9 ways to stay sharp as you age

Some ideas for staying healthy include learning new things, practicing yoga and exercising.
Susan Frangello leads a class for Parkinson's patients in Spring Hill. Exercising and learning new things can help with aging.
Susan Frangello leads a class for Parkinson's patients in Spring Hill. Exercising and learning new things can help with aging.
Published Oct. 15, 2022|Updated Oct. 15, 2022

1. Learn new things—the more challenging, the better

If there’s one thing that keeps your brain alive and making new connections, it’s learning something new and challenging. Staying mentally sharp requires taking on unfamiliar and challenging activities that provide broad stimulation mentally and socially. Learn a new language, or how to play the piano. Take a cooking class in your favorite cuisine. Learn macrame or American Sign Language. Dig into some challenging reading, as well as crosswords, sudoku, cryptoquips and other puzzles.

2. Exercise with friends

Thirty minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week increases the flow of blood to the brain and can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s by 30 to 50%. Regular exercise is even better for you when you do it with friends, or in a group setting, because a strong social network keeps depression and loneliness at bay (both of which heighten the risk of developing dementia). Power walk your neighborhood with your partner or a friend. Take up Zumba or Jazzercize. Join a water aerobics class. While you’re at it, strengthen your handgrip. Recent medical studies have noted poorer grip strength was associated with increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Furthermore, as you age, the stronger your grip, the more likely you are to survive diseases like cancer.

3. Eat like a Mediterranean

In many studies, those who eat a plant-based diet rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other staples of the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (as much as 72% lower) than those who eat more animal proteins, processed foods, and sugars. A similar approach that is more targeted to boosting brain health is the MIND diet (a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

4. Pay attention to Vitamin D levels

Studies suggest that healthy Vitamin D levels are connected to a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Vitamin D may play a role between muscular and cognitive function. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly linked to muscle weakness and loss. Whether that’s cause or effect, or both, is still not known. But keeping your levels of Vitamin D in the healthy range is a good idea.

5. Yoga and meditation

Yoga can improve posture, flexibility, balance and coordination and is beneficial for bone density, and meditation helps reduce stress and improve awareness and mindfulness. Together, they can slow the physical and mental declines often seen with aging. A weekly routine of yoga and meditation may bolster brain activity and help delay cognitive decline.

6. Supplements

Per Dr. Andrew Weil, take a supplement high in folic acid and other B vitamins. They help the body get rid of homocysteine, a toxic amino acid formed by the breakdown of animal protein that has been linked to heart attack and stroke, and more recently with increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Turmeric + black pepper, curcumin and CDP-choline may also benefit mental fitness.

7. Eliminate or reduce your intake of alcohol (One drink/day for women; two drinks/day for men.)

Alcohol is implicated in falls and general loss of balance, which can cause fractures; and is a factor in forgetfulness, confusion and depression. Alcohol does not mix well with a number of medications, and heavy alcohol use decreases bone density. Alcohol can weaken your immune system. Heavy drinking over time can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels, shrink brain cells and lead to alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), as well as certain types of dementia.

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8. Quit smoking

If you like breathing, are not a fan of cancer or emphysema — and don’t want to look way older than your age — quitting smoking is a must and one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

9. Believe in yourself

Commonly held beliefs about aging do not have to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Focus on personal growth and healthy habits. If you believe in yourself and your natural gifts, keep learning new things, and approach life with a youthful, curious, grateful attitude, these could be some of the most rewarding years of your life.

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