As we age, trying to live a healthy lifestyle seems to be the goal of many Americans. After all, heart disease is a major concern for adults fifty and over these days. But what about keeping our minds healthy? As humans age, many will lose some degree of cognitive capacity. Fortunately, a proactive approach, such as adopting lifestyle habits, can improve both our bodies and our minds.
Research has shown that a holistic strategy combining healthy nutritional, physical, social, mental and cardiovascular habits can slow down cognitive decline and keep the mind sharp. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Healthy nutrition. Saturated fat promotes cognitive decline. A diet that is low in saturated fat, and high in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits and vegetables is always beneficial to our bodies and reduces cognitive decay.
2. Healthy activity. Adding exercise to your weekly schedule is valuable in so many ways. It’s been shown that exercise stimulates the growth of new neuronal connections in the brain. If you’re up to it, add a few cardiovascular exercises to your fitness routine that elevate your heart rate. Elevating your heart rate helps increase blood flow, and therefore nutrition flow, to your body and your brain.
Doctors believe that exercises which engage the mind as well as the body are especially beneficial because they integrated different areas of the brain that control balance, coordination, rhythm and strategy. Some examples are ballroom dancing, walking and talking with your neighbors, playing a round of golf, yoga or biking instead of running. Remember to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
3. Healthy heart. Research proved that obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke have a negative impact on our cognitive health. Love yourself enough to take care of the biggest and most powerful muscle in the body – the heart.
4. Healthy sleep. Get enough rest. Insomnia and sleep apnea are two conditions that can result in memory and thinking problems. Be sure to give your body the rest and sleep that it needs to be healthy. Eight hours is recommended.
5. Healthy mind. A history of stress, depression, anxiety, or any other mental health concern has been shown to increase your risk of cognitive decline. Seek the medical treatment you need to need to manage your condition. If you have a hard time dealing with stress, take a course in stress management or relaxation techniques. Yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation are great for reducing stress. Getting a monthly massage can also help!
Keep your mind active by learning new things and exposing your mind to new topics. Learning a new hobby, completing a puzzle, taking a course at the local library, playing board games, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language, reading a book, solving a crossword puzzle, or even watching a game show on television can have short and long-term benefits on the brain. The key is to expose your mind to new information and challenge yourself.
6. Social health. Meaningful social activity can support brain health. For example, animal lovers should consider volunteering at a local animal shelter, pet store or animal hospital. If you love people, volunteer at a local hospital, homeless shelter, book club, or library. Teach a small class at the library, or call out the BINGO numbers at the local hall. No matter your preference, there are tons of different places looking for volunteers.
Staying social helps reduce the risk of depression and mortality. Connecting with others, participating in clubs, and volunteering your time are all valuable pieces in maintaining your overall health. Social activity can be as simple as speaking to family and friends on a daily basis, whether it is at the local diner for breakfast, skyping, speaking on the phone, or even during a brisk walk after lunch.
7. Spiritual health. A healthy mind consists of being connected mentally, socially and physically, but it also means connecting spiritually. Be inspired by something that is positive and bigger than you.
Adopting healthy habits can lead to a healthier mind and body. It’s never too late to start.