Don’t you hate it when you walk into a room to get something and completely forget what you went in there for? Or you’re asking someone to pass you something and you can’t think of the word for the thing you’re staring at? Don’t you hate that?
As we age, we often begin to experience some difficulty with memory, attention or processing speed. Certain neurological disorders or brain injury—such as Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, or sports concussions—also can bring about changes in our cognitive abilities.
Jacqueline Phillips-Sabol, PhD, ABPP-CN, Neuropsychologist, offers some tips on maintaining brain fitness and cognitive function as you age.
Keep on Doing
“One of the most important things you can do to maintain brain health is to continue a cognitively and physically active lifestyle, where you use your brain doing challenging, everyday types of things,” says Dr. Phillips-Sabol. For example, carry on doing what you’ve always done—such as reading books, balancing your checking account or writing emails to your friends.
“It’s very important that you continue being cognitively active by using your problem-solving skills and challenging your memory, especially after retirement. When it comes to your brain, it really is ‘Use it or lose it,’” Dr. Phillips-Sabol advises. “Pathways in the brain are like paths through the woods; if you don’t use them frequently, they get overgrown and hard to use, and it becomes harder for information to find its way through the brain,” explains Dr. Phillips-Sabol.
Exercise Your Brain
Working particular kinds of puzzles and watching certain game shows can help you recall knowledge you wouldn’t normally have at hand. Dr. Phillips-Sabol recommends these brain-building exercises:
- Crossword puzzles
- Board games
- Card games
- Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune
Learn New Skills
“It’s also important that you learn to do new things. Learning new skills creates new synaptic connections and pathways in your brain, which stimulates brain activity,” Dr. Phillips-Sabol says. Taking a class at a community college, using social media to communicate with friends or learning a new instrument are ways to keep your mind active. For more ideas of new things to learn, visit www.wikihow.com. “Anything that is new and challenging is good for your brain,” says Dr. Phillips-Sabol.
Eat a Brain-Healthy Diet
Another important element is to eat healthfully. “A heart-healthy diet is also a brain-healthy diet,” Dr. Phillips-Sabol says. The American Heart Association recommends a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in meats, fats and sugars.
Exercise Your Heart, Which Helps Your Brain
Dr. Phillips-Sabol says aerobic exercise is important in maintaining cognitive function. “You don’t necessarily need to run 30 minutes, three times a week, but you do need to get yourself a little bit winded and try to do this for a total of 30 minutes, at least three times a week. You need to get your heart rate up to stimulate brain activity,” Dr. Phillips-Sabol says.
“Exercise is something that we know increases growth factors in the brain and increases synaptic connections, thereby strengthening brain fitness and decreasing the risk of cognitive decline as we age. Also, if you have medical issues, be sure to clear your exercise with your medical doctor first,” advises Dr. Phillips-Sabol.
Decrease Cardiovascular Risk Factors
To maintain optimum brain health, Dr. Phillips-Sabol also suggests decreasing your cardiovascular risk factors. “You need to maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, quit smoking, control your blood pressure and cholesterol, and control your risk factors for diabetes,” Dr. Phillips-Sabol says. A heart-healthy lifestyle is a brain-healthy lifestyle.
Maintain Social Networks
Another important element in keeping your brain cognitively active is continuing a social lifestyle. “You need to have a social network. Don’t become isolated,” Dr. Phillips-Sabol advises. Staying in touch helps provide you with fellowship, companionship and cognitive stimulation, as well as providing stress relief and helping you recall names and faces.