Sudoku isn’t the only way to whet your wit.
The phrase “use it or lose it” is often thrown around when talking about keeping your noggin in tip-top shape. There’s some truth to that: You probably couldn’t do 12th-grade calculus homework at age 40, unless you regularly continued to work with math.
Rumor has it that games like sudoku, word searches, and chess can help ward off dementia, a condition that progressively limits cognitive function and affects about 47 million people worldwide. But dementia and even mild cognitive decline involves so much more than which mental exercises (if any) you use to pass the time.
Nurturing your overall health may be the best way to protect your noodle. Here are the tips experts actually recommend to keep the mind sharp as you age.
1. Flex your social muscles.
This might surprise you, but heaps of research have found that being actively involved in a social community lowers the risk of dementia. This might be for a number of reasons, including the fact that social groups tend to help your mental and emotional health. Learn more ways socializing benefits your health here.
Maintaining an active social life looks different for everyone. Close family ties, participation in clubs, volunteering, and regular visits with friends can all help keep the mind sharp as you age. (Relying on social media, unfortunately, will not do the trick.)
2. Eat a brain-approved diet.
No, there’s no individual food that makes you smarter (and no special supplements, either). However, an overall healthy diet can lower your risk of common chronic diseases, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, or type 2 diabetes. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to help reduce the risk of each of these conditions.
Here’s why that matters: Cardiovascular health affects brain health. Taken to the extreme, arteries clogged by plaque can result in blood clots that lead to ischemic stroke, which can literally kill cells in the brain. Having a stroke is also a significant risk factor for vascular dementia. Here are more tips to prevent a stroke.
3. Make sleep a priority.
It’s common sense: Sleep helps rest and restore the brain each and every day. On a short-term basis, you already know that your mind isn’t quite as nimble when you’re deprived of sleep. (Here are more ways lack of sleep affects the body.) On a more chronic level, people with sleep disorders are more likely to have faulty memories and reduced cognitive function.
If you think you may have some type of sleep disorder, see a doctor to learn your treatment options.
4. Take steps to prevent or manage your medical conditions.
Brain health takes a punch from several health problems, especially if they are untreated or uncontrolled. In addition to following healthy eating patterns, prioritizing your disease treatment can also help preserve your noggin.
For example, uncontrolled type 2 diabetes may result in high blood glucose levels that can damage the brain’s function over time, accelerating cognitive decline. (Here are more complications of diabetes to be aware of.)
Prevention is the best option, but if you’ve already been diagnosed with a chronic health condition, make sure to do the following:
Establish a good relationship with your doctor
Attend all recommended doctor appointments regularly
Stick to your prescribed treatment regimen, including taking medications in the correct amount
And eat a healthy diet as recommended by your doctor or registered dietitian.
5. Build cardio into your routine.
There are so many benefits to regular exercise, and your brain health is one of them. Aerobic exercise (a.k.a. cardio) reduces your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and it helps you sleep better. These all help support healthy aging and a mighty mind.
So go ahead and challenge your mind with daily crossword puzzles and Rubik’s cubes, but don’t forget to preserve your noggin by following a healthy lifestyle and managing any chronic health conditions. Your brain will be strong as an ox … an Oxford scholar, that is.
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Causes and risk factors. Chicago, IL: Alzheimer’s Association. (Accessed on April 18, 2019 at https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/causes-and-risk-factors.)
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Healthy aging. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on April 18, 2019 at https://medlineplus.gov/healthyaging.html.)
Memory: 5 ways to protect your brain health. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (Accessed on April 18, 2019 at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/memory-5-ways-to-protect-your-brain-health.)
Pillai JA, Verghese J. Social networks and their role in preventing dementia. Indian J Psychiatry. 2009 Jan;51(Suppl1):S22-S28.
Sugar and the brain. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Medical School. (Accessed on April 18, 2019 at https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/sugar-and-brain.)
Zhou Z, Wang P, Fang Y. Social engagement and its change are associated with dementia risk among Chinese older adults: a longitudinal study. Sci Rep. 2018;8:1551.