How to Slow Down Cognitive Aging
Are there any proven strategies for preventing cognitive decline? I have a family history of dementia and worry about my own memory and cognitive abilities as I grow older. What can you tell me?
For most people, starting in their fifties and sixties, the brain's ability to remember names, multi-task or learn something new starts declining. While our genes (which we cannot control) play a key role in determining our cognitive aging, our general health (which we do have some control over) plays a big factor too.
Here are some healthy lifestyle strategies — recommended by medical experts — that you can employ to help stave off cognitive loss and maybe even build a stronger brain.
Manage health problems: Studies have shown that cognitive problems are related to health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease and even depression. So, if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, you should try to treat them with lifestyle changes and medication (if necessary) and get them under control. If you have a history of depression, you need to talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Exercise: Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your brain, keeping your brain cells well nourished. So, choose an aerobic activity you enjoy such as walking, cycling, dancing, swimming, etc., that elevates your heart rate and do it for at least 30 to 40 minutes three times a week.
Eat healthy: A heart-healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, may also help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. Keep processed foods and sweets to a minimum.
Get some sleep: Quality, restful sleep contributes to brain health too. Typically, adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep daily. If you have persistent problems sleeping, you need to identify and address the problem. Medications, late-night exercise and alcohol can interfere with sleep quality and length, as can arthritis pain, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
If you need help, make an appointment with a sleep specialist who will probably recommend an overnight diagnostic sleep test.
Challenge your mind: Some research suggests that mind challenging activities can help improve memory and slow age-related mental decline. But, be aware that these activities consist of things you are not accustomed to doing. For example, crossword puzzles are not enough to challenge your brain, if you are already a regular puzzle doer. Instead, you need to pick up a new skill, like learning to dance, playing a musical instrument, studying a new language or working through math problems — something that is challenging and a little outside your comfort zone.
Brain-training websites may be good mind exercising tools because they continually adapt to your skill level to keep you challenged.
Socializing and interacting with other people is another important way to stimulate the brain. So make a point to reach out and stay connected to friends, family and neighbors. Join a club, take a class or even volunteer — anything that enhances your social life.
Do not smoke or drink excessively: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption affect the brain in a negative way. It is recommended that you kick the habit if you smoke and, if you drink, do so only in moderation.
Reduce stress: Some stress is good for the brain, but too much can be toxic. There is growing evidence that things like mindfulness meditation, yoga and tai chi are all good ways to help reduce stress.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.
Published February 1, 2019