By Adrianne Gerard
Routine physical activity, along with a nutritious diet, are keys to staying physically healthy as we age. However, many people fail to recognize the importance of exercising our minds, too.
The National Institute of Aging reports that as adults age, their brains tend to go through changes. These can include decreased blood flow, increased inflammation, decreased efficiency in neural communication and even shrinking of the parts of the brain that control learning. These changes help explain why some seniors have difficulty recalling information, multitasking and focusing.
Health and wellness, especially for seniors, should not focus solely on exercise and diet. The Alzheimer’s Association offers resources, tips and tricks to encourage a healthy mind, including the following:
Strike up a challenge
Studies show that brain games, like word searches, crossword puzzles and sudoku, do wonders for cognitive health among older adults. Continuous learning and discovery contribute to the reduction of cognitive decline, which is why the Alzheimer’s Association encourages seniors to enroll in educational classes, even online courses. According to Cleveland Clinic, word games keep our minds sharp by creating neural pathways and forcing us to exercise our brains, rather than doing tasks on autopilot.
Try new things
There comes a point in our lives when we fall into a routine. That’s not always a bad thing; routines are comfortable, reassuring and dependable. However, to promote memory health, it’s important to break out of your comfort zone and try something new. Examples include reading a nonfiction book rather than your favorite mystery novel or using your non-dominant hand for daily activities, like stirring your coffee or brushing your teeth with your left hand if you’re right-handed.
New activities and hobbies can also help prevent cognitive decline. For example, several Gulf Coast Village residents had never picked up a paintbrush before attending their first community art class. There, they discovered a love for art and are now regulars in the class. Next time you have a desire to flip on the TV, open yourself up to the potential of unlocking a new passion by putting the remote down and trying something new.
Reduce negative impacts
Physical and emotional stressors can negatively impact our cognitive health. Smoking, for one, increases your risk of cognitive decline and should be eliminated. Additionally, conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, which all impact cardiovascular health, can also impact your brain. Take the proper steps as advised by your physician to counter these conditions. Your mind will appreciate it.
Consider your surroundings and environment. Rather than watching news all day, just catch a newscast in the morning or evening, and incorporate sitcoms, home improvement shows or cooking programs into your routine. Before bedtime, turn off the TV and put down the phone. Use this period for something relaxing, like meditation, reading a book or deep breathing, and think positive thoughts.
Health and nutrition
One of the most common methods of reducing the risk of cognitive decline is to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Chefs and dieticians at top senior communities, including Gulf Coast Village, incorporate brain-healthy foods into menu planning so residents simply need to show up at mealtime. Snackers who want to include healthier alternatives can include nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds, dark chocolate, moderate consumption of red wine and fruit smoothies into their diet.
Tie things together
It may be challenging at first, but multitasking can have its benefits. It’s one of the easiest ways to try new things and adapt your new routine to your old routine. If you enjoy listening to audiobooks and you exercise regularly, listen to a book from a different genre while taking a brisk walk.
Adaptations to your lifestyle can take time, but some minor adjustments preserve memory health and reduce the risk of a future memory disorder.
About the Author
Adrianne Gerard is the memory support program manager at Gulf Coast Village and is a former community educator with the Alzheimer’s Association. To learn more, visit GulfCoastVillage.org/Memory-Care.