5 Ways To Preserve Your Brain Power
Healthy brains, just like healthy bodies, can better withstand the tests of time. Here are the top five tips to keep your mind sharp.
Aging is inevitable—losing brain function, however, isn’t absolute. While a popular belief is that aging takes a toll on cognition (cue all the times you’ve heard: “I don’t remember, I’m getting old”), in actuality, more and more studies are showing that living well keeps the brain engaged.
“The brain gets smaller as we age and we call that atrophy,” says Dr. Michael Okun, professor at UF Health and national medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation. As we age, cells slowly die. The doctor explains that in Parkinson’s disease, for example, symptoms such as tremors or slowness will start to develop once a patient loses 60% of dopamine cells. “Some experts believe that if we live long enough, we will all lose enough cells and inevitably develop a neurodegenerative disease,” says Okun.
Healthy brains, just like healthy bodies, can better withstand the tests of time. So, how can we stay sharp and achieve optimum cognitive function? First, stop overthinking. Next, read for the top five tips to keep your mind sharp:
1. Exercise the body and brain
“Many people believe that physical exercise as well as mental exercise and engagement will be the key to living long, healthy and meaningful lives with top-notch brain function,” says Okun. “Exercise every day. Exercise is like a drug; it leads to the release of neurotropic factors which are like the brain’s miracle grow.”
2. Cardio activities are key
Any activity that improves cardiovascular health can assist in healthy cognitive function, explains Dr. Arnold Bakker, assistant professor in the division of Psychiatric Neuroimaging at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It is well established that vascular health is a significant contributor to age-related brain changes,” says Bakker. “Therefore any activity that improves or aides cardiovascular health is generally a good thing to do to maintain brain function. In fact, remaining cognitively and physically active is likely the best approach to healthy cognitive aging.”
3. Prevent diseases or illness before they start
Dr. Santosh Kesari, director of neuro-oncology at Moores UCSD Cancer Center, says that the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and inflammation are clear ways to maintain brain function. “Maintaining healthy eating habits, constantly keeping the brain active, and regular physical exercise also helps significantly.”
4. Use it or lose it
Kesari says that a “use it or lose it philosophy” should be applied as the general motto for both cognitive and physical activities. “We all have full control of maintaining healthy brain function by eating healthy, treating and preventing medical conditions, and maintaining regular physical activity,” says the doctor.
5. Engage and train the brain
Okun explains that there are activities specifically designed to challenge the brain, enhancing cognitive functions. “Several companies have developed computer programs to sharpen the mind,” he says. “There is a general feeling that this approach will be beneficial.”
Hit the books, advises Okun. According to the doctor, daily reading and staying engaged forces the brain to work on a consistent basis. Also helpful: doing puzzles and other activities designed to challenge the brain, stimulating healthy brain function. Bakker concurs, stating there are many activities and brain games that have been suggested to preserve brain function in aging adults.
Since slowing down time is impossible, leading a healthy lifestyle is of utmost importance in keeping the brain functioning its best. Pairing physical activity with wellness activities that stimulate and challenge the mind are the keys to maintaining a healthy, well-functioning brain.