You’re probably well aware that, like our bodies, our brains change as we get older, losing some of their mental sharpness. Memory, wisdom, decision-making, and learning are all capacities that may become duller with time, affecting our ability to manage everyday tasks such as making health care and financial decisions.
But the fact that cognitive aging is considered normal doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can do to combat it. The Institute of Medicine suggests the following six ways to protect your aging brain.
1. Stay Active
The very best way to prevent cognitive decline — and many other health issues — later on in life is to exercise regularly. Whether you’re skiing, swimming, practicing yoga, or doing something else entirely, the exercise will increase blood supply to your brain, which is important for healthy brain function.
2. Maintain Good Cardiovascular Health
Smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure are cardiovascular risk factors that damage the vessels in your brain, affecting the way that it will age. Some of these factors may be hereditary, but changing any unhealthy habits that contribute to them is crucial to reduce risks. Quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, and monitor your blood pressure.
3. Manage Medications
The medications you’re taking can impact your cognitive health, especially if you’re taking multiple, as they could be interacting with one another. Check with your doctor to ensure that you’re only taking what you really need to be to limit potential cognitive side effects.
4. Maintain Healthy Sleep Habits
A poor sleep schedule, such as napping during the day and not sleeping through the night, contributes to mental fogginess. These 10 tips for better sleep will help you improve your memory, focus better at work, and even drive more safely.
5. Stimulate Your Mind
You’ve probably heard that doing puzzles can help keep your brain sharp, and it’s not a joke. Engaging your brain is an effective way to protect it from aging; plus, it can be fun! Reading and participating in games and puzzles that require strategy (think along the lines of checkers, sudoku, and chess) all count as mental exercise. You can even download games on your phone or tablet that are designed to stimulate your brain. Just remember to perform these activities regularly, or you won’t see the benefits.
Social isolation has been linked to both poor mental health and cognitive decline, meaning that spending enough time around others is key. Spending time with family, volunteering, or participating in a religious or community group are all great options. You could even invest in your mental and physical health at the same time by joining a senior sports league.
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