As we age, many of us begin to notice changes in our physical health. Maybe we’re a little slower on our daily walk or we have to turn the volume up a little higher to hear our favorite TV shows.
We can address these physical changes with modifications to our lifestyle. We can get regular eye and ear exams to ensure we’re staying on top of any issues. We can use exercise and stretching to strengthen our bodies and improve balance.
By making some small lifestyle changes now, you can support your brain and ensure it’s healthy and sharp for many years to come
But what about cognitive health? How do you keep your brain healthy and strong?
Check out the information below to learn more about your cognitive health and what steps you can take to keep your mind sharp as you age.
What Is Cognitive Health?
According to the National Institute on Aging, cognitive health refers to your ability to clearly think, learn and remember. Your cognitive health can be affected by age-related changes in your brain, as well as other factors such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, depression, addiction and diseases like Alzheimer’s. While some of these factors are out of your control, there are many lifestyle changes you can implement to help improve your cognitive health.
What Steps Can I Take to Maintain My Cognitive Health?
- Take care of your physical health and wellness. According to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with one or more chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, are more likely to have more frequent memory problems or worsening cognitive decline. Work with your health care team to keep your chronic health conditions under control. This may include establishing dietary guidelines to follow, taking your medications regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and more.
- Manage your blood pressure. Preventing or controlling high blood pressure may help your brain according to the National Institute on Aging. Research shows that high blood pressure in midlife increases your risk for cognitive decline as you get older. Check out Protect Yourself From High Blood Pressure to learn more.
- Talk to your health care provider. Be open with your health care provider if you’re experiencing any memory problems or are concerned about how your medications may impact your memory, sleep or brain function. Your health care provider can help you determine if your symptoms are related to a vitamin deficiency, a side effect of a medication or early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
- Choose a healthy diet. A diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products may help keep your brain healthy and strong. According to the National Institute on Aging, this may be because a good diet can improve cardiovascular health which may reduce dementia risk, whereas a diet high in fat and sodium may speed up aging in the brain. gov offers nutrition guidance specific to the needs of older adults. Find tips, resources, recipes and more.
- Keep yourself physically active. Physical activity guidelines from Health.gov state that adults should get 150-300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (like brisk walking or dancing) a week and at least two days a week of some kind of muscle-strengthening activity (like lifting weights or doing body-weight exercises). Being active can reduce your risk for dementia and improve your cognition and quality of sleep.
- Keep your mind active. Activities such as reading, playing games, and learning new hobbies or skills may all contribute to better cognition. When your mind is stimulated, it may help your memory and boost your overall brain health.
- Stay connected. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes that relationships and social connections can help keep your brain sharp. By being connected, we feel less isolated and increase our chances for interaction and brain stimulation. Visit with friends, find a meaningful volunteer opportunity, check out what classes are available at your local senior center or get involved with a community organization. Check out Make Your Social Wellness a Priority for more suggestions and information on the health benefits of social connections.
- Reduce your stress levels. According to National Institute on Aging, chronic stress can change your brain, affect your memory, and increase your risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia. To reduce your stress, try using relaxation or breathing techniques, explore meditation or mindfulness, get regular exercise or try yoga.
- Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can lead to trouble with memory, concentration and other cognitive functions. According to the CDC, not getting enough sleep is also linked to many chronic diseases and conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and depression. Check out Sleep Better: Understanding the Sleep Disorders Affecting Veterans for tips on getting your sleep cycle on track.
- Protect yourself from falls. Older adults are at higher risk for falling, which can lead to brain injury. The CDC offers four tips to help you reduce your risk for falling, such as making your home safer, reviewing your medications with your health care provider, having your eyes checked, and exercising to improve strength and balance.
- Limit your alcohol use and quit smoking. Among other health risks associated with alcohol consumption, the CDC notes that alcohol can cause learning and memory problems including dementia as you age. Research done by the American Heart Association shows people with high levels of nicotine in their blood scored lower on a test for a wide range of brain functions. Check out Make a Plan You Can Stick To: Quit Smoking Today for tips on how to quit.
- Take care of your mental health. Mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety can affect our ability to think clearly, focus and remember things. According to VA, these conditions can cause you to “zone out,” become forgetful and feel lost. Talk to your health care provider about your mental health and get help to reduce the impact on your memory and ability to focus.
- The National Institute on Aging has a lot of detailed information and resources about how to maintain your cognitive health, including tips, free publications, checklists and more.
- The CDC offers a lot of resources related to healthy aging, including brain health. Check out their brain health podcasts, tips for a healthier brain, information on dementia risk reduction and more.
- VA provides handouts related to brain health on topics such as physical activity, mental health, PTSD and more. VA also offers many health care benefits related to aging, including geriatrics, extended care, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- The Administration for Community Living offers guidelines for promoting healthy aging for your brain and mitigating certain risks.
By making some small lifestyle changes now, you can support your brain and ensure it’s healthy and sharp for many years to come.