One of the most common myths about aging is that memory loss and impaired brain function is inherent in the process. While aging is inevitable, cognitive decline is not and there are many simple steps seniors and older individuals can take to keep their brains in tip-top shape for years to come. By adopting these simple exercises and habits, it’s easy to keep your brain sharp and alert at any age.
Did you know that something as simple as journaling can help keep your brain sharp? Since writing involves carrying out a physical action to form letters and make meaning, the simple act of hand-writing something has been shown to sharpen mental function, activating and honing the parts of our brains that are responsible for memory and language formation.
This is not true for typing on a keyboard, however, since the act of pressing a key doesn’t trigger the same brain activity. In order to get all the brain benefits writing has to offer, try to make it a daily practice. You don’t have to spend hours writing, either – a simple 15 or 20 minutes of jotting down your thoughts every morning is more than enough to trigger enhanced mental function and keep your brain sharp.
2) Take short naps
In addition to being good for your body, a short nap is also fantastic for your brain. According to a study conducted by Rosalind Cartwright ad Dr. Alon Avidan, chairmen of the psychology department at Rush University and director of the sleep disorders program at UCLA, respectively, a power nap of 15-20 minutes each day can improve memory and overall cognitive ability. Be careful to keep your naps short, though, so that you don’t fall into a deep sleep and risk throwing off your circadian rhythms for the following night’s sleep.
3) Stay hydrated
The human brain is roughly 85% comprised of water and you can bet that if you get dehydrated, it’s going to affect your brain function first and foremost. With that in mind, drinking plenty of water (at least 8-10 glasses a day, and more for seniors who take diuretics) is a great way to stay mentally sharp and keep the brain functioning well at every stage of life.
Staying hydrated doesn’t just mean water, though. According to one study, drinking plenty of fruit and vegetable juice can protect against Alzheimer’s disease, so if you want to reduce the risk of cognitive decline it’s wise to supplement your water intake with plenty of high-quality juices.
4) Play music
Most people know that learning and practicing a musical instrument enhances overall brain function but few people know that learning to play an instrument is one of the best ways to create new neural pathways and to enhance the body’s dopamine levels, both of which lead to better moods, decreased depressive symptoms and enhanced mental function.
5) Shake up your routine
Switching up your daily routine is a little bit like alternating your physical workouts. When you change what you do at the gym everyday, your body has to work more efficiently and stay on its toes, which creates better physical function and produces better fitness results.
The same thing goes for the brain – by switching up your daily routine, you keep your brain alert and functioning at a high level. You don’t need to turn your days on their heads to do this effectively, either. By simply making small changes to your routine a few times a week, like showering in the evening rather than the morning or checking your emails at a different time, you can produce new brain connections and feel more alert and focused throughout the day. While they may seem small, simple changes to your daily routine can be surprisingly effective at encouraging your brain to stay sharp and active.
6) Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is a lot like getting enough water – it’s absolutely imperative to your brain’s overall function. During deep sleep, the brain solidifies and stores memories, which means that getting enough sleep is absolutely imperative to fending off memory loss and normal cognitive decline. Poor or inadequate sleep leads to poor memory and learning and can contribute to new or worsening dementia-like symptoms.
Additionally, not getting enough sleep can make you feel sluggish, sad, forgetful or confused, which makes it tough to execute your daily tasks effectively. To reap all the benefits of a great night’s sleep, shoot to get at least 7-9 hours per night.
7) Get enough aerobic exercise
Some scientists believe that regular aerobic exercise helps improve memory. This means that activities like jogging, brisk walking, or swimming are some of the best ways to keep your brain healthy and functioning well. To take advantage of everything exercise has to offer, aim to squeeze in at least 30 minutes of mild to moderate activity every other day. This will help keep your brain sharp, improve your thinking skills, and help keep your body limber and healthy.
8) Eat a varied diet
You are what you eat and it’s impossible for the body to function well without adequate nutrition. With this in mind, it’s important to eat a low glycemic diet that’s high in fiber and good fats and proteins. This creates a steady digestive process and provides the brain with a reliable, adequate stream of energy on which to function, thereby optimizing mental function and creating a sharper and more alert mindset all day.
9) Enjoy moderate caffeine intake
While the medical wisdom surrounding caffeine intake has always been tumultuous, more evidence is stating that mild caffeine intake may protect the brain from cognitive decline. According to current science, drinking between 2-4 cups of coffee or caffeinated tea each day can help protect you from cognitive decline while also providing an important boost of antioxidants that help protect your body from harmful free radicals.
Stress is very damaging for the entire body – including the brain. Because stress floods the brain with harmful chemicals, it can actually interrupt the formation of new memories. With this in mind, it’s important to limit sources of stress wherever possible. Practicing a calming activity like yoga or tai chi can be a great way to do this, as can a daily walk or spending time with friends. While it may not seem like an obvious danger to your brain, stress can impair mental function more than many people think.
While aging is inevitable, getting mentally dull doesn’t have to be. With these simple exercises, you can keep your brain sharp and ensure high-class mental function for many years to come.