As we get older, it’s not unusual to find our memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be. We might struggle to concentrate for as long, and we may notice it’s harder to see the solutions to problems we’d once have solved in seconds. All of this is a normal part of aging: our cognitive capacities aren’t as strong as they once were, just as we can’t run as fast as we used to.
But that doesn’t mean we have to sit back and accept it. There is no known cure for progressive brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, but it is possible to slow the general decline of our mental faculties in the same way regular exercise keeps our body fitter for longer. And, as with physical fitness, maintaining brain health helps us to remain active and independent, manage the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and live fuller lives.
Exercise and Keep Physically Healthy
Physical health is directly connected to mental health; our brain is an organ like any other, and it works better when the circulatory, respiratory, and other systems it depends on are in the best possible condition. If you want a healthy brain, make sure that you:
- Take as much regular exercise as you can. Something as simple as a short walk every day can make a big difference. Even people who are bedridden can exercise with the right equipment.
- Eat a balanced diet. Your brain needs lots of energy, as well as the right mix of vitamins and nutrients.
Exercising and eating well are probably the most important activities you can do to promote brain health.
Get Enough Sleep
Bad sleep impacts cognitive performance in people of all ages, but it has an even bigger effect on seniors. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to concentrate, your memory will deteriorate, and you’re more likely to suffer from mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Even worse, if you don’t sleep well, you’re unlikely to have the energy or the motivation to do all the other activities that might make it easier to maintain brain health.
We’ve written extensively about how seniors can improve their sleep. To learn more, take a look at:
- What Is Good Sleep Hygiene for Someone Who Has Limited Mobility?
- Blankets and Pillows That Help You Sleep Better
- Are There Foods That Help You Sleep Better?
- Do Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation Help Sleep?
Keep Your Mind Occupied
The evidence suggests that keeping your mind active with intellectual pursuits has a beneficial effect on several areas of brain health, including emotional health and cognitive functions like memory and concentration. But what does “keep your mind active” mean?
As you research brain health, you may come across “brain training” and similar exercises purported to help with brain health and cognitive abilities. There is some evidence that they work, but they are unlikely to be as effective as more active and engaging activities. If you enjoy doing them, there’s no reason to stop, but they aren’t a substitute for other types of mental stimulation, including:
- Maintaining your social life. Complex social interactions—which can be as simple as a regular chat with friends—exercise many of the most important aspects of our brains, including memory, emotions, and concentration. In addition to which, they help us to remain connected to the world around us, to stay physically active, and to avoid the loneliness and isolation that can cause depression and anxiety.
- Take up a new hobby. Learning something new—whether it’s gardening, art, a language, or something else—stimulates a broad range of brain functions. It’s fun and interesting too, and, in many cases, it provides an opportunity for physical exercise.
- Reading. Reading a good novel or a non-fiction book is a mental workout. You’ll exercise your memory, your ability to visualize, and your ability to empathize with other people.
In this article, we’ve suggested three main techniques for promoting brain health: physical fitness, sleep, and mental stimulation. However, you may want to consult a medical professional if you notice a significant decrease in brain health in yourself or a loved one. A doctor can offer advice and treatment to help people with poor memory and concentration who struggle to carry out everyday tasks.