Use It or Lose It: Easy Ways to Exercise the Brain
Do you ever find yourself having a “senior moment?” Has your brain ever gone “blank,” or has someone told you, yet again, “I’ve heard this story before?”
Don’t fret; an aging brain is a normal brain! Cognitive function starts to decline (and the brain starts to shrink) as early as age 30, picking up in speed around age 60, explains Dr. Andro T. Zangaladze, Jefferson Health New Jersey Medical Director of Neurology.
There’s cause for concern, however, when these “senior moments”— including memory loss, confusion, and irritability – occur daily, as they could be signs of dementia. If you experience similar symptoms, you should speak with your doctor about being screened.
While there is no sure way to prevent dementia, studies show a healthy and active lifestyle can significantly slow its progression, says Dr. Zangaladze. For people who feel their minds start to slip, whether it is age- or dementia- associated, the following ways to “exercise the brain” can be incredibly beneficial:
It’s advised that most adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week. This can involve a brisk walk around the park, a dance or Zumba class, or gardening. Many people know exercise keeps their heart healthy, but many of them don’t realize the effect it has on the brain. Improved blood and oxygen flow to the brain stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and brain cells. This helps enhance learning and mood. Neuron production is also boosted in parts of the brain that control memory.
Everyone has a different style of learning. Most people are visual learners, while others are auditory learners. It’s important to find something that works for you and involve as many senses as possible. Keeping your mind sharp can be as simple as playing a game on your phone, listening to a podcast, or putting together a puzzle. Academic exercises are also encouraged. Try learning a new language, new vocabulary, or attending a local lecture/class. Research suggests that new skills can strengthen your ability to withstand negative brain changes.
Follow a Healthy Diet
Heart-healthy foods, especially those low in cholesterol, are also brain-healthy foods. These include dark, leafy greens, berries, nuts, fatty fishes (high in omega-3s), and whole grains. This is because high cholesterol, over time, can cause thickening of the arterial walls and affect blood flow to the brain. Many of these fruits and veggies are also antioxidant-rich and help improve memory. It’s important to remember to limit alcohol consumption, as this can have severe effects on brain health.
Stick to a Routine – Daily and Nightly
A sedentary lifestyle accelerates aging and brain disfunction. Filling your day with the physical and mental exercises described above often leads to reduced stress, anxiety, and depression levels, as well as improvements in sleep quality. Adequate sleep is essential for everyone’s health. As we age, getting the proper amount of sleep becomes more and more difficult. When we don’t sleep enough, our brains are more susceptible to atrophy and decline. Going to bed at the same time, and waking up at the same time, is just one way to help improve your sleep schedule.
Remember, “exercising the brain” can be done in many ways that are easy enough to incorporate into everyday life. At the end of the day, when it comes to brain health, this popular notion rings true: use it or lose it!