4 Secrets of With-it Seniors

Aging is an inevitable part of life. In fact, the only way to avoid it is to die young. Society tends to view aging and the deterioration of the body with fear, but it’s time to embrace and celebrate our aging. That’s the theme of Older Americans Month, coming to an end next week. Older Americans Month, a project of the Administration on Aging, urges us to “engage at every age.”

One of the main concerns people have about aging is cognitive deterioration. We’re more forgetful and we feel like our capacity to learn new things has diminished. But there are seniors who stay perfectly cognitively fit into their 80s, 90s, and beyond. Here are some things you can do every day to increase your chances of keeping your wits as you age:

1. Exercise

As we wrote in a previous blog post, studies show that regular aerobic exercise can delay or reduce Alzheimer’s disease. Another meta-analysis from 2008 found that regular aerobic exercise improved brain function for those with mild cognitive impairments. According to Arthur Kramer, the study’s author, such exercise enhances the brain’s ability to grow new pathways when learning.

2. Learn new things

Reading—just the thing to relax with after an intense workout. Reading provides benefits that watching TV doesn’t. According to the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, engaging in cognitive activity including reading can decrease your chances of developing dementia by 50 percent. Try to read for at least 30 minutes a day. If you find it difficult to read that long, consider using a Kindle with larger type, or use stronger reading glasses.

Another way to learn new things is to go back to school. Taking a course will stimulate your mind and create new neural pathways. Like we wrote in a previous blog post, the internet is a great resource to find classes and courses—often for free.

3. Play games, preferably with friends

Research has shown that playing brain teasers and word puzzles can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Doing jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, or the daily crossword will improve your cognitive strength. Group games, such as cards or board games, also provide the same benefit. That might be because social activity is so important for brain health.

4. Sleep well

Sleeping is essential for brain health. When we sleep, our brains relax and process everything we did and learned that day. As we get older, the brain has a harder time forming these memories. It’s more important than ever to give your brain a good night’s sleep to perform optimally. You should try to sleep seven or eight hours a night. However, insomnia is a common complaint among seniors. If you find yourself consistently unable to sleep, speak with your doctor about your options.

The key to keeping your brain healthy is keeping it engaged. Your brain stays sharp when you’re mentally, physically, and socially active.