How to Keep Your Mind Sharp as You Age
It’s a fact that America’s population is aging. It’s also true that millions more of us will experience cognitive decline in the years ahead. Researchers at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health say that about 15 million Americans will have either Alzheimer’s disease or suffer from mild cognitive decline by 2060. Yet, getting older doesn’t have to signal automatic declines in brain functioning. There are things you can do to keep your mind sharp as you age.
Engage in high-intensity exercise.
McMaster University researchers found that short bouts of intensive exercise over a period of six weeks facilitate performance improvements in high-interference memory. This is the kind of memory that allows you to distinguish your car in a parking lot from another of the same make and model. There was another benefit among those with greater fitness gains: greater increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This is a protein that supports brain cell growth function and survival. Although the McMaster University study focused on younger individuals, the hypothesis is that older adults will see high-interference memory benefits from intensive exercise activity, since this type of memory declines as individuals age. Expect more emphasis on studies like this as America’s aging population comes to grip with the debilitating diseases of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Mount Sinai researchers, meanwhile, found that healthy traits such as higher physical endurance and better cognitive function were associated with greater cohesiveness of the working memory brain network. Less-cohesive working memory brain network was linked to suboptimal health habits, such as regular smoking and binge drinking, and traits indicating suboptimal metabolic and cardiovascular health.
Furthermore, the combination of aerobic and resistance exercise has been found to boost brain power in those over the age of 50. Researchers found that aerobic exercise significantly increased cognitive abilities, while resistance training produced pronounced improvements in executive function, memory and working memory. Researchers recommended combination exercise in sessions lasting at least 45 minutes on as many days of the week as possible would most benefit cognition in adults over 50. Interestingly, tai chi also improved cognitive abilities, though researchers cautioned that the finding was based on limited studies, saying that a large clinical trial would need to confirm the results.
Get into yoga and meditation.
Just 25 minutes a day of mindful meditation or yoga, say researchers at the University of Waterloo, can result in improvements in both energy levels and brain function. While specifically mentioning Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation, researchers said the practices focus the conscious processing power of the brain on a small number of targets, such as posing and breathing, and reducing nonessential information processing. The theory is that there may be some carryover benefit afterward, allowing practitioners to better and more easily focus on their conscious everyday life choices. As for energy levels, Hatha yoga produced greater effects than meditation, although both were beneficial. Incidentally, Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced style of yoga in Western countries.
Listen to music.