Older people are often overlooked as they age while their mind gets sharper. The brain is a muscle and, like any other muscle in your body, it needs exercise to maintain its health and function properly. Here’s how staying mentally sharp can help you live the best life possible for years to come.
The “5 ways to keep your brain sharp as you age” is a blog post about the many ways that people can stay mentally sharp as they get older. The article has tips for staying mentally sharp and being able to think clearly.
People have an almost universal desire to not simply live longer, but to enjoy healthy, energetic, and satisfying lives throughout those years.
Maintaining your physical health, especially your strength, is an important component of making it happen. Muscle loss is a major factor in lowering life quality as you become older. Your capacity to negotiate life, as well as your feeling of agency, reduces if you can’t lift heavy objects off the floor or get yourself off the floor. Solution: Even as you become older, maintain lifting big objects and consuming a lot of protein.
Of course, having a pleasant winter season of life depends not only on keeping your body healthy, but also on keeping your mind bright. If you’ve lost your marbles, you can’t appreciate being physically fit. Unfortunately, your cognitive performance deteriorates with age, just as your physical bulk does. Your fluid intellect deteriorates, limiting your capacity to think and adapt on the spot, and your memory deteriorates. Age-related cognitive impairment can be mild, such as losing your keys and forgetting names more frequently, or severe, such as dementia, which can result in serious memory loss as well as debilitating issues with communication, thinking, and behavior, robbing an individual of their ability to perform daily tasks.
While not all varieties of dementia can be avoided, those that can, as well as general age-related mental decline, may be treated using the same approach as age-related physical atrophy: exercise. This is a mental workout. The mind is similar to a muscle in that it is either used or lost.
Companies have cropped up marketing elderly people programs and applications that claim to train the brain in ways that can prevent cognitive degeneration in response to this advise. They claim that if you play a pleasant brain game for 15 minutes a day, you can remain cognitively healthy as you age.
The evidence, however, does not support the promises made by these brain-training firms. Instead of improving general intellect, playing these games improves your ability to play them. There is no way to get back to the actual world.
So, what works to keep your mind fresh as you get older?
The solution, according to cognitive experts, is simple: engaging in complicated tasks.
Socializing with people and physically interacting in a variety of situations are two such activities that are 1) free, 2) pleasurable in and of themselves, and 3) disproportionately helpful in keeping your brain tuned-up.
We’ll explain why you should prioritize these activities in your life — not waiting until you’re a senior citizen to start, but starting in your thirties (or earlier! ); it’s easier to keep your mind fit throughout your life and maintain established habits from youth to old age than it is to reverse decades of degeneration and form new habits in your golden years. (Though it’s never too late to get started!)
1. Have face-to-face conversations with people.
During our radio conversation with neurologist Daniel Levitin about his book Successful Aging, he mentioned studies showing that social involvement helps sustain brain function and protects against cognitive loss as you age. People who work into their 70s and 80s, for example, are less likely to develop dementia than those who retire in their 70s. Volunteering enhances older people’s cognitive abilities in the same way that it benefits younger people’s cognitive abilities.
What is it about interacting with other people, especially in person, that helps you stay mentally sharp?
“Interacting with people is arguably the most sophisticated human action we can undertake,” Levitin remarked. It’s more difficult than brain surgery, rocket science, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles combined. Interacting meaningfully with actual live people, not only over the phone or via Skype, is hard and keeps the brain busy.”
Consider all of the complexities and unknowns, as well as the skills and abilities, that go into having a conversation: you must listen, concentrate, recall what has previously been said, read emotions, empathize, respond appropriately on the fly, and check your improper reactions. You have to keep your mental toes on the ground; it’s a delicate and skillful dance to keep your brain’s figuratively fancy feet on the ground. Face-to-face connection “exercises huge brain networks, keeping them tuned up, in shape, and ready to fire,” writes Levitin in Successful Aging. Furthermore, discussion maintains your sense of curiosity and helps you to learn new things, both of which may aid in the prevention of dementia. Conversation is, in a nutshell, the best cognitive training.
2. Adapt to Difficult Physical Environments
Engaging with a variety of natural habitats is another method to keep our minds fresh while being physically nimble.
Walking on uneven terrain, creeping beneath a low hanging boulder, and balancing on a log are all complex physical acts that require complex cerebral processes. As you go over increasingly difficult terrain, your brain sends messages to your body, causing lightning-fast changes in your physical posture to avoid falling flat on your face. Simultaneously, your bodily motions transmit messages back to your brain. This two-way process, which forms a virtuous cycle of brain stimulation, is described by Levitin in Successful Aging:
Walking on an unpaved route, whether in a park or in the woods, requires hundreds of micro-adjustments to foot pressure, angle, and speed per minute. These modifications activate your brain’s neuronal circuitry in the exact manner it developed to be utilized. Your hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped region important for memory creation and retrieval, is the most activated area. This is why so many research suggest that physical exercise improves memory. Embodied cognition, or the belief that physical features of the human body, especially the perceptual and motor systems, play a major role in cognition, is one way of looking at things (thinking, problem-solving, action planning, and memory).
People, unfortunately, have a propensity to isolate themselves from complicated settings as they get older. Older folks often “travel” solely on the flat, level, clear surfaces of their homes, shops, and parking lots, leaving their brains with much less operational grain to chew on. When you pull elderly individuals out of complicated situations, they age more rapidly, as neurologist Scott Grafton points out in his book Physical Intelligence. This dynamic operates on two levels:
To begin with, as your time spent navigating complicated surroundings reduces, so does your capacity to deal with unexpected changes in your environment. When older adults are used to just walking on smooth surfaces, they are more likely to slip and fall when they come across carpets, curbs, or tree roots. The areas of the brain that may have assisted them with recovery movements and balance have atrophied to the point where they are no longer able to activate and intervene. The resultant falls may result in catastrophic injuries that affect the health and quality of life of elderly adults.
Second, as you become older, the less you handle complicated surroundings, the more likely you are to have total cognitive impairment. According to a few studies, elderly persons who continue to negotiate complicated situations do better on cognitive and creative tests than those who do not.
All of this shows that you can’t ignore the body-mind link if you want to remain cognitively sharp as you get older; you need to physically interact with stimulating situations, which are mostly located outside the boundaries of your house and workplace. Nature, according to Levitin, outperforms a brain game app when it comes to cerebral stimulation:
There are an unlimited number of variables—things that may happen to you. You can see it in your dog’s enthusiasm. The geography, the people, and the plants are all in flux. The possibility of bumping into people or things you haven’t met before, or haven’t met in just that manner, adds to the excitement. This was the kind of navigation that our brains were designed to do. Embodied cognition like this builds synapses and revitalizes hippocampus memory systems, motor-action planning systems, and eye-body coordination.
Anything may happen while you’re outside. And we’ve learned that this is the most effective means of keeping the brain agile and active.
So go for a stroll or a trek in the park or in the woods, and while you’re out there, balance on logs, crawl under low overhangs, or even climb a tree. Don’t be frightened to come off as odd! Tell them to bug off if they inquire why you, a mature man, are climbing a tree. You’re battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Listen to our podcast with Daniel Levitin for additional tips on how to keep cognitively sharp as you get older:
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