How Your Brain Ages and Steps to Keep it Healthy
Many older adults joke about having “senior moments,” those times you forget why you went into the kitchen or can’t recall a word that is on the tip of your tongue. These moments occur due to natural aging processes within your brains. While you can’t stop aging, there are steps you can take to support healthy brain functions.
Your Aging Brain
The aging process causes changes throughout your body. Within your brain, these can affect memory and other activities. Specifically, as you age:
• Some parts of the brain shrink.
• There is a breakdown in the ability of one part of the brain to talk with another.
• Arteries narrow, which reduces blood flow to the brain.
• Some people experience plaque or minor swelling of the brain.
Each of these issues is normal in an older brain and often results in reduced brain functions.
There are other conditions that affect memory and other brain activities. Genetics, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease can impact how your brain works and accelerate its aging. Some medications can cause confusion, memory loss, and other cognitive losses. Tell your doctor if you experience these problems after starting a new medicine.
There is no alternative to aging and the joys and challenges that it brings. When it comes to brain health, you can’t stop the process but you can take actions to reduce its impact.
Lifestyle Choices Which Impair Brain Function
According to the National Institute on Aging, specific lifestyle choices can decrease brain health, including:
• Excessive alcohol use
• Poorly managed health problems like diabetes and heart disease
• Poor diet
• Insufficient sleep
• Lack of physical and social activity
Each of these conditions has a negative impact on your health regardless of your age. As you get older, the effects of these choices are more wide-reaching and can harm your brain. Fortunately, you can change these behaviors to improve your overall health and cognition.
Actions that Support A Healthy Brain
There are many things you can do to lessen the impact of aging on your brain. The National Institute on Aging and other experts recommend several activities to help maintain and improve brain functions.
- Take Care of Your Health. Manage health issues such as diabetes, cholesterol, and heart disease. The better your overall health, they better your brain will work.
- Get Active and Stay Active. Walk, play tennis, swim, and bike. Take yoga classes, dance or do some other physical activity you enjoy. Physical movement and exercise reduces depression and blood pressure while increasing strength and stamina. It also improves blood flow to your brain which keeps it healthy.
- Learn New Things. Engage your mind to keep it flexible and improve cognition. Enroll in art, culinary, or computer classes. Take online courses or attend community lectures. Learn to play an instrument or start a new hobby. It doesn’t matter what you choose is as long as it interests you and sparks your creative and intellectual processes.
- Sleep 7 to 8 Hours a Night. Like the rest of your body, your brain needs sleep to relax and rejuvenate. Memory and other brain activities improve when you have good, restful sleep.
- Engage with Others. Interact with friends, family, and your community to improve your physical, mental, and emotional health. Join a church, synagogue, or other religious institution. Volunteer at a school, senior center, or other community program. Form a book, lunch, or other group that allows you to meet new people and spend time with old friends. Visit or call family members. Each connection will add joy to your life and keep your brain happy.
- Eat Foods that Support Brain Health. A healthy diet is great for your body but it is also important for maintaining memory and cognitive functions. Fish, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide valuable nutrients which support brain health. Avoid red meats, processed or fried foods, and sugars. Don’t deny yourself something you enjoy, but do so in moderation.
There are many joys and rewards that come with aging. Take steps to keep your brain engaged and healthy so that you can enjoy every minute of your life.