Fitness as we age isn’t just about our bodies. The health of the brain, like any other muscle, is either maintained through conscious effort or it begins to atrophy as the years go by.
In order to maintain brain fitness, we must take a number of physical and psychological approaches to exercising our minds and keeping our bodies healthy to support our brains. Here are some noteworthy methods of improving or maintaining brain health.
1. Play Games
Whether it’s video games on a device or a console, sudoku or a crossword puzzle, games that involve brain functions such as logic, math and vocabulary can help older adults sustain memory function and brain speed. One important thing to note, however, is to not overdo it. Games are meant to be played in short stints, not for hours on end.
2. Tell Stories
Storytelling is both a useful social function and a beneficial activity for our brains that evokes an emotional and chemical response. Studies examining people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s have looked at the impact storytelling has on cognitive function and quality of life measures such as happiness and mood. Both appear to improve through personal and autobiographical storytelling.
3. Exercise Regularly
Physical activity increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain which is beneficial in addressing inflammation and oxidative stress that can alter the brain’s structure and ability to function. Exercise also helps combat a variety of chronic diseases, many of which impact the brain and can lead to neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
4. Develop Hobbies
Learning provides a workout for the grey matter in our brains, the neural pathways that facilitate the flow of information. The acquisition of a new skill works more parts of the brain than just memory. Areas associated with movements, spatial relationships and the senses are also engaged.
5. Maintain Your Social Life
Staying connected to other people and developing meaningful relationships has been shown to be a key factor in maintaining cognitive health. It’s not only helpful to maintaining self-esteem, but also in surrounding ourselves with a support structure. Research shows that isolation can cause disruptions in sleep, elevated blood pressure, heightened levels in the stress hormone cortisol and damaged immune cells. When these factors are combined, it can have a negative impact on cognition.
Few habits are as healthy as meditation for the brain. By creating a state of relaxation, you decrease stress and therefore inflammation, and put yourself into a different state of mind, which in turn engages the brain in different ways. According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, meditation can actually preserve the aging brain by preventing the loss of grey matter with age.
Whether it’s a newspaper, a comic book, medical journal or novel, reading has positive effects on the brain in helping us maintain an interest in the world and fuel your storytelling ability. In fact, you should try to read different types of written content and about different things in order to engage your imagination, further your pursuit of new knowledge and challenge your world views.