As we age there are many different changes that start to happen to our brain such as shrinkage, vasculature and cognition. With age, the brain shrinks and changes occur at all levels, from chemicals to morphology. Stroke, lesions, and dementia are all more common as people get older, as is memory impairment. Fortunately there are quite a few things we can do to help prevent or slow the process of some of those changes from happening. Regular exercise, a good diet, and low to moderate alcohol consumption, all of which minimize cardiovascular risk, appear to help the aging brain, as does increasing cognitive exertion in the form of schooling, games or meaningful activities. Physical and mental health may be the best defense against the effects of aging on the brain.
When you start to engage in personally meaningful activities whether it be volunteering, exercise, games or hobbies they are known to make you feel healthier and happier. As we age it can be easy to give into that mindset and feeling that we may not be able to do all the same things we used to and leave you feeling discouraged and hopeless. It’s important to remember that really this the perfect time to find new activities and hobbies to try. Learning new skills can improve your thinking ability and memory. Some research on engagement in activities such as music, theater, dance and creative writing has shown promise for improving quality of life and well-being, from better memory and self-esteem to reduced stress and increase social interaction.
Another way to get involved in new activities is to reach out to a friend or neighbor for ideas and for company. Social interactions and social activities are great ways to keep your brain active and engaged with the community around you. Participating in personally meaningful and useful activities with others will leave you happier, and feeling more purposeful. These activities appear to assist and maintain your well-being and may even improve cognitive performance.
Take the time to reach out and spend time with family and friends or donate your time to a local charity or maybe to join a group dedicated to a pastime you enjoy. Join a walking group for senior citizens. Check out what local community organizations have to offer and give them a try. There are more and more groups that meet online, providing a means to interact with others who share your interests or obtain support from the comfort of your own home. Trivia quizzes, sudoku, arts and crafts, word puzzles, learning a new language, starting book club, trying a new workout class are all great ways to keep your mind engaged and busy. Go out of your comfort zone and try something new and take a friend with you.
Other ideas to keep you on your toes:
- Use your non-dominant hand for everyday tasks ( brushing teeth or eating).
- Test your memory by creating a list, it could be grocery list or 10 movies you want to watch and then memorize them. See how may you can recall by the end of the day.
- Jigsaw puzzles are a great brain workout using strategy and problem solving skills.
- Exercise is a great way to combine physical and mental workouts. They don’t have to get you sweaty you can go walking, take a tai chi or yoga class.
- Reading is a fantastic brain exercise that stimulates your brain and can slow cognitive decline. Pick up a book from your local library, a magazine at the salon or even read the posters on the walls around you.