Most people are concerned with staying physically fit. They eat right to lower their cholesterol levels or practice yoga to improve their flexibility. But what about mental fitness? Exercising the mind is a sure-fire way to boost longevity and independence. A sharper brain relies on several factors, including sleep, nutrition, physical activity, and maintaining hobbies and social activities, all of which researchers say influence brainpower as we age. To keep your mental health in tip-top shape as you age, it’s all about incorporating that mind-body connection into a daily routine that refreshes essential brain functioning.
Yet staying cognitively fit doesn’t need to be a chore—it should be easy and fun! That’s why we’ve partnered with GreatCall to identify the best tips in each of these areas to improve long-term brain health—because a stronger, healthier mind sets you up to live your best life.
1. Catch A Few More Z’s At Night
Feeling fully rested from a night of deep sleep is what experts liken to taking a sip from the fountain of youth. Improve memory and lessen the risk of insomnia that increases with age by getting the proper amount of shut-eye, according to a new study in the journal Neuron. The National Sleep Foundation states that the optimal amount is about seven to nine hours a night, dispelling the myth that people need less sleep over the years.
Use earplugs and room-darkening curtains, and avoid bright screens and caffeine before bedtime to achieve a high-quality slumber. Create nighttime rituals like a hot bath or soft music to wind down, and researchers suggest pink noise in particular creates a more peaceful sleep that, in turn, strengthens long-term memory.
2. Eat The Best Food For Thought
Since the brain is one of the organs with the largest amount of fats, eating foods with a lot of healthy fats is essential to nourishing mental health. A study published in the Aging Health journal suggests that nutrition is crucial to alleviate depression—and older adults may especially benefit from a mood-boosting diet. Leafy greens, fish, beans and nuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which research shows calms mood disorders. But avoid those sodas because a new study links sugary drinks to brain shrinkage. Instead, fill up the cart with salmon, spinach and walnuts during the next trip to the grocery store to feel happy and healthy!
3. Get Up And Go For A Vital Mind
Physical fitness also connects directly to brain health and it specifically improves people’s ability to learn. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health suggests that the more an adult exercises, the more his or her brain grows! It significantly enlarges neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to adapt to new experiences. As a result, physical exercise stimulates the growth of neurons in the brain, and research reveals that exercises like Tai chi greatly increase mental agility while also improving balance and mobility. Exercise can trigger a domino effect that motivates one to do other brain boosting activities, too.
4. Commit To A Right-Brained Hobby
Consider getting creative as well: Investing quality time in an artistic activity improves mental concentration. In particular, a creative hobby may prevent dementia, according to a recent study in the journal Neurology of the American Academy of Neurology. Study participants who pursued painting, drawing and sculpture were 73 percent less likely to develop slower cognitive functions. The healing power of arts and crafts also extends to pottery, woodworking, quilting and sewing, which minimize the likelihood of mild brain degeneration by 45 percent.
And bookworms, rejoice! Picking up a book may also increase the ability to focus as well as live longer, according to this study in the Social Science & Medicine journal. Researchers suggest that reading provides several advantages to cognitive health. A chapter a day keeps the doctor away!
5. Smarten Up With Shared Experiences
It’s true—crafts and exercise sharpen your brain, but adults can get an added mental boost from doing these activities with others. A new study in the Aging & Mental Health journal pinpoints how social activity significantly improves mental clarity, since relationships comprise complex and subtle social cues requiring mental attention and flexibility. That means regular interactions with family and friends energize an individual’s thought processes, resulting in clearer reasoning and multi-tasking skills.
Researchers say that strengthening that social support prevents cognitive decline, and group activities like community classes or book clubs are a great way to feel connected. Other forms of support include safe transportation options, pets or social media—even dancing has proven beneficial to neural functions! So grab a friend and reap the benefits of better brain health.