Maintaining Physical Health Is One Thing, but What About Aging Well Mentally?

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Maintaining Physical Health Is One Thing, but What About Aging Well Mentally?

We hear a lot about how to stay physically fit as we age. Walk or run regularly. Try swimming. Eat the right foods. Stay hydrated. Get regular check-ups. These are all important, but what about maintaining mental acuity? After all, our brain health allows us to do all these things in the first place. This involves thinking, processing and remembering, motor functions, emotional response, and even how we register physical touch. The brain is the most important and vital muscle in the body, and like any other muscle, it requires attention and care to stay healthy. This becomes especially necessary as we become more vulnerable to disorders or neurological illness, but aging alone does not have to mean cognitive decline! There are a number of steps you can take to invest in your brain health as you get older.

What to aim for

     1. Read and write

At the least, reading and writing is a simple way to keep your mind active and focused. Telling a friend about what you’ve read can help further solidify the new information you’ve absorbed. Furthermore, journaling a few times a week can also be beneficial. Translating your thoughts into cohesive, written sentences is a great way to exercise the brain’s abilities, including the use of language and communication.

     2. Take up a hobby, learn a new skill, or take a class

Focusing on specific tasks helps open neurological pathways that become strengthened with use. The more mentally demanding the task, the better! If you’re retired or find that you have more time on your hands than you used to, why not use it to learn photography or take that class in late Byzantine socioeconomic history like you’ve always wanted to?

     3. Repeat what you’ve just learned

If someone tells you a name, use it a few more times in conversation. Hearing ourselves repeat information helps us remember it more effectively. And if you’re trying to ingrain long-term knowledge, don’t try to cram it all in in five minutes. The brain better retains information after having time to process and return to it the next day.

     4. Create a structure of easily accessible information

Schedules and phone reminders are hugely helpful. They allow you to keep all your routine information in one or two places so you don’t have to scramble to remember an appointment or a gettogether you made weeks ago. It also helps to keep items you use regularly in the same place every time you need them. This allows you to reserve your brain energy for more important things, like meeting new people or focusing on activities that you care about.

What to avoid

     1. Negative mindsets

It’s been shown that people who internalize false narratives about aging and health decline tend to manifest those realities in their own lives. In short, if you believe mental and physical deterioration are inevitable elements of getting older, you’re more likely to experience them to greater effect. Stay positive! You don’t have to adopt normal stereotypes about aging.

     2. Smoking

There is overwhelming evidence that smoking not only negatively impacts one’s physical health, but mental health as well. As you age, the use of nicotine can accelerate cognitive decline as well as increase your risk of dementia and/or brain cancer. It can also result in the loss of brain volume with age.

     3. Excessive drinking

A drink here or there won’t hurt you, such as a glass of wine with dinner. But as you age, consuming too much alcohol can have an even more adverse effect on the brain than when you were younger. It can impact your balance, your ability to think clearly or make sound judgments–even increase your risk of brain cancer. And if you take medications of any kind, consult with your doctor to find out if alcohol is safe to drink. When combined with some prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs, alcohol can be potentially hazardous.

As we age, it’s just as necessary to maintain our brain health as it is our physical health. But aging doesn’t have to imply a decline of either of those things. In this day and age, with modern medical advancements, more and more people are finding it easier to have the health they want without letting age become an impediment. And when you strive to age well in your mind, everything else becomes a lot easier.


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