As you age, preserving and promoting your
cognitive health becomes ever more important. And while there are countless tools and programs
that claim to keep your mind sharp as you get older, experts say that
the most important things you can do are actually simple, accessible,
and free. Not only do these everyday interventions promote excellent cognitive
health, but many of them also contribute to better overall health and
lower all-cause mortality rates. The key, experts say, is establishing
good habits that you can repeat on a daily basis.
Wondering where to begin? Read on to learn the seven easy things you can
do every day to keep your mind sharp, according to doctors. Your brain—and
the rest of your body—will thank you.
1. Get some exercise.
Getting regular exercise—ideally at least
150 minutes per week—can have a profound effect on your cognitive and physical health.
"Jump, squat, march, raise those arms! The benefits of regular physical
activity are so numerous—especially for our brain health—that,
in a sense, exercise is the closest thing we have to a miracle drug,"
says Scott Kaiser, MD,
director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute. "Even a ten-minute burst
can yield great results."
To maximize impact, Kaiser recommends exercises that combine physical and
cognitive challenges, which he says are especially efficient in improving
memory and brain health. Try learning and practicing a dance routine or
biking a new route to get the mind and body working in tandem.
2. Eat well.
Following a healthy diet is another simple everyday way to keep your mind
sharp as you get older. In particular,
the MIND diet is considered especially effective at preventing cognitive decline and
Alzheimer's disease, says Verna Porter, MD, a neurologist and
director of programs for dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and neurocognitive disorders at
Providence Saint John's Health Center.
"The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 'brain-healthy
food groups,'" she explains. These include
green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, poultry, olive
oil, resveratrol (a polyphenol compound found in wine, peanuts, berries,
and grapes), and fish in moderation, she says.
3. Practice mindful breathing.
According to Porter, experiencing consistent stress can have a profound
impact on your cognitive health.
"Chronic or persistent stress can actually lead to nerve cell decline
and even death, which may manifest as atrophy (shrinkage in size) of important
memory areas in the brain," she tells
Best Life. "Nerve cell dysfunction and degeneration in turn increases the risk
of Alzheimer's disease and dementia."
Porter recommends engaging in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises,
meditation, or yoga, which she says may diminish the damaging effects
of stress on the brain.
Kaiser agrees that practicing these
mindfulness activities can help by "slowing heart rate, relaxing blood vessels to lower
blood pressure, boosting immune factors, lowering blood sugar, improving
mood, and more."
4. Connect with others.
Another easy thing you can do every day to keep your mind sharp is making
time for friends, family, and even acquaintances. Maintaining your social
ties can greatly reduce your cognitive risk, the experts say.
"Social isolation and loneliness have negative health impacts on par
with obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking 15 cigarettes a day and
are associated with about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia,"
warns Kaiser. "Simply taking a moment to connect with someone—even
through a brief phone call—can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety,
and depression and deliver brain-protecting benefits."
5. Give back.
One of the best ways to help yourself when it comes to cognitive health is to
help others. "It turns out that volunteering, giving back, and having a strong
sense of purpose in life are secret ingredients of healthy aging and some
of the most powerful ways we can improve our brain," says Kaiser.
Porter suggests visiting
Volunteer.gov to learn more.
6. Express yourself.
Creative pursuits aren't just fun and fulfilling, they're also
"Singing, playing an instrument, painting, and writing a poem, are
just a few examples of the type of creative expression that improve brain
health," says Kaiser. "And while certain activities, like playing
an instrument throughout your life, are associated with a reduced risk
of dementia, there are benefits to the arts and creativity at any age.
It is never too late to try something new."
7. Sleep well.
Finally, getting enough sleep—between
seven to nine hours for most adults—can help keep your mind sharp.
"Shutting down electronic devices, lowering the lights and thermostat,
and other aspects of a
healthy bedtime routine can improve our sleep," says Kaiser. "The quantity and quality
of sleep—needed to clear debris, 'reset' neural networks,
and provide downtime to various systems in our brains—have profound
physiological impacts that impact our day-to-day thinking, memory, and
mood as well as our long-term risk of cognitive decline and dementia."
Vernon Williams, MD,
sports neurologist and director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai
Kerlan-Jobe Institute, agrees that sleep should be a top priority.
"Study after study has shown that even an hour or two less sleep each
night for just a few consecutive nights can have effects on the brain
that last longer than those few days of disrupted rest," he says.
"From delayed reaction times that can put you in danger while driving
or working to fatigue and depression, 'burning the midnight oil'
can have serious health and brain repercussions," says Williams.