We all want to stay healthy and independent as we get older. Everyone knows keeping our bodies in good shape is key; but did you know we can actively engage in keeping our minds healthy, too?
Aging well depends on your genes, lifestyle choices and environment. Genetic factors are passed down from a parent to child and cannot be controlled, but we can control our lifestyle choices, making good decisions to help maintain a healthy body and brain.
Even if we’re healthy, normal changes in memory and learning as we age may include challenges with multitasking, increased difficulty finding words, and a mild decrease in the ability to pay attention. The good news is, at any age, we can still improve skills, learn new things, create new memories, and improve our vocabulary.
The brain is our most complex organ, and is also one of the most important. That’s why it’s critical that we keep it healthy now, and as we age. We should strive for five major goals:
• Eat healthy. Good nutrition is an important part of any healthy lifestyle, but it also contributes to brain health. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should be a major part of any diet. Choose lean meats, fish, or poultry, as well as low- or non-fat dairy. Eat less sugar, salt, and solid fat; control portion sizes; and stay hydrated.
• Exercise regularly. Staying active can improve heart and circulatory health and is one of the most important things we can do to stay healthy. Remember, what’s good for your heart is good for your brain! Regular exercise reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, and stroke; can help prevent falls; and may improve connections among brain cells. Talk to a health care provider about what activities are best for you — and remember many exercise routines can be modified to suit each individual’s fitness level.
• Keep our brains active. When we learn new things, we engage our brain. Pick up a hobby, such as doing puzzles or word games, or join a club in our community. An active mind may help maintain learning, remembering, and thinking skills.
• Make social connections. Social isolation is a critical risk for both older adults and family caregivers. Social isolation has been demonstrated to lead to numerous detrimental health effects, including increased falls and an increased risk for dementia. Take part in meaningful activities, such as volunteering, joining a social club, or trying programs at a community center.
• Get enough sleep. Without adequate sleep, we’re more likely to feel depressed, have attention and memory problems, or experience an injury. We should strive for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you suffer from a common sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, or Restless Leg Syndrome, talk to your health care provider about devices, medicine, or relaxation techniques that may help.
There are other possible threats to our brain health that can occur at any age, including accidents, excessive alcohol use, smoking, certain medications or improper use of medicine, other health conditions, and poor stress management.
It can be difficult to take in all the things that can affect brain health. Ask yourself, “What am I already doing well? What is one thing I could do better?”
Then start with small steps in the right direction: Schedule a physical exam, review medicines with your doctor or pharmacist, add one daily serving of vegetables to your diet, take a 10-minute walk a few times each week, or join a community center to take advantage of local activities and social connections.
Adopting healthy habits, staying involved in our community, using preventive services, and managing health conditions and medicine may help us all maintain a healthy body and brain.
Clare Edwards, MPH, CPH, is the community education and initiatives manager at SourcePoint. Learn more at MySourcePoint.org or call 740-363-6677.