George Burns quipped, “By the time you’re eighty years old, you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it.”
George Burns lived to a hundred, remaining lucid and witty till the end – clearly, he knew something about aging gracefully.
When it comes to staying mentally sharp as we age, it really comes down to keeping our brains active. Like a muscle – and I’m sorry to repeat this old cliché, but it’s true – if we don’t use it, we will lose it. Muscles become flabby without plenty of exercise – and so does the mind.
Yes, our course there are genetic factors that can predispose us to senility or Alzheimer’s. But with a few sane – and highly enjoyable – preventive measures, our genetic inheritance might not necessarily catch up with us.
Below, I’ll list some thoroughly tested ways to keep the mind bursting with vitality.
Stay active. Exercising for at least 20 minutes a day will jump-start your body’s metabolism. Studies have shown that giving your muscles a good workout helps keep your mind healthy, too, not to mention the benefits to your mood and overall sense of well-being.
Exercise, of course, also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps maintain blood sugar balance, and reduces mental stress – hey, you knew that! But did you also know that all of these factors promote brain health as well as benefitting your body and heart?
Stimulate your mind every day, all day long. A big part of the challenge of aging with grace and dignity is finding things to engage our brains. Keeping your brain active will stimulate the growth of new connections between nerve cells and help keep the old connections active. It may even help the brain generate new cells, encouraging neurological “plasticity” and building a functional reserve against future cell loss.
Read. When you read, you’re not only absorbing information, you’re building neural connections that keep your brain agile, flexible, and alert.
Listen to music. Music has a profound effect on brain function – it’s been linked to improved memory and clarity of thought. Singing and/or playing an instrument is even better.
Write. Writing improves access to working memory and improves our ability to communicate. Don’t think about writing a 700-page book unless you’re so inclined – keeping the brain active with email, a private journal, or letters to the editor will help your brain stay healthy and alert.
Focus Your Attention. Our brains may be at increased risk unless we continue to deliberately exercise our memory and our concentration skills. In your mind, bring up images of a time that was particularly important and meaningful. Try to recall the details in chronological order. Try to remember what you did yesterday – where were you, and at what times? What did you eat? Mindfulness meditation can help you be more in control of where your mind goes, promoting better brain function.
Eat a healthy diet. This is huge; I cannot overstate how important good nutrition is, as a foundation for healthy brain function, physical energy, and overall appearance.
Studies have shown that people who eat a Mediterranean- style diet with a heavy emphasis on fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils (e.g., olive oil), and protein from plant sources are less likely to develop cognitive impairment and dementia.
Establish and nourish relationships. Numerous studies have shown the powerful impact that strong relationships have on our maintaining health and wellness and preventing illness. Put yourself in situations where you can meet new people.
Seek treatment for emotional health issues as needed. Anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues can have a major effect on brain health, including inducing sluggish brain function. An appropriate therapist can help you meet the challenges with focused, compassionate care.
Have fun with your mind! Travel to new places. Work on puzzles, enroll in college classes, play Scrabble, draw, paint, and learn something new.
Challenge yourself. If you aren’t mechanically inclined, try learning automotive skills. If you’re not a “word person,” try memorizing the lyrics of a song or poem.
Embrace change and follow your passions. Finally, don’t fret about the aging body and mind. It would be wise to forget your chronological age and follow Satchel Paige’s sage counsel (1906-1982): “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”
To learn more about Dr. Marcel’s work, click HERE.