American poet Robert Frost once said, “The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.” As we age, the health of our brains can be challenged by memory loss, cognitive disorders and diseases that threaten senior independence and self-sufficiency. Many studies have shown that stimulating environments, exercise and a healthy diet all play a role in brain function.
It takes work to keep a complex organ such as your brain in optimum condition. Simple, yet effective changes in lifestyle can help keep your brain running right for many years to come.
Time for Change. By the time you reach retirement age, your brain has mastered many tasks, many of which have become habit and routine. According to Dr. Michael Roizen, author of You: The Owner’s Manual, change is vital to brain health. Following the same routine every day will not stimulate your hippocampus-the part of the brain most responsible for memory. To keep your mind active, try to vary your routine at work or at home. Changing your habits, altering your environment, making new friends, having different conversations, listening to different music, and trying new foods are all great ways to bring change to your life.
Think More. Don’t let your brain get bored. Stimulate it with lots of new, refreshing information. Read articles, visit museums, learn a new language or take up a new hobby. A study by the National Institutes of Health/Institute on Aging, found that certain mental exercises can offset some of the expected decline in older adults’ thinking skills and show promise for maintaining cognitive abilities needed to do everyday tasks such as shopping, making meals and handling finances. Cognitive decline is known to pave the way toward loss of functional ability in older adults, therefore, mental stimulation becomes more important as we age.
Exercise. According to the National Institute on Aging, belly fat may be bad for your brain. A number of studies have suggested that excess body fat, especially around the mid-section, may increase the risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, later in life. Many experts agree that aerobic exercise has the greatest benefit in terms of helping your brain stay young. You can promote healthy blood flow to the brain by doing at least 2-3hours of moderate aerobic activity each week.
Eat Healthy Foods. Diet has been identified as having an important influence on cognitive abilities. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that dietary factors can affect multiple brain processes by regulating neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission, and membrane fluidity. The study found that diets rich in Oemga-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as salmon and walnuts, slowed the decline of cognitive functioning in the elderly. In addition, the study found that B vitamins, as well as vitamins D and E, have shown positive effects on memory performance and preserving cognition in the elderly. In other words, eating right and maintaining a healthy weight means a better chance at having a healthy brain.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Human beings are social creatures. The brain is designed to interact with others and derives great benefit from close relationships. The American Journal of Public Health recently reported that older women who maintained large social networks reduced their risk of dementia and delayed or prevented cognitive impairment. When you’re happy, your brain is happy. However, when you’re stressed or depressed, your brain releases a chemical called cortisol, which can attack the cells in the hippocampus, where memories are formed. Hence, it will do you good to make new friends, call an old friend and interact with others.
It has been said that the brain can be our best friend, or our worst enemy. It depends on what we do with it. Diet, exercise and other aspects of our daily interaction with the environment have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function, enhance cognitive abilities, and counteract the effects of aging.