Five Strategies to Keep Your Brain Sharp
Your brain is the most amazing part of your body. It’s a storage facility for a lifetime of memories, it comes up with creative ways to express thoughts and emotions, and coordinates movements from skiing a slalom course to peeling an apple.
So, it’s no surprise that dementia prevention and supporting healthy brain function is a top priority for adults of all ages – and seniors in particular.
Asbury Methodist Village recently opened the Rosborough Wellness & Brain Health Center for Excellence, which uses cutting-edge, science-based brain health practices and tools. Wellness Director Sue Paul – an occupational therapist and dementia specialist – built the Center’s program around five strategies for keeping your brain at its best and shares them here.
Seek novel experiences. By the time we reach retirement age our brains have mastered many tasks. Now’s the time to challenge the status quo by adding randomness and surprise — the unpredictable element that challenges your brain. Change your routines, take a new route to the grocery store, and use a map instead of GPS. New hobbies activate new areas of the brain and can lead to new friendships. Take language or music lessons. The goal is not to become a pro but to have fun and learn! At our new Brain Health Center, we intentionally added amenities you don’t routinely find in senior living: a rock wall, boxing studio, and exergaming. These tools and fitness classes that engage the brain and body simultaneously kick up the brain benefits.
Nurture with nature. Forest bathing may sound strange, but it’s really just about being mindful in nature – a practice that helps your brain de-stress, refocus, and revitalize. Taking a walk in the woods or a nearby park immerses you in the sights, sounds and smells of nature. Human beings respond to the natural world in an instinctual, appreciative way. There’s an added benefit to your brain from a cognitive standpoint, too. Feeling the breeze or a gust of wind, the instability of a grassy surface, and the reflexive avoidance of a puddle require the brain and body to work together to navigate a changing environment.
Be Social. Spending time talking, laughing, and empathizing with others is like doing exercises for your brain. Socialization can even help prevent mental decline and lower the risk of dementia. A 2017 study published by researchers at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center of Northwestern University found that individuals 80 and above with the mental agility of 50-year-olds all had one factor in common: A close-knit group of friends.
Keep Moving. Any physical activity is great because it pumps oxygen-rich blood to all regions of the brain. Experts agree that aerobic exercise has the greatest rewards in helping your brain stay young. But when your brain and body work simultaneously, the benefits are exponential. Climbing a rock wall, for example, creates a strong mind-body connection because you must focus on the task at hand; you can’t just treadmill away. The longer you climb, the more your brain zeroes in on the physical movements, the problem-solving, and the exertion. My parents said it. Maybe yours did, too. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
Eat Well. Good nutrition can benefit the brain in several ways. To keep the arteries in your heart and your brain from getting stiff and clogged with fat, eat plenty of fruits, veggies, leafy greens, and whole grains. Stick with healthy fats such as those in nuts, avocados, and olive oil. Include plenty of lean protein and fiber to round things out. Try to fill half your plate at each meal with fruits and vegetables. They are full of antioxidants and supply important nutrients. Avoid white flour. Losing those extra pounds helps too. Studies show maintaining a healthy weight equals a better chance at a healthy brain.
Sue Paul is the Director of Wellness at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, Md. She is an occupational therapist, a Certified Health Coach with the American Council on Exercise, a Functional Aging Specialist, and a published author on dementia prevention and brain health strategies. Learn more about the Asbury Methodist Village senior brain health program here.