Keeping mentally fit
Dementia is one of the most feared aspects of aging. Losing mental strength can be distressing, socially isolating, and make it difficult to live independently.
Thankfully, specialists in aging minds say that most dementia can be prevented, even for the very old. By changing lifestyle and taking time and effort, almost anyone can avoid the worst of dementia. In fact, there is evidence that lifestyle plays a larger role than genetics in the mental health of the aged. As the population ages, and more and more people live long enough to worry about dementia, the need for this kind of prevention will only grow.
Strangely, the answer to keeping mentally fit is not the obvious one – crosswords and brain-teasers don’t actually help much, according to experts. Let’s go through the most important ways to keep the brain working perfectly.
Exercise is an essential part of staving off dementia. Scientists have found that exercise, even only modest amounts, can actually increase the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is partially responsible for forming memories and is necessary to keep the whole brain working well. Other studies have found that elderly people who exercised had better blood flow to their brains. Even better, the earlier you start exercising, the more healthy your brain will be by the time you reach old age.
Not only will eating more healthily reduce risk of heart disease and many cancers, it can also keep the brain sharp as we age. Eating a diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes is excellent for mental health. There are a number of vitamins and minerals that have been shown to stave off dementia – eat foods rich in vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and curcumin.
Keep mentally active
The main part of keeping mentally active is to constantly learn and be engaged. Traditional types of mental exercise, like crosswords, can be mastered in a short time and stop helping the brain improve. Learning a new language, studying a new field, or playing a musical instrument is much better at keeping the brain engaged. Staying social is a big part of this – talking to friends provides excellent mental stimulation and has been proven to lead to lower rates of Alzheimers disease.
Keep stress free
Lowering stress keeps the brain supple and healthy. High levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, can actually damage the hippocampus and increase the risk of dementia. A study of people that meditated for 30 minutes a day even found that they increased the size of their brains.
As we age, we can stay significantly healthier, happier, and more independent if we are still mentally acute. One of the major challenges of this century will be staving off mental illness while we still can. If we can reduce the rates of dementia just through lifestyle changes, it will lead to a better life for all.