Aging brings with it its own set of worries, but perhaps nothing worries people more than the idea of cognitive decline. AARP found that three-quarters of people aged 40 and up are concerned about their brain health declining as they age, but cite a lack of time as a main reason for not engaging in healthy brain activities like eating better and getting exercise.
Just like your body needs exercise and proper nutrition to stay healthy, so does your mind. Sure, exercise releases hormones that make us feel great, but all that activity also helps to encourage a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.
“We know that physical exercise is crucial for maintaining good blood flow to the brain, reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, but it also helps protect against the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” explained Jennifer Brush, MA, CCC/SLP.
Researchers from the King’s College in London measured the leg strength of women aged 43 to 73 and found those with stronger legs were able to think, learn and remember better than their weaker counterparts. They also found they had fewer brain changes associated with aging after 10 years of measurement. What’s more, the largest muscles of the body can be found in the legs and can be easily exercised through walking or activities like light aerobics.
Ways to Increase Brain Health
In addition to exercise, several other activities can help you maintain or improve brain health.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends eating a heart-healthy diet—one lower in fats and higher in vegetables and fruits—to help promote brain health. This means:
- Limiting red meat
- Consuming healthy fats like olive oil
- Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Consuming whole grains
Staying mentally and socially active can also benefit brain health. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests exposing yourself to new topics and challenging material. These can include:
- Strategy or high-level reading material
- Taking education courses
- Learning a new language or how to play a new instrument
- Staying socially active through clubs or volunteering
Reducing stress also is good for brain health and overall well-being. Brush recommends keeping a journal, taking time to relax and remembering to laugh as ways to help reduce stress.
Maintaining brain health doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By making a few healthful changes, getting adequate exercise, taking time for yourself and challenging your mind, you can easily take steps to maintain your cognitive function.