Keeping your mind sharp is just as important as keeping your body healthy as you age. Your lifestyle will play a large part in how healthy you can keep your mind. Most people start to experience symptoms of brain aging after the age of 40.
Kenneth S. Kosik, MD, codirector of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, offers some advice about the latest research related to brain health. Here are 8 great tips that will help you avoid “senior moments”.
1. Play brain games.
When you play various games, from word games to chess, you are activating the frontal lobe of your brain and keeping it sharper.
Kosik states, “The frontal lobe is particularly vulnerable to degeneration and the effects of aging.” A study from 2014 conducted at the University of Wisconsin found that older adults who played active brain games (puzzles, board games, etc.) retained higher brain volume than those who did not have these hobbies. Cognitive function and memory were also stronger.
2. Speaking Sanskrit.
Yes, you read that correctly. According to Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, explained that a specific meditative tradition known as Kirtan Kriya, practiced daily for 12 minutes, can help preserve brain function.
This meditation practice helps improve blood flow to the brain, and may increase telomerase levels (a brain enzyme that can slow cellular aging). While breathing slowly and deeply, repetitively chant the Sanskrit words “saa, taa, naa, maa” (translation: “my divine self”). At the same time, move your thumb to progressively make contact with your index, middle, ring, and pinkie fingers, timing it with each word. This meditative practice will also help reduce anxiety and fatigue.
3. Protect your mind and your heart.
A study which surveyed volunteers about a variety of heart health factors and compared them with their cognitive performance found that when people followed heart-healthy habits, they showed less cognitive decline. With a strong cardiovascular system, more nutrients are able to get to the brain. Healthy habits included: no smoking, healthy BMI, regular physical activity, healthy total cholesterol, healthy blood pressure, and healthy blood sugar.
4. Improve the quality of your white matter.
The amount of white matter in your brain will decrease as you age, and you can even develop small lesions as a result of the reduced blood flow. This can increase cognitive decline. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that strength training helps to protect the brain matter.
They studied three groups of women between 65-75 years of age and found that those who did strength training twice per week showed significantly fewer white matter lesions than those who did other exercise or did not exercise.
5. Move away from Alzheimer’s.
Scientists agree that exercise is good for the brain. New research has advanced this thinking, by showing how exercise actually combats the chronic neuroinflammation seen in Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, and other diseases of the brain.
These conditions are related to inflammation that is normally cleared from healthy tissue, and when it is not cleared, it can interfere with the communication among neurones in the brain. Exercise helps because of the known anti-inflammatory effects. About 30 minutes a day can help you decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
6. Sing a song.
Both listening to and playing music can help to keep the motor cortex of the brain active. The activities help to connect the motor cortex (e.g., touching a piano key or guitar string), the auditory cortex (listening to the notes), and the emotional centre (feeling emotional from listening to or playing music).
Kosik explains, “Circuits and networks are stimulated by these activities, which keep the brain healthy.” Older adults who have a history of playing music performed better on tests of cognitive function.
Having to memorize lines for a play or musical production activates the hippocampus, the temporal cortex, and the frontal lobe. Adults who participated in acting classes twice weekly for four weeks showed improvement in their ability to remember words, numbers, and short stories. Word fluency and recall also improved significantly.
Artistic activities, like drawing, painting, and sculpting all improve cognitive function. These activities help you to focus on details, and can improve concentration, according to Dr. Kosik. MRI scans can show that the brain is actually forming new connections as a result of these activities.
Use these fun and interesting activities to not only keep your brain healthy and strong, but to increase your enjoyment of life as you age! Have fun and stay young!