Many people fear aging because of the changes the brain and body go through over time—one of the most significant being cognitive decline. It’s scary to realize that your memory, concentration and learning capabilities might not be as strong as they once were.
In some significant cases, reductions in cognitive abilities are caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s or brain injuries. However, most people will experience much more minor changes in brain function and memory over time as a result of slight changes in brain structure and nerve connections.
Thankfully, you can counteract these changes by stimulating and strengthening your brain over the years. The brain is like a muscle—you can “work it out” over time to build it stronger and healthier than ever before.
Try out these seven strategies to ensure your mind stays sharp well into your later years:
- Eat well: One of the easiest things you can do to help not only your brain but also your body is eat healthy food every single day. A well-balanced diet full of brain-healthy foods like fatty fish, berries, eggs and leafy greens will help reduce inflammation, prevent damage in the brain and assist in the creation of fats and neurological pathways necessary to maintain optimal cognition. Do your best to avoid high-sugar diets, as sugar-rich foods can contribute to brain fog and hampered cognitive function.
- Play memory games/puzzles: Memory games and puzzles like Sudoku, crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles all activate your brain and force you to think while allowing you to have fun and challenge yourself. Doing even one short puzzle a day will help you routinely stimulate your mind, which is essential to staying sharp. Staying “mentally active” helps stimulate brain cells and encourage communication between them over time.
- Learn new things: Much like doing puzzles, making an effort to learn new things is a great way to continuously activate your brain and memory. You might want to pick up a new hobby like dancing or art, or you might choose to go back to school and pursue higher education. Either way, your commitment to lifelong learning will help you make mental challenges a part of your daily routine, rather than letting those mental connections fall to the side.
- Exercise: Physical exercise is just as important as mental exercise. Experts believe that physical activity improves blood flow to the brain, fosters the growth of new brain cells and helps to preserve existing brain cells. Exercise can also help you keep a clear head and improve memory and concentration. Working out has also been linked to a reduction in problems associated with dementia, including high blood pressure, and may be instrumental in preventing more serious cognitive illness.
- Meditate: Meditation has been shown to improve focus and memory in multiple ways, including reducing stress, clearing the mind and even changing it physically to fight off cognitive decline and improve attention. Short, daily meditation sessions can help you get into the habit and build up your ability to focus for long-lasting effects.
- Stay social: Social interaction has a profound effect on mental capabilities—particularly memory. Spending time and socializing with loved ones, as well as meeting new people, can help stimulate your brain in ways that puzzles and education don’t, helping to keep you sharp and maintain a strong memory for many years.
- Read: Reading a little bit every day is a very easy and enjoyable way to stimulate your mind, especially in our age of smart phone apps and television. Studies have shown that reading can help slow mental decline for a more nimble, focused brain. Reading can also expose you to new things and exercise your memory, ability to learn and ability to concentrate all in one.
It’s important to remember that while a slight decline in memory or cognition can be normal in older adults, significant memory loss, motor loss or problems with cognitive function are not normal and may be a sign of a more serious cognitive disorder like dementia. If you or your loved one are experiencing these things, speak to your doctor as soon as possible to determine the underlying problems.
For most people, though, everyday lapses in memory and slight difficulties in learning or concentration can be worked on, even if you’re in your later years already! Make a point to learn something new and challenge your brain each and every day to help improve your memory and keep it as active as possible.