Just the word can make you feel nervous and anxious about your aging years. Losing your memories and intellectual functioning is a frightening thought. However, while many people may associate forgetfulness with old age, memory loss is not actually a normal part of aging! You can improve your brain power and take steps to safeguard yourself against the loss of who you are. There are many factors that will influence your health as you age, such as illness and injury. Instead of viewing aging as an inevitable progression, you can use these tips to give yourself the best possible chance of enjoying your golden years.
Exercises for a Healthy Brain
Your brain has an amazing capability (called neuroplasticity) that helps you continue to learn new things throughout your entire life, even into your 80s, 90s and 100s. The more you use your brain, the stronger it gets and the greater your intellectual reserves will be.
A study done by Dorina Cadar at the University College of London found that educated seniors had a larger cognitive reserve. This reserve of knowledge and skills gave them better memory function as they aged.1 Jerri Edwards of the University of South Florida conducted a 10-year study with almost 3,000 participants to find which type of learning provided the best benefits. The group that completed a five-week training that encouraged them to take in and process information faster and faster saw a 33% reduction in dementia and cognitive impairment.
So don’t slow down your brain as you age. Speed it up to keep yourself functioning at top capacity. Learning is great fun! It gives you something to look forward to, new topics to talk about and a perfect way to connect with others. Playing a fast-paced card game, working on a crossword puzzle, picture or word puzzle, writing or reading can all increase our brain power and build our resistance to the destructive proteins that lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Laughing Improves Your Brain Power
Would you like a prescription for reducing risk of Alzheimer’s 3 that doesn’t require a visit to the doctor and has the following benefits:
- Improves mood
- Lessens anxiety
- Prevents heart disease
- Lowers stress hormones
- Strengthens immune system
- Decreases pain
- Boosts energy
- Improves relationships
Sounds too good to be true? Laughter offers you all of those benefits without having to work for them. You just get to have fun. Laughter is amazing! A good, sincere, hearty laugh triggers three parts of your brain at once 4:
- Your cognitive area in the frontal lobe which helps you to understand what is funny about the situation.
- Your involuntary motor area which sparks your muscles to smile, laugh and maybe even produce a good, old fashioned shaking of your belly as tears roll down your face.
- Your emotional cortex that triggers a feeling of happiness and connection after sharing or enjoying a laugh.
All of that amazing activity is occurring inside of your brain, improving your brain power and growing new brain cells. All you had to do was let your funny bone be tickled and the rest just happens! Try these ideas to exercise your laughter muscles:
- Play a hilarious game with friends or family like Speak Out, Balderdash, or Charades.
- Watch an old comedy by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.
- When visiting with friends and family, bring up awkward and funny moments that happened to you recently or even years ago.
Sometimes it takes awhile to re-activate an underused laughter muscle but you will never regret sharing a good laugh!
Laughter connects you with those around you. This connection is a vital exercise for a healthy brain. Our fear of dementia may be linked to losing not only our intellectual capability but also our ability to function in our relationships. Relationships can protect your brain as you age. A decade long study done as part of the Promoting Independence in Dementia program in England measured the impact positive social support had on the risk of developing dementia.5
Relationships with spouses, partners, children and other family that were reliable, approachable and understanding reduced dementia risk by 17%. Dr. Mizanur Khondoker stated that “it is well known that having a rich network of close relationships, including being married and having adult children, is related to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia.”
The quality of your relationships matter more than the amount of time you spend together in protecting your brain health. Social isolation is a strong indicator for depression as we age and depression has been shown to produce higher rates of dementia. You can take time now to enjoy or to restore the relationships you have. Let go of past hurts. Choose to ask forgiveness while you can. Set and demonstrate respectful boundaries. Listen to those around you before jumping to conclusions. Find something that you both love to do together.6 Building up your relationships will not only protect your brain but can provide you with countless opportunities for connection and memories.
Focus on the Positive
One of the factors that only you can control is your attitude. Your attitude is a powerful factor in your resilience to dementia. How you view yourself as you age will directly impact the health of your brain.
Researchers in Ireland found that a positive attitude in regards to aging prevented older adults from physical decline and also kept their brains healthy. If you feel negatively about aging your physical and cognitive health will decline faster.7 You might have spent a lifetime being told by media, society and those around you that youth is golden and old age is depressing and something to be avoided as long as possible. But you don’t have to believe those degrading ideas. You can choose to see the positive benefits of getting older. Instead of focusing on how your body doesn’t respond like it used to, make a mental list of all the abilities you do have. Instead of dwelling on the pain, losses and trials of your life. Focus on what you’ve accomplished, the people you have loved and are loved by. Stop thinking only about your glory days. Rejoice in what you did at one point but also be ready to look at what you will do today, tomorrow or in a year.
Your senior years can be enjoyed and cherished just as much as your childhood and your young adulthood. But after a lifetime of habits and thought you have to take control of your positivity.
Plant some seeds of gratitude for what you have today, the people in your life and simple pleasures.