Like any other major organ in your body, the brain fulfills vital tasks to keep you healthy and functioning every day. And, just like any other organ in your body, the brain has needs. While most people dread the effects of aging on memory, believing that mental decline is inevitable, most people can also keep their brain in good condition through the right combination of diet and cognitive exercises. To keep your mind sharp and healthy as you age, make sure to take good care of yourself and consider the following tips recommended by Prevention.
Eat more fish – According to research done by Martha Clare Morris, ScD, an associate professor of internal medicine and epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center, people who consume fish at least once per week have a 60% lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, Morris found that a weekly seafood meal can slow cognitive decline by as much as 10% per year, effectively turning back time by three or four years. Ever heard of omega-3 fish oil? Thanks to DHA, a type of omega-3 prevalent both in the brain and in fish such as tuna and salmon, your brain can stay stronger for longer periods of time.
Challenge your brain – Software-based brain training games are everywhere these days. Computerized cognitive training services often advertise themselves as a means of improving memory and brain performance, but researchers remain wary. Whether these games offer significant improvements is up for debate, but experts still recommend real-world brain exercises. The brain craves novelty and challenge. Simple tasks like memorizing a grocery list, learning a musical instrument, doing math problems in your head, training hand-eye coordination with painting, or learning a foreign language can all sharpen your mental skills according to John E. Morley, MD, director of St. Louis University’s Division of Geriatric Medicine.
Stay social – Humans are social animals, and even in our modern society, everyone should maintain social connections – regardless of age. In fact, one University of Michigan study found that simply ten minutes of talking to another person can improve memory and performance on tests. According to Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, “In our study, socializing was just as effective as more traditional kinds of mental exercise in boosting memory and intellectual performance.” In addition to boosting memory capacities, regular social activity reduces cortisol, a known stress hormone. There are dozens of benefits for seniors to stay social, and plenty of ways to do so, as explained in our blog on staying social.
Exercise regularly* – Just as one might expect, maintaining a healthy body will also help to maintain a healthy mind. From losing weight to lowering blood pressure, to keeping your heart healthy, there are potentially infinite reasons to exercise, and many of them involve mental health. In a study done by researchers at the University of British Colombia, it was found that regular aerobic exercise appears to increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain relevant in learning and verbal memory. Furthermore, exercise stimulates growth factors that affect the growth of new blood vessels, the health of existing brain cells, and the survival and abundance of new brain cells. With one new case of dementia detected every four seconds across the globe, it is imperative to protect your mental health as soon as possible.
Sleep is paramount – We all feel rested after a good night’s sleep. While the exact mechanisms are not yet known, multiple studies suggest that both the quality and the quantity of sleep can have a significant impact on memory and learning. When a person becomes sleep deprived, their focus, attentiveness, and vigilance wane as their overworked neurons fail to coordinate information and access memories. Poor quality of sleep can also put a damper on one’s mood, which subsequently affects one’s ability to acquire new information and then remember that information. Sleep deprivation affects everyone in a variety of ways, but research indicates that a good night’s rest has a significant impact on memory and learning.