As we age, there are changes that occur that we typically expect to face. These might include some hearing loss, impaired vision, and general aches and pains. These are annoyances for the most part and not things that need to diminish our quality of life to any great extent. However, for many, a big fear and source of anxiety is the possibility of suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US and the second most feared (after cancer). Who could blame fearing it? It can rob us of our memory to the extent that we don’t remember our loved ones, and, to date, there is no cure for it. That said, there are things we can do to keep our brains as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Brain fitness programs have been explored to help people maintain healthy brain tissue and function.
There are five main elements that we can engage in to help our brains working optimally.
- Physical exercise has been shown to improve blood flow to the brain, as well as stimulate the production of brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which has been described as “Miracle Grow for the brain”.
- Proper nutrition, healthy foods in healthy amounts (especially those high in omega 3 and antioxidants) helps to keep the brain’s tissues functioning optimally.
- Cognitive challenge is essential and more than just doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku. Look for learning opportunities that involve multiple senses such as learning to play an instrument or learning to speak another language.
- Stress management can have a big effect on our lives. Stress elevates cortisol levels (stress hormone) which, if it is chronic, can destroy brain cells making it harder to remember and think clearly. Try activities that can reduce stress such as exercise, meditation, or other things that draw your attention away from your stressors.
- Socialization is also important. Studies have shown that people with many social connections, that they interact with on a regular basis, experience a slower rate of memory decline.
These elements of a brain fitness program don’t need to be addressed separately. In fact, one of the best things you can do is to layer various elements together. Fitness classes are a great example of the possible layering, exercise, cognitive (following and/or learning choreography), stress reduction, and socialization with others in the class. Another example could be taking an Italian cooking class where you also learn Italian (cognitive, socialization, possibly nutrition). As I think about it, there’s a very popular one at the moment, the social painting classes (socialization, cognitive, stress reduction).
We can make a difference in our brain’s health and function. The mind is a terrible thing to waste. (I think I heard that someplace 🙂 ) Don’t let yourself slide into mental decline if it can be prevented or even delayed. Try to integrate these 5 elements into your life. Mix and match them. They are what make life richer and help keep it that way.