As people are living longer, the idea of maintaining and improving cognitive health is becoming more and more important. “The rates or chronic disabilities among people over age 65 have been decreasing for decades,” but the rates of older adults developing aging-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other dementias and movement disorders will continue to climb. While our genetics certainly play a role in how we age, they are not a defining factor. There are many meaningful ways in which we can move towards a healthy brain lifestyle to help reduce or delay the affects of age-related changes in cognition and function… and it is never too late to start.
- Exercise: Our executive functions, “the command and control operations of the brain which help us plan our daily lives”, are most improved by exercise. Combination routines such as biking, swimming, or brisk walking plus strength training or weight baring exercises for as little as 30 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week enough so that we break out into a sweat is believed to reduce our risks for cognitive impairment as we age.
- Diet: A heart-healthy diet is a brain healthy diet. Choosing food options such as fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, lean proteins like fish and poultry, beans and whole grains and avoiding saturated fats found in red meats, butter, and oils will help maintain both heart and brain health.
- Social Engagement: Staying socially active and engaging with others also reduces our likelihood of developing cognitive impairment as we age.
- Cognitively Stimulating Activities: Spending your free time reading the newspaper, doing a puzzle, or playing thought-provoking games such as cards or Sudoku rather than mindless activities like watching television helps to stimulate your mind and reduce your risk for issues with cognition.
With that said, there is another important piece to the puzzle of healthy brain aging. There is a growing need for advances in drug discovery in order to accelerate new therapies and combat the effects of aging-related cognitive changes. We have the ideas, we have the people, and we have the resources but it is up to us to prioritize them if we want to eliminate the devastating dementias and movement disorders that affect the aging community and have an impact on healthy brain aging.
For more tips on healthy brain aging, check out “Brain Health As You Age: You Can Make A Difference!”, a brain health resource developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Administration for Community Living (ACL), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).