The human brain is subject to problems of aging just like other parts of the body. Cognitive decline is one of the most feared effects of the passing of years, but you can take a proactive approach to brain health by following a few tips that are known to improve cognitive function in the older years. An increasing amount of studies show that the actions you take today can have an effect on your cognitive function in the years to come. These 7 habits will help you maintain your brain power, whatever your age.
1 – A Healthy Diet
The foods you eat have a direct effect on the cellular processes, both in your body and in your brain. Nutrition experts recommend eating a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, colorful fruits and healthy oils, such as olive oil and canola oil. Drink plenty of water, and avoid sugary soft drinks and energy drinks. You should also avoid processed foods whenever possible, because of the high levels of salt, sugar and fat in these products.
2 – Regular Exercise
Research is discovering that regular exercise not only helps keep your heart strong and your muscles fit. It also helps to keep your brain sharp and focused. The same improvement in circulation and nutrient delivery that improves your overall health also helps to feed brain tissue. If you don’t exercise regularly now, start a daily regime. Start slowly by going for a long walk every day. Increase your activity by joining a local gym and working out on the machines. Take up a sport you enjoy, or start cycling. Any type of exercise counts toward improving your general health and enhancing your brain function.
3 – Lifelong Learning
Learning new things also has a highly beneficial effect on the brain. The process of learning forms new brain connections and stimulates the brain to produce healthy chemicals that regulate mood and improve memory. Learning doesn’t have to mean pursuing an academic degree. Even simple learning activities like learning a new language, taking up a new craft or learning to oil paint can help your brain stay active and alert.
4 – Puzzles and Games
Engaging in simple puzzles and games can help to keep your brain active. Crossword puzzles, word-finders, sudoku and other games improve memory skills and how the brain sees relationships between one concept and another. Doing puzzles in your free time can be a quiet brain exercise that you can take anywhere and do anytime.
5 – Social Engagement
Feelings of loneliness and isolation are not just a mood problem. They can also affect brain health. Elderly individuals often become isolated because of problems with mobility or medical issues. This problem can often lead to cognitive decline because their brains are not being stimulated by normal social interactions. If you stay engaged with other people on a regular basis, your brain is forced to keep up with conversations, pick up subtle cues and understand emotions.
6 – Watch Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Increased blood pressure reduces the amount of blood and nutrients flowing to brain cells, which, over time, can lead to mental impairment. A number of studies indicate that treating high blood pressure in middle age can help to reduce the risk of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. If your physician has diagnosed high blood pressure and prescribed medication, take your pills every day to keep your brain healthy. Similarly, studies indicate that high cholesterol levels can also have an effect on brain health. Scientists found that individuals with high LDL levels and low HDL levels had more amyloid plaques in their brains, a condition associated with the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. If you get an annual physical, your physician will be able to detect high cholesterol and will prescribe medication to ensure a healthy heart and brain throughout your life.
7 – Limit Alcohol and Tobacco
Both tobacco and alcohol cause changes in the blood vessels that feed the brain that can affect cognitive function. If you smoke, find ways to quit. Many smokers find that joining a smoking cessation group provides the support they need to maintain a smoke-free lifestyle. Other people use nicotine replacement products, such as patches, gum and lozenges, to eliminate their addiction to nicotine. Still others find that they need prescription medications that can help to quiet cravings so they can quit. With so many options available, no one has to stay addicted to smoking, so make the effort to find a way to quit so you can enjoy better brain health as you age. Similarly, excessive alcohol consumption has a negative effect on the brain. Limit your alcohol use to one drink each day and switch to red wine, which has a number of beneficial effects on the body. Reducing alcohol use and being smoke-free will help to keep your brain in top form.
These tips are simple to implement and can have a significant impact on how well your brain functions in your senior years. In addition, you will find that these actions also have a beneficial effect on brain health in the present, helping you to function more effectively at work and in your everyday life. Start taking care of your brain today, and you will reap the benefits for many years to come.