The human brain consists of around 100 billion neurons connected with trillions of synapses. That’s a lot of brain power! You can help keep all that gray matter in great shape by adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and staying socially active can help keep your memory sharp and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. For a closer look at how to keep your brain cells in good working order, consider the senior brain exercises below.
8 ways to keep your gray matter in great shape.
There’s more to brain health than eating fish and doing crosswords. Research strongly suggests that individuals who practice these senior brain exercises experience the least declines in cognition and memory.
- Move your body. One of the best things you can do for your brain is to move your body. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week can help keep your brain sharp. Researchers have found that regular physical exercise increases the size of your hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial to making memories. Physical exercise also generates a chemical called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which acts like fertilizer for the brain, encouraging the growth of neural connections and new brain cells. Jogging, walking, cycling, swimming and aerobics classes are all great ways to get your heart pumping and your brain firing on all cylinders.
- Eat a healthy diet. A diet high in fat and sugar is as bad for your brain as it is for your body. Diets that emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fatty fish and healthy fats help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. The MIND diet is a good example of a brain-healthy diet that’s been shown to slow brain aging by 7.5 years.
- Stay socially active. Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for dementia in older adults. So it stands to reason that remaining socially active supports brain health and may even delay the onset of dementia. Look for ways to connect with others, whether it’s staying in touch with friends and family on a regular basis, or participating in clubs, volunteer efforts, or other community pursuits.
- Learn something new. Challenging yourself by learning something new encourages the growth of new brain cells and stimulates the connections between them, which can improve cognitive function. For example, one study found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities. Another example of how challenging your brain keeps you sharp is that of London cab drivers who have to memorize a map of the city, including 25,000 streets and thousands of landmarks. MRIs of cabbies who successfully pass “the Knowledge” — a test that often takes 12 attempts to pass — showed a greater volume of nerve cells in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. Of course, you don’t have to drive a cab to train your brain. Taking a class, learning a new skill, or engaging in creative art activities are great ways to challenge your mind.
- Change it up. If you like doing crossword puzzles, sudoku, or other brain-stimulating games, keep it up. But instead of doing the same thing over and over again each day, try switching it up. Do a crossword one day, sudoku the next day, and an online memory game the following day. It may not reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, but it can give your brain a workout and improve executive function (i.e., working memory, flexible thinking, self-control) and processing speed.
- Practice meditation. Researchers think chronic stress may be a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. Meditation can reduce stress. Practicing mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes a day may also improve concentration and “working memory” — the ability to keep new information in mind so the brain can work with it briefly and connect it with other information.
- Get your ZZZs. Sleep helps your brain consolidate memories, clear out abnormal proteins, and wake up feeling refreshed and firing on all cylinders. Not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night can result in problems with memory and thinking. Lack of sleep may also increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- Quit smoking. In addition to shortening your life span, smoking increases the risk of dementia and stroke. A recent study showed smokers are more likely to experience age-related brain volume loss. Smokers also have an increased risk of dementia.
- Remember to floss. A 2019 study found the bacteria that cause gingivitis may also be connected to Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have previously found that this bacteria, called Porphyromonas gingivalis, can move from the mouth to the brain. Once in the brain, the bacteria release enzymes that can destroy nerve cells, which leads to memory loss and eventually Alzheimer’s.
Memory care at Ventana.
We work closely with families to provide personalized care for members living with memory loss. Our Garden View neighborhood offers a structured, supportive setting for members with mild to moderate dementia. Garden View residents enjoy private rooms and have round-the-clock support from compassionate, highly trained staff. To learn more about memory care at Ventana, check out our blog post, or contact us by using the form below.