Did you know that your brain needs exercise and good nutrition to stay sharp, healthy and functional?

The brain is the most complex and ever-evolving structure in our body. A lot is happening in that three-pound organ, including:

  • Speech
  • Memory
  • Knowledge retention
  • Emotions
  • Behaviors
  • Sensory processing
  • Motor function
  • Voluntary movements

As we age, however, our brain mass shrinks and our synaptic connections (which make us experience touch or pain) decline, which could affect our capacity for cognition and memory.

Recent research has revealed a group of seniors called SuperAgers, whose brains shrink at a slower rate and retain much more of their mental sharpness. It is believed that SuperAgers are people who experience less of a decline in cognitive function due to certain habits. These habits include:

  • Engaging in regular physical activity
  • Pursuing intellectually stimulating activities
  • Staying socially active
  • Managing stress
  • Eating nutritious foods
  • Sleeping well

Get Physical

Some neurologists believe that exercise can boost thinking skills by activating chemicals that affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain.

For people 65 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends moderate-intensity aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes a week, which can be broken up in sessions of 30-minutes per day, five days per week. The CDC also recommends muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week. (Please consult with your physician before beginning an exercise program.)

The connection between physical health and the brain also requires us to manage any chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Also, do not smoke and limit your consumption of alcohol.

Pursue Intellectually Stimulating Activities

What constitutes a brain-stimulating activity?

According to the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, research suggests that reading books, writing, and participating in brain-stimulating activities at any age may preserve memory.

A key to keeping your brain healthy and active is to present it with new challenges. For example: learn to play a new game, study a subject you aren’t familiar with, learn a foreign language, or take music lessons.

Researchers believe that the common factor among SuperAgers is that they engage in challenging mental activities—they stay sharp by trying new and different things outside their comfort zone.

Practice using your memory by trying to recall a passage from a book, or do math problems in your head. The effort that comes with making your brain work and acquiring new knowledge and experiences contributes to keeping you mentally sharp.

Stay Socially Active

Connecting with other people keeps your brain active and more engaged in the world around you. Studies show that social isolation and loneliness in seniors not only pose risks for their physical health, but can lead to cognitive decline as well–even promoting inflammation in the brain, which could lead to an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis.

As we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities are opening up for more social interaction. Classes, events, and religious services are great ways to stay connected. If you prefer smaller groups, just pick up the phone and chat with a friend, or go shopping with a neighbor.

Manage Stress to Stay Sharp

Effects of chronic stress on the brain can cause the buildup of cortisol, which can have negative long-term effects. As the body makes more cortisol than it can release, the cortisol wears down the brain’s ability to function properly.

Staying physically active and socially engaged can help manage stress. Other options include joining a support group, obtaining counseling, adopting a pet, or just talking to a friend or loved one to help you deal with stress. Others have found stress relief through breathing exercises or meditation.

Feed Your Brain

There is evidence that what you eat can lessen your risk for cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Eating certain foods (and avoiding others) has been shown to slow brain aging by 7.5 years.

“Brain foods” include:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, as well as nuts and seeds are among the food items high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit the brain.
  • Certain berries, like blueberries, contain antioxidants that have been shown to improve communication between brain cells.
  • Eggs have many nutrients that help regulate mood and memory.
  • Broccoli is also antioxidant-rich.

Studies have shown the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, berries, and seafood, is good for the brain.

In short, what is good for your body is also good for your mind.

Sleep Well

Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep improves attention and concentration as well as memory retention, problem-solving, emotional processing and judgement. The brain can struggle due to lack of sleep, and this may contribute to long-term cognitive decline.

The National Institute on Aging provides information on sleep topics like insomnia, sleep disorders as well as tips for falling asleep.

Both physical and mental sharpness helps us age gracefully. For more tips on aging the way you would like, read our blog.