We’ve all experienced it. You walk into a room and you can’t remember what you’re there for. You’re in the middle of a sentence and forget what you were saying. You can’t keep track of your phone or your car keys. You blank on the names of friends and acquaintances.
Usually, we try to laugh these embarrassing episodes off as senior moments, as if they’re just an inevitable part of aging — as if there’s really nothing we can do about it.
And sure, as you get older, you might slow down a bit. You might lose a step or two. But you’re not powerless. There are things you can do today to slow or even reverse age-related mental decline both for tomorrow and for years to come.
Why It Matters
It may not be exactly fun, but some loss of mental sharpness, or acuity, is to be expected as we get older. As the years go by, it may take longer to memorize new information. It may become more difficult to multitask. You might have a bit more trouble with recall.
But that doesn’t mean you’re over the hill. It just means you might need to work a little harder and be a little more strategic about your brain health. In fact, what’s true for the body is also true for the mind: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
On the Ball
Have you ever noticed that the busiest, most active, and most engaged people never seem to age? They can be 70, 80, 90 years old and as sharp as any fresh young college grad? It’s almost as if they don’t have time to get old.
There’s a lot of science to explain why. Whether you’re working or retired, simply being highly involved in activities you enjoy or feel passionately about will help your brain retain its plasticity. You’ll be better able to retain and use new information because you’re constantly learning and learning means creating new neural pathways. And this means that, literally and figuratively, you’re going to be firing on all circuits!
The benefits aren’t just in doing and learning new things. They also derive from the fact that when you’re active and engaged, you’re rarely alone. Being around other people, both professionally and socially, has been shown to improve cognitive function and even reduce the risk of dementia.
The Mind/Body Connection
Taking care of your brain as you age also means taking care of your body. Maintaining a consistent exercise routine not only will keep your body strong and flexible, but it will also support your cardiovascular health.
But healthy blood vessels do more than just reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. They also keep the brain well-supplied with the oxygen and nutrients it needs for peak performance.
To get the best brain-building boost from your exercise, try to switch up your routine with new physical challenges and experiences. Consider, for instance, taking a nature walk one day and going for a swim the next.
By alternating your fitness regime, you’re going to keep your brain guessing. You’re going to be calling on different neural pathways for different kinds of exercise, and the new movements, new sights, new sounds, new sensations you experience as you do that. The more pathways you build, and the more often you use them, the better your overall memory and processing will be.
Of course, you don’t have to sign up for the Ironman triathlon to enjoy the benefits of physical activity for brain health. If you’re still working, even something as simple as using a standing desk at the office or taking a walk while you eat your lunch can help you keep the blood flowing and the mind alert.
While you’re working to keep your brain healthy by keeping your body fit and strong, it’s also important to pay attention to nutrition. What you feed your body is every bit as important as what you feed your brain.
Avoiding processed foods and favoring instead a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables isn’t just good for your heart, it’s also great for boosting brain performance. Not surprisingly, the much-celebrated Mediterranean diet has been shown to be especially helpful in slowing, or even preventing, cognitive decline.
Our brains are our greatest resource. Your mind is truly the core of who you are. Yet it’s too easy to feel that age is robbing us of this vital element of ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are steps you can take today to keep your mind active and sharp for decades to come. The key is to never stop learning, to keep your body strong and active, to stay engaged with the people and things you love, and always to feed your mind, body, and spirit well.
Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.