ones today!
Keep Your Friends Close
Participating in social activities is essential for the health and wellbeing of seniors. While social deprivation was associated with depression and physical diseases, a rich social life was, among other things, associated with better cognition and better life quality.
Visit your friends and family, take part in a sport or a hobby group, join a community program, and engage in the world around you. You will live longer, be happier, and have a mind as sharp as a steel trap.
Manage the Chronic Conditions
Did you know that proper management of chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes mellitus, may lead to better cognition? It probably seems unusual, but it’s not – all the listed conditions damage the blood vessels. Blood vessel damage deprives neurons of nourishment and oxygen, leading to loss of cognitive function.
Therefore, apart from being crucial for physical health, following the doctor’s advice and treating chronic conditions properly is significant for brain health. And if you don’t have any condition diagnosed, make sure not to miss the regular screening check-ups.
Diet modifications are an unavoidable part of treating almost every chronic condition nowadays. You’ve probably heard of the famous DASH and Mediterranean diets, which are widely advised for patients with high blood pressure, and patients with diabetes. Both are beneficial for the brain, although they were not primarily intended for this purpose.
These two diets were later modified and conjoined to form a diet specially designed to promote brain health and prevent dementia. The newly made diet was named MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), and its efficacy has been proved in many studies. Not only does it slow down cognitive decline with aging, but it also reduces the incidence of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and is also beneficial for those who suffered a stroke.
Among other things, the MIND diet encourages eating vegetables and fruits, especially green leafy vegetables and berries. Nuts are also welcome to the table while eating meat, especially red, is not desirable. Fish, on the other hand, should be eaten at least once a week (or more, if you like fish, though it did not bring any extra benefit). When possible, olive oil should replace every other fat. To complete the dinner, you can savor a single glass of wine.
Highly processed, fatty, and sugary food is forbidden.
Things to Avoid
Apart from the already mentioned highly-processed food and poor diet, here is a shortlist of other things to avoid for a brilliant aging mind:
- Sedentary, inactive lifestyle
- Medicines that worsen cognitive function such as benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, or certain antipsychotics
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Sleep deprivation
- Social isolation
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