The fear of losing cognitive function is very common amongst Americans. According to the CDC, we are twice as fearful of losing our mental capacity as we are of having a diminished physical capacity, and at least 60% of adults have concerns about memory loss.1 With age being the number one risk factor, the truth of the matter is, if we are lucky enough to live a long life, cognitive impairment is a real threat to our enjoyment of our golden years.
Despite what some skin care product advertisements might say, aging cannot be reversed, but thankfully there are strategies we can employ throughout life to keep our minds sharp and our memories like a steel trap. Read on for a list of lifestyle tips and fun activities you can employ today to get the most out of your tomorrows.
- Keep Moving - This first tip should come as no surprise, because physical activity is good for basically all aspects of health. Staying physically active can improve your mood, reduce stress, help you sleep better (see your next tip!), and help eliminate some common medical conditions that are risk factors for cognitive decline such as diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.2
- Catch your Z's - While it is normal for people to experience sleeping difficulties with age, it is still so important to do what you can to stay on a consistent sleep schedule and seek guidance if you are dealing with a sleep disorder. Insufficient sleep can impair memory and learning at every age but becomes all the more important later in life.2
- Stay Social - Social interaction stimulates the brain. In the past couple of years, we probably have all experienced a little bit of loneliness and feelings of isolation with the pandemic, but this is especially true for those who live alone. Make a point to connect with friends and family often, even if it requires spending time outside or online to do so!
- Eat Like a Greek - A number of studies have recently drawn a link between following a Mediterranean diet and reduced cognitive impairment.3 While that exact diet might not fit everyone's preferences or needs, we can certainly take a few tips from our Greek and Italian friends. Aim to eat a diet low in fat and make olive oil serve as one of your main sources of needed fat. When given the option between processed foods or plant-based options - you guessed it - choose the plant based whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, and herbs. For protein, reach for the fish and poultry over red meats. And of course, no diet should be completely devoid of sweets, just enjoy in moderation!4
- Independent Brain Games - There are number of stimulating brain games that challenge your memory, concentration, and focus such as Sudoku, Crossword Puzzles, and the viral word game called Wordle. If you're not interested in games, you can experiment with things like counting backwards from 100 by multiples of 7's, or trying to do activities of daily living with your non-dominant hand!5
- Partner Games - Find a partner to play card games, chess, or do a jigsaw puzzle together. Any brain games played with others are a bonus because you are getting social engagement also!
- Gather a Group - Grab some friends and start a book club, a walking or yoga group, or even start a choir or band! Learning something new like an instrument or a new yoga pose with friends challenges and invigorates your brain while again, staying socially connected. It's a win-win!5
1. CDC.gov, February 2011
2. MayoClinic.org, 2020
3. Medicalnewstoday.com, April 2020
4. MayoClinic.org, July, 2021
5. Lifeline.Ca, January, 2022