7 Ways to Maintain Your Cognitive Health as You Age
At any stage in life, one of the most overlooked parts of ourselves we often forget to check in on is our mental health. Because checking in on something we can’t see, hear, or feel can take a backseat compared to something we can physically and actively accomplish, such as going to the gym or going on a run. But, as we get older, it slowly starts to become apparent that our mental health is just as palpable as any other part of ourselves, and it becomes exceedingly more important in maintaining our cognition that is often naturally lost with age.
Today, we will talk about the ways that seniors can actively focus on maintaining their cognitive health in order to lead the best, most fulfilling, lives they can.
1. Stay Physically Active
While we just said that physical and mental health are separately looked at, it is no secret that they go hand in hand. Regular exercise can improve blood flow to the brain, reduce risk of chronic health conditions, and improve cognitive functions. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective, meaning that reglar exercise has the ability to prevent cognitive decline.
Make it your goal to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, such as a brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. If those aren’t possible due to stiffness or lack of agility, look into low-risk cardio activities such as a recumbent bicycle at a gym or a cycling class. It may not be the easiest to start going for 30 minutes every day right away, so try to work your way up to that goal by doing 2, 15 minute sessions, or 20 minutes a day, for a week, then the next week increase the intensity by small increments.
2. Eat a healthy diet
The food we eat is a way to boost our mental and physical health with proper fuel. Studies have found that certain diets have an influence on molecular systems and mechanisms that maintain mental function, for instance, a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. A healthy diet can help promote cognitive health, including reducing the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
3. Challenge your brain
It is like if a bike were to sit in a garage for a long period of time, it would start to rust. One of the ways that cognitive decline happens is through little activity over a long period of time. Engage in mentally stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, reading, or learning a new language. Challenging your brain can help improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
4. Get enough sleep
Poor sleep can contribute to cognitive decline and memory problems. In a 2021 study by JAMA Neurology, sleeping six hours or less per night was associated with impaired cognition, mostly memory. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and establish a relaxing bedtime routine to help you fall asleep more easily. It may be more challenging as we age, but there are ways that you can try to fall asleep faster and deeper such as melatonin supplements. Check with your doctor if you are having trouble sleeping and staying asleep.
5. Stay socially engaged
Growing up as a kid, it was important to talk to other kids so that we knew how to communicate with proper manners. It seems that in all stages of life we are still exploring, growing, and learning based on our environment, which is why socialization is always important no matter what age. According to the CDC, social isolation can lead to an increased risk of dementia and contribute to cognitive decline. Stay connected with family and friends, join clubs or groups, and volunteer in your community to stay socially engaged. It may have seemed extremely hard to do so during the pandemic but now we have to start reaching out again and promote socialization.
6. Manage stress
Chronic stress can have negative effects on the brain and contribute to cognitive decline. Stress affects the brain through the hormone cortisol which increases sugars in the bloodstream and can lead to many health problems over a long period of time. It is important to not feel constantly under attack to prevent a prolonged exposure to cortisol. Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help you manage your stress and improve your cognitive health.
7. Limit alcohol and tobacco use
It has been known for a while now, but heavy alcohol and tobacco use can contribute to cognitive decline and increase the risk of dementia. Limit your alcohol intake to moderate levels and if you smoke, consider quitting.
By following these tips, you can start promoting your cognitive health and reduce your risk of cognitive decline. It’s never too late to start taking steps to promote cognitive health, so start incorporating these tips into your daily routine today.
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