Aging is a natural part of this incredible life. It is the accumulation of adventures experienced, relationships cherished and wisdom gathered. Contrary to popular opinion, brain health can accompany aging. Throughout our lives, wellness requires intentional action on our part to attain and maintain. Intentionality is key even into the senior years.
As you age, you may notice a decline in learning and memory tasks, such as remembering names. Attention, learning, and memory may become difficult concepts to grasp. However, cognitive improvement may occur elsewhere, such as with vocabulary. In fact, researchers have reported that other areas of the brain may compensate for those in decline for seniors.
These findings are attributed to several brain changes that occur with aging. (For a list of changes, visit The National Institute on Aging.) The changes and effects prove to scientists the adaptability of the brain even in the senior years. This data indicates excellent news for brain health as we age. The medical community purports that lifestyle, whole body health, environment and genetics play a role in brain health. While there are factors we cannot control, there are others we can.
Brain health requires a healthy diet. Nutritious food choices maintain healthy body weight which is a proven factor in increased cognitive abilities. The few effects of diet on brain health have been noted by the medical community to include:
To increase the positive effects of diet and combat the negative ones, the dietary guidelines at the American Diabetes Association are recommended by medical practitioners. Low in fat and sugar and high in fruits and vegetables, this diet does the body and the brain good.
Just as physical exercise prevents atrophy in muscles, medical professionals now believe it reduces atrophy in the brain. The brain-boosting effects of exercise include:
Aerobic exercise and weight training are recommended for optimal brain benefits. There are options for engaging seniors in physical activity regardless of their current fitness levels. For practical considerations, review the article New Year New You.
The medical community has long reported the damaging effects of stress on the body. It is now known that these effects also extend to the brain. Effects include:
Exercise, yoga, and meditation work to fight brain decline by decreasing stress levels. Sleep and rest can have positive effects on stress reduction by calming the body. Also, sleep can increase the problem-solving capabilities of the brain. Nighttime slumber is the body and brain’s means of rejuvenation. Both are valuable assets in the quest for brain health.
Nothing feels better than a hearty, long winded laugh. Laughter releases the chemical dopamine which helps us to feel good. What better stress reliever is there? And, as mentioned, stress relief improves brain health.
Laughter with friends boasts even greater benefits. Researchers have found that social relationships stimulate brain health. The increased social adaptation required in new relationships magnifies this benefit. On the contrary, medical professionals have found social isolation to lead to accelerated brain aging.
This data strongly suggests the need for social relationships throughout life including the senior years. Human interaction boasts decreases in loneliness and depression. Engaging in social activities not only connects seniors with old and new friends but is vital to brain health.
As stated, researchers have found the brain to be moldable, able to adapt and learn. This ability does not end with aging. Engaging in mental activities that challenge the mind improve brain function. Activities that draw a senior’s focus and are rewarding to him or her personally boast the best results. Jigsaw puzzles, learning a new language or dance step, practicing a musical instrument, playing ping-pong, and strategic card games all boost mental power.
Michael Merzenich, Ph.D. has created a training regimen for the mind. This program fosters the brain’s ability to adapt by working to improve speed and accuracy with hearing and language. Nintendo’s Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes A Day provides mental games to stimulate brain health. These are just two other ways to activate the mind!
Brain health and aging can be synonymous terms. Look for community programs and opportunities to reap the benefits of physical exercise, social interaction and mind-stimulating activities on brain health. Be intentional in seeking wellness to maximize the wisdom and experience that are hallmarks of the senior years.
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*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living