Your brain is like any muscle – it needs some exercise to stay in shape. And though you can't expect to be as sharp in your 80s as in your youth, there are things you can do to stay mentally fit.

We get told so often that you lose brain power with age, that we end up believing it will happen – and quickly – no matter what. For instance, a survey by the Alzheimer’s Association showed that 60 percent of people worldwide think the disease is an inevitable part of ageing. That’s not true. And despite all those jokes about “senior moments”, you can stay mentally alert for longer by looking after your brain.

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which is why it keeps you mentally strong as well. It slows and can even reverse some of the natural decline in brain connections that occur during ageing. Working out increases a protein which is vital for growing and keeping neurons.

For the best benefits, try 30 minutes of heart-pumping exercise per day. It can be a brisk walk, a hike, swim, or cycle. Outdoors may be even better since natural light helps with brain health. It reduces stress and increases melatonin, which builds a more regular sleep cycle.

The Mediterranean diet offers protection against Alzheimer’s Disease, studies have shown. Scientists don’t know yet which foods do what, but the omega fatty acids in extra-virgin olive oil and other healthy fats increase mental focus and slow down mental decline. Eat more fish and plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and olive oil, but cut down on red meat.

The risk of Alzheimer’s disease is more than double in older people who are lonely. Social relationships keep the brain active. The pandemic makes it harder to meet in person, but keep the contact going with phone calls, texts or social media. The Journals of Gerontology reported a study that shows seniors scored higher on memory tests after learning how to use Facebook. You don’t need a lot of friends – online or in person. A few close ones will do.

Many older people start avoiding social contact because of hearing loss. For the sake of your brain, get a hearing aid if you need it. A 2019 study found that mental performance declined for every 10-decibel loss of hearing. Stress from loneliness push up cortisol levels, which could harm the brain in the long run.

Some researchers think sleep helps clear abnormal proteins from your brain and consolidates memories. If you don’t sleep enough or well enough, it can affect your memory and thinking. Aim for seven to eight good hours per night.

Related article: 10 Tips for getting the best night’s sleep

Having a goal can reduce dementia by 30%, according to a study by Angelina Sutin, a psychology professor at Florida State University. A sense of purpose contributes to brain health. Really getting deeply into doing what you love is the way to go.

According to the US Alzheimer’s Association, learning new skills and hobbies, taking classes, playing games, reading or finding new ways to do stuff all give the brain a good workout. Increasing mental activity can stimulate new brain cell growth even at an older age. Stay mentally fit with mancala, chess, sudoku, card games and crossword puzzles. Watching TV is passive and doesn’t work your brain, so not too much of that.

Related article: How does social media affect your mental health?

Don’t waste brain power trying to remember birthdays or where you left the keys. Mark important dates on a calendar or app that sends reminders and pick a spot where you always leave keys and glasses. Use the saved energy to learn and remember more challenging stuff.

One thing that helps Japan’s famous railway system run smoothly, is a technique called shisa kanko, which means “check and call”. Conductors point at what they have to do and say the task out loud. This helps them to avoid missing or forgetting anything. Try that to set a routine in your head.

If you read, see or hear information you’d like to remember, repeat it out loud. Do it again after a while and again after a longer time. Spacing out periods of study helps improve memory – useful when you're trying to remember something complicated.

If you keep telling yourself your memory is fading, you’re less likely to work at memory skills. But if you believe you can improve and try to improve, you have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.

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HOW TO KEEP YOUR BRAIN FIT AS YOU AGE HOW TO KEEP YOUR BRAIN FIT AS YOU AGE Reviewed by Michelle Pienaar on September 10, 2021 Rating: 5
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