How To Keep Your Brain Sharp As You Age

Maintaining mental sharpness as you age involves various factors:

1. **Exercise:** Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercises, promotes blood flow to the brain, reducing cognitive decline. Engage in activities like brisk walking, strength training, or sports for optimal brain health.

The American College of Sports Medicine say adults over 18 should try to get moderate-intensity aerobic activity (think brisk walking or doubles tennis) for a minimum of 150 minutes each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (like soccer, basketball or singles tennis) for a minimum of 75 minutes a week. And then add in strength training (like lifting weights) twice a week.

2. **Cognitive Activity:** Stimulate your brain by reading, learning, and challenging yourself mentally. High cognitive activity later in life is linked to a significant reduction in dementia risk. Start these habits early for lasting benefits.

3. **Socialization:** Quality friendships and frequent social interactions contribute to better cognitive functioning. Combining exercise and mentally challenging activities with friends enhances overall brain health.

4. **Nutrition:** Adopt a Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, fish, and olive oil. Moderation is key for items like eggs, dairy, and poultry, while reducing red meat, refined grains, and sweets.

5. **Sleep:** Prioritize 7-8 hours of consistent, quality sleep each night. Avoid excessive caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, and maintain a regular sleep schedule. Sleep is crucial for clearing accumulated brain waste associated with Alzheimer’s risk.

6. **Holistic Approach:** A 2011 UCSF study suggests that avoiding diabetes, obesity, hypertension, smoking, depression, pursuing education, and engaging in exercise could prevent half of Alzheimer’s cases. Addressing mood changes is crucial, as mood can impact brain function and structure over time.

Remember, making small, consistent lifestyle changes—such as finding enjoyable forms of exercise, embracing cognitive challenges, fostering social connections, maintaining a balanced diet, prioritizing quality sleep, and considering holistic health—can collectively contribute to keeping your brain sharp as you age. And don’t forget to laugh—it’s a key ingredient in navigating the changes that come with aging.

Source: Voneta M. Dotson, neuropsychologist and professor of gerontology at Georgia State University. Her book is “Keep Your Wits About You: The Science of Brain Maintenance as You Age.”