Aging smarter: Top tips for better brain health

By Dr. Greg Kaczmarczyk, family physician with New West Physicians ~

We all have misplaced our keys or forgotten someone’s name more times than we probably want to admit. We tend to chalk up these momentary memory lapses to our busy schedules or even stress. As it turns out, occasional forgetfulness can be a normal and natural part of aging. However, these episodes of forgetfulness also may be a sign of a more serious problem with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s.

The good news is there are some simple strategies you can implement that may help combat memory loss and keep your mind sharp, no matter your stage in life.

Exercise that brain

We all have heard the adage “use it or lose it.” This is particularly prudent advice when it comes to keeping your memory and brain function in the best shape possible.

Examples of activities that may stimulate your brain include crossword puzzles, painting, reading or online brain games.

Maintain a healthy diet 

It is undeniable that a healthy diet can have wide-reaching benefits on a person’s physical health; it also can be a boon to cognitive health. Some of the research suggests that a healthy diet is associated with the brain’s ability to remember and potentially stave off dementia. 

To help reap the benefits of brain-boosting foods, consistently reach for fruits and vegetables as well as include items that are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, nuts, avocados and olive oil. Try to stay away from foods high in trans and saturated fats, like cake, doughnuts and fatty cuts of beef. 

Don’t shortchange your zzz’s

The brain is constantly busy during waking hours., but while we sleep, the brain has a chance to relax and “detoxify” from the day. Scientists are learning that this process is critical to maintaining brain function, and in turn, helps keep the brain healthy and memory sharp. 

Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night. Of course, everyone is different, and medications as well as underlying health conditions can impact sleep. Consult your provider if you are having trouble getting adequate sleep. 

Get moving

Regular physical activity can boost brain health. Most adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity weekly along with at least 2 non-consecutive days of strength training. But, set realistic fitness-related goals for where you are in life. Starting with daily walking is a good first step. Or perhaps you feel motivated to finish your first 5K or hit a nice bike trail. People should always check with their physician before starting any exercise regimen. 

Bottom line

Always be mindful of changes as you age. If you notice abnormal or rapid changes in memory or forgetfulness, talk to your provider. There are many reasons for memory changes. For example, if you have had COVID-19 and are experiencing “brain fog,” it could be a post-COVID condition.

Practicing some or all of these strategies might help keep you ahead of the aging curve. Remember, needing extra time is normal as we age, but you are still capable of learning new skills and forming new memories as you get older.

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