Many older adults experience occasional forgetfulness or lapses in memory, such as misplacing one’s keys or forgetting someone’s name. These minor “senior moments” are common and most of the time aren’t cause for concern. However, contrary to popular belief, significant cognitive decline is not a part of healthy aging. Major memory problems that interfere with a senior’s daily life can be a sign of a serious condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.
The good news is that research shows there are proactive ways to help maintain and improve your brain health at any age. Here are a few lifestyle habits that are known to promote healthy aging for both the brain and body.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. If you are able to, engage in cardiovascular exercise to elevate your heart rate, such as walking, jogging, riding a bike, swimming, aerobic fitness classes or even dancing. Any activity that raises your heart rate increases blood flow to the brain and provides it with extra nourishment. Regular physical activity is also an effective way to reduce other health factors that can lead to dementia, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Take care of your heart
It’s long been known that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Recent research suggests that the same risk factors for heart disease and stroke can also increase the risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia. Taking proactive steps to care for your heart can help preserve your memory and reduce the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. Eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly are great ways to help reduce cardiovascular risk factors and promote better brain health as a result. Consult your doctor to evaluate your heart health and be sure your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels are within healthy ranges.
Reduce the risk of head injuries
Brain injuries, such as concussions, can increase the risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia. Whenever possible, take preventative measures to protect your head from injuries. For example, always use a seatbelt and wear a helmet when riding a bike or playing sports. Falls are a primary cause of brain injury among older adults. Take steps to prevent falls by removing home hazards or use assistive devices such as grab bars or handrails in bathrooms or hallways.
Avoid sleep deprivation
We all require sleep to help us rest and recharge. Without adequate sleep, it can be difficult to focus, process memories, learn new information. In fact, chronic poor sleep has also been linked to developing dementia later in life. Older adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep, but many seniors fall short of this number due to problems such as insomnia, snoring, sleep apnea, or even arthritis. If you’re not getting quality sleep each night, check with your doctor to address the root causes interrupting your sleep.
Chronic stress isn’t healthy for anyone, but it can be particularly detrimental for aging adults who may have less resilience to stress. Older adults experience stress due to things like changes in their health or mobility, chronic illness, or the loss of a loved one. Stress is also closely related to mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression, which can lead in turn elevate the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. While preventing stress is often easier said than done, it’s an important way to maintain memory and cognition while improving your overall quality of life. Talk to your doctor about healthy ways to cope with and prevent excess stress.
Stay mentally and socially active
Research shows that maintaining mental and social engagement can boost brain health and lower the risk of dementia. Participate in social activities like arts and crafts, team sports, or fitness classes. Pursuing community activities like volunteering or joining a club is another way to stay socially active and make new friends. Make an effort to challenge your mind each day with activities like cards, board games, or puzzles. Learning something new, such as learning how to play an instrument or taking a continuing education class, is another way to keep your mind engaged and promote short and long-term brain health.
Remember, it’s never too early or too late to start adding healthy habits to your daily routine. By taking some of these preventative steps, you can keep your brain and body as healthy as possible.