What you need to know:
- Researchers believe that many of the supposed age-related changes which affect the mind, such as memory loss, are actually lifestyle-related. Keeping an active body is crucial if you want an active mind.
As we age, we start noticing that our memory is not what it used to be, or maybe we have trouble concentrating on a task as well as we used to. We might feel blue more often than before, or find ourselves worrying about the past too much instead of enjoying life today.
These are all signs that something is going wrong with the brain, which can happen naturally as you get older; but also because of some bad habits picked up along the way.
Here are eight things you should do if you want to keep your mind sharp:
Exercise is great for balance, blood flow, and brain cells. Exercise can be aerobic (such as walking or bicycling), anaerobic (such as weightlifting), or a combination of the two. Your goal should be about 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic activity at least five days a week. Aerobic exercise can include dancing, walking briskly (about 3.5 miles per hour), swimming, jogging or any variety of other sports. And try to incorporate weight training exercises a few times a week as well; these will help you not only with everyday activities and hobbies but also with your lean body mass and bone density. Of course, it is important to speak with your doctor before beginning any sort of strenuous activity regimen.
Make time for family and friends
Strong relationships are key to keeping your brain in good working order and lowering your chances of developing depression. Spending quality time with friends and family helps keep our brain chemicals in balance, while physical contact such as hugging promotes the release of oxytocin which is good for decreasing anxiety and stress levels.
Manage your stress
Stress is a normal and unavoidable part of life. Stress can change your thoughts, feelings, and physical health, as well as how you sleep. It is important to understand that when you are confronted with difficult situations, it is natural for your body to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare your body for “fight-or-flight” mode in order to respond quickly to the situation and reduce the amount of damage done.
However, if we do not allow our bodies enough time to return to normal levels of cortisol naturally, the adrenal glands may overcompensate by producing more cortisol. Too much cortisol can cause memory problems or even depression in some cases.
Avoid drugs or alcohol
They impair judgment and decision-making skills. Alcohol abuse for many years can lead to memory problems and a thiamine deficiency. Thiamine (B1) is a water-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in mental health. It is essential for brain function, and deficiency of this vitamin can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS).
People with WKS suffer severe memory loss and confusion. In the early stages it looks very similar to Alzheimer’s disease - but unlike Alzheimer’s, victims can recover if they are treated quickly.
Keep your mind engaged
Our minds need stimulation to stay healthy, so, do not get stuck in a rut by doing the same thing every day or sitting in front of the TV all day long. Instead, try exposing yourself to new experiences such as taking classes in something you have always wanted to learn or by joining a sports team. You also might benefit from trying new hobbies, keeping mentally active with puzzles and games and maintaining good social connections will all help you stay sharp.
The food we eat plays a crucial role in our brain health. So, try to incorporate more fruits such as avocado, vegetables such as spinach and whole grains such as nuts into your diet. Fish is another great source of omega-3 fatty acids (which are thought to protect against Alzheimer’s disease) and nuts also contain protein as well as fibre, which promote heart health.
Maintain healthy sleep patterns
A lot of studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived tend to show signs of brain impairment. Therefore, make sure you get at least seven hours of quality sleep every night. You can help facilitate this process by avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon or early evening as well as all screen time for an hour before bedtime.
Limiting your exposure to artificial light after dark is also a good idea; remember, our bodies are not designed to receive flashes of bright light during our waking hours. Turn off electronics such as phones, TVs and computers around 30 minutes before bed so you can relax without relying on these devices.
Avoiding the use of drugs or alcohol, keeping your mind engaged by trying new experiences and hobbies, eating healthier foods with more fruits, vegetables and whole grains as well as maintaining a good sleep pattern are all great ways to keep your brain at its best. Exercise is another key element in mental health.
It is important that you speak with your doctor before beginning any type of strenuous activity regimen because some people have contraindications against exercise-induced stress on their heart or blood pressure levels depending on pre-existing conditions.