Keeping Your Mind in Shape as You Age
By Hollee Stamper, LCSW
There has been a significant amount of media attention on the topic of “brain games” to stimulate the mind. While these games can be a fun leisure activity, research has shown no definitive link to improved mental functioning or reduced cognitive decline during the aging process.
As experts in cognitive functioning, we know cognitive decline is an inevitable part of the aging process; our brains will begin to slow as we grow in years. It’s only natural we would seek out any opportunity to delay that decline as much and for as long as possible.
There are a few scientifically proven ways to keep your mind sharp over time.
Continue Your Education: This doesn’t necessarily mean “learning” in the context of school or formal academics. It means developing a new skill, such as learning how to ride a bike, speak a new language or play a new instrument. Try a new type of cooking, travel somewhere new, or start a new hobby.
Exercise: If you feel like you hear this one often, it’s for good reason. Physical activity is an important component of brain health and cognitive stimulation. It facilitates neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and form new connections. Additionally, research has shown that physical activity may help delay the onset of dementia as we age. Even something as simple as a 20-minute walk each day can be beneficial.
Manage Stress: Stress and psychological factors such as depression and anxiety affect our well-being more than we realize, and the brain is ground zero for its effects. In addition to its physical symptoms, stress can make it hard to think. Stress management and treatment for mood dysregulation can potentially improve thinking skills associated with attention, processing and memory. Try your hand (or maybe your whole body!) at yoga – which is good for both your mind and body. Even a few minutes of deep breathing can help to reduce stress.
Stay Connected: Socialization is often overlooked when we talk about keeping our brains healthy – but connecting with others is vital to our emotional and cognitive well-being. Spending time with friends, joining a book club or volunteering can be great ways to build new relationships or strengthen old ones… while also strengthening your brain!