Have you misplaced your car keys lately? Did you have to be reminded of what you had for dinner last night? Are you a tad slower buzzing in when you play Jeopardy at home?
It’s likely these little mental slips or cognitive delays are simply a natural part of the aging process. That said, there are ways to keep your mind nimble and supple so you can stay mentally sharp. And most of those ways, simply call for common sense – the stuff your parents told you growing up, the stuff you probably learned in kindergarten.
They’re worth going over here:
1. Exercise for Mental Health
Exercise is good for the whole body, and that includes your brain. Try to walk 30 minutes a day. Anything over that is gravy. Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, feeding it with oxygen and nutrients.
2. Get a Proper Night’s Sleep
Your brain revives and regenerates with sleep. Everybody, of course, is different but aim for between seven and nine hours a night. And when you go to bed, leave your electronic leash (smartphone) in the other room.
3. Eat Well
If you have followed health news the past half-century, you have a right to be skeptical about what you hear. A glass of wine is good for you, then it isn’t. Coffee is good for you, then it isn’t. Eggs are good for you, then they aren’t. Again, use your common sense: A diet of fruits and vegetables is better than loading up on cake and ice cream. Although we’re reluctant to recommend a diet, given how faddish diets die faster than mayflies, frequently cited diets for improving cognition include the well-known Mediterranean diet and a diet called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop hypertension).
4. Mind Your Heart
High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol all put pressure on your heart, and for your brain to function at its best, it needs a healthy heart. So, do everything you can to keep your blood pressure down by doing all of the above — exercising, getting proper rest, and eating well. This is no time to be hero. If, for example, diet and exercise aren’t improving your cholesterol numbers, work with your doctor to devise a heart-healthy, brain-pleasing plan.
5. Strengthen Your Social Networks
According to numerous studies, social exercise seems to be as important as the physical variety. Therefore, stay engaged. Think back to your sandbox days: Was it more fun playing by yourself or building castles, then knocking them down, with your best pals?
6. Smoking and Mental Health
It’s now been more than half a century (Jan. 11, 1964), since U.S. Surgeon General Luther L. Terry warned us about the dangers of smoking. Back then, the report established a link to lung cancer, but numerous studies have since shown that people who smoke are at higher risk of developing all types of dementia and a much higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, likely brought on by the more than 4,700 chemical compounds found in cigarettes and cigarette smoke.
7. Learn New Skills to Keep Your Mind Strong
Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford had it right: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
So, give your brain new challenges. Build new skills. Get out of your comfort zone. Try brushing your teeth with your less dominant hand. If you’re not musical, pick up an instrument. Start slowly. Master a few chords, and soon no one will be able to tear the guitar out of your hands. Get your neural circuits firing again.
8. Prevent Brain Injury
As more and more studies are revealing, any hard knock to the head isn’t good. So, don’t ever ride a bicycle without a helmet. And keep the spaces you live in clear of clutter because falls can cause a head injury, broken bones or other harm that can trigger gradual or sudden cognitive decline.
9. Health Benefits of Meditation
This is just a fancy word to mean, take a time-out for yourself. It can be done anytime, anywhere, any length of time. If you think meditating is only for those who can contort themselves into a human pretzel, pull up a chair, straighten your spine, breathe and clear your mind. You’ve got this!
10. Maintain a Healthy Skepticism About Any Reported Brain Breakthroughs
There have probably been a million books written on ways to improve brain health. Before implementing any of their recommended tips or methods, discuss them first with your doctor and keep in mind what Mark Twain once said: “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”