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6 Things to Add to Your Routine to Maintain Brain Fitness as You Age

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We all want to age gracefully. We’ll do just about anything to do it. From eating for heart health to deciding which exercises to focus on or improving vision, most people know that maintaining many aspects of physical health is crucial for longevity. What you might not think about regularly is your brain fitness as you age. 

Cognition declines over time due to several factors, such as age-related structure changes, brain injuries or excess stress hormones. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in nine American adults over 65 reports cognitive decline. 

“The parts of our brain that help with learning information and remembering can become smaller, and the brain can weigh less as we age,” said Colleen Marshall, chief clinical officer for Two Chairs

While we will all experience health changes as we age, cognitive decline doesn’t happen at the same rate for everyone. By prioritizing brain fitness now, you can help slow the change and keep your mind sharp as you age. 

Start doing these 6 things to nourish your brain for healthy aging

Solve puzzles 

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We’ll start with the easiest strategy to integrate into your daily life: puzzles. Solving puzzles can benefit the brain in several ways, from improving memory to boosting problem-solving skills. 

“They may slow the rate of cognitive decline and how quickly the brain decreases in size as we age,” Marshall said. 

A study published in the journal Neurology reported that playing games like checkers or completing jigsaw puzzles can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by about five years. Different research supports the idea that solving crossword puzzles or journaling can lower the risk of dementia.

Experts suggest that puzzles help curb cognitive decline because they expand the brain’s cognitive reserve, or the ability to solve and cope with problems. Activities to try include putting together jigsaw puzzles or solving other types of puzzles, such as Sudoku, crosswords, memory games and math problems.

Learn a new skill

Like stimulating the brain by playing games or solving puzzles, learning a new skill has short-term and long-term advantages. By learning a new skill, you’re strategically activating several parts of your brain simultaneously. You’re also promoting neuroplasticity by creating new pathways and strengthening those connections as you continue honing the skill.

It could be learning a new language, painting or trying out a new sport. Just make sure it’s challenging or complex, and continue to practice for the best brain results. 

Older man painting a still life Older man painting a still life

Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images

Prioritize sleep

Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your body. While I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way to sleep, research suggests that how much sleep you get and the quality of your sleep influence your risk for dementia. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, a single night of sleep deprivation can age your brain

A lot goes on in the brain while we sleep, including clearing out toxins and creating new neural pathways. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain doesn’t have time to carry out these functions and cognition suffers.

Establishing a bedtime routine can have a big impact on your sleep quality. From reading a book to practicing yoga before bed, integrating relaxation into your night can help boost your sleep

Focus on your nutrition 

What you eat also will influence the rate of cognitive decline you experience as you age. Studies have found that people who follow the Mediterranean and MIND (Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diets tend to have fewer cognitive impairments and dementias compared to those following other diets. More research is needed to conclude why this is true. However, it might have something to do with the way those diets prioritize foods that protect the brain with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties

Read more: Master the Mediterranean Diet With the Help of These Tips and Recipes

No matter if you choose to follow a strict diet or just improve your current meal rotation, you’ll want to focus on improving your blood sugar and dropping high levels of LDL cholesterol to reduce your risk of dementia. 

Foods to incorporate into your diet for better brain health

  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale and lettuce 
  • Salmon 
  • Dark berries
  • Nuts
  • Greek yogurt
  • Dark chocolate 
  • Green tea
  • Vegetables like broccoli and carrots

Exercise 

Studies have found that following an active lifestyle is associated with lower cognitive decline over time. Your heart rate increases when you exercise, which increases blood flow to the brain. This can help spark new development of nerve cells, a process called neurogenesis. Exercise also promotes increased connections between cells, making the brain more adaptive. 

Generally, any exercise that’s good for the body will also help the mind. It doesn’t have to be lifting weights; walking, swimming and dancing also achieve the same results. 

Read more: How Exercise Helps Boost Your Memory-Brain Health as You Age

Three happy older women wearing colorful clothes. Three happy older women wearing colorful clothes.

Halfpoint Images/Getty Images

Make connections with others

Marshall pointed out that prioritizing high-quality relationships with others can benefit the brain. According to a meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies, limited or poor relationships were associated with cognitive decline. 

Prioritizing social contact is an essential part of aging well. Whether spending time with your family or putting yourself out there at your local community center, staying connected is an integral part of aging gracefully. 

Too long; didn’t read?

Our brains change as we age; there is no way around it. However, integrating any of these easy habits into your routine can help nourish and safeguard your brain for the future. 

There are also a few things you should avoid to keep your brain in top shape. Heavy cigarette smoking has been associated with cognitive decline in middle age. Marshall added that heavy drinking, poor diet and unmanaged high blood pressure can also negatively impact the brain as we age. 

Don’t worry; there’s still time to turn it around. Even if you smoke now, quitting has the potential to return your risk of cognitive decline to a level that’s comparable to those who never smoked.





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