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Older sitting at table playing card game

Nutrition and physical activity are key components to a healthy lifestyle. However, mental activity is another factor that plays an important role in a healthy lifestyle, as well as healthy brain aging. Mental activity maintains cognitive health. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are things we can do be doing to help reduce the risk of dementia and promote healthy brain aging. This includes staying physically active, eating a well balance diet, not smoking or drinking alcohol, getting adequate sleep, and exercising your mind.

Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and bananas in container on counter

First, I’ll zone in on diet and foods to add that are especially important for brain health. Foods to encourage include: berries, fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens), healthy fats (almonds, cashews, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil), and fish/seafood. Berries make a fruit parfait colorful and appealing, yet nutritious. Top your favorite oatmeal with some almonds or walnuts for some plant-based protein.  There isn’t one “magic food,” but they key is to include a variety of foods and color in your diet each day. Additionally, omega 3 fatty acids have been extensively researched and their positive impact on brain health should not be ignored. Fish is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming ~8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood. If fish isn’t your favorite, other source of omega 3 fatty acids that promote healthy brain aging are walnuts, olive oil, canola oil and flax seed.

Not only is diet important for healthy aging but exercising your mind by challenging yourself is optimal for healthy brain aging. One strategy to sharpen your mind is to keep learning. Harvard Medical School indicates advanced education may be beneficial to a stronger memory by habitually being mentally active. Mental exercise is thought to activate processes that help to maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. In addition to taking on a new class, one could read or listen to a book, play chess, do Sudoku or crossword puzzles, play games, learn a new language, or cook a new recipe.

Whenever I go to visit my 94 year old grandma, we always have to play a game, or two, of Skip-Bo. She enjoys doing any type of puzzles, word searches, and various games.  Not only is it good for her to keep her brain sharp, she’s also able to engage in conversation and socially interact with others. The key is to try new activities that use skills you usually don’t use. Challenge yourself or your family member to think a different way. Maintaining brain connections is a continuing process, so make learning a priority throughout the life span.

In addition to a well-balanced diet, and exercising your brain, sleep is another important factor to consider that promotes healthy brain aging. Again, according to Harvard Medical School, there is a strong link between adequate sleep and cognitive health. Neurobiological processes that happen while we sleep influence our mood, energy level and cognitive fitness. It plays a vital role in memory, as well as enhancing attention, problem solving, and creativity. Try limiting your use of electronic devices before bedtime, as the blue light can interfere with your sleep patterns. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for adults (26-64) and 7-8 hours of sleep for older adults (65+).

As we can see, there are many different factors to consider in order to strengthen our mental skills and memory so we decrease our chances of cognitive delay. This short, two minute video, reminds us that we can keep our brain active by still doing things you love!

Written By: Shannon Smith, RD, Program Coordinator, smith.11604@osu.edu and Susan Zies, M.Ed, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Wood County, zies.1@osu.edu

Reviewed By: Lisa Barlage, M.S., Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County

Sources:

Harvard Health Publishing, https://www.health.harvard.edu/

National Sleep Foundation, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/

AARP, https://www.aarp.org/

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