Keeping our minds sharp is one of the most important things we can do to
stay fulfilled as we age. But the mind-body connection requires a healthy body to keep your brain young.
“Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness,” says Dr. Holly Schiff, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist with a background in neuropsychology.
physical fitness for seniors, like taking walks and getting other types of exercise, can help, Schiff, who’s on staff at Jewish Family Services in Greenwich, Conn., points out that mental exercises are equally important.
“Mental exercises that involve new learning and are reasonably complex, varied and interesting can be beneficial,” she says. “Brain-stimulating exercises and mental activity increase the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the brain, helping delay cognitive decline.”
If you’re looking for inexpensive ways to keep your brain young, here’s what the experts suggest.
1. Read and Write
According to Schiff, mental stimulation and cognitive fitness through exercises like reading and writing can prevent the development of what are known as beta-amyloid deposits. These deposits are made up of proteins and are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Mental stimulation can potentially slow Alzheimer’s progression by keeping the brain active,” Schiff says. “This activity builds connections between reserves of healthy brain cells that can compensate for the damage done by Alzheimer’s, delaying the onset of dementia.”
2. Get Lots of Sleep
Your brain uses sleep to reset, points out Dr. Mike Hoaglin, the Medical Director of telemedicine facilitator
“Your brain needs a good amount of sleep each night,” he says. “It helps your brain properly maintain memories, and a good night’s sleep can increase creativity and maintain decision-making skills.”
Hoaglin recommends trying free white noise or meditation apps to help you sleep. For a little more money, you can invest in blackout blinds or curtains. Other than that, practicing good sleep hygiene, such as limiting caffeine use late in the date and trying to avoid playing on your phone or computer two hours before bed, can help you improve your ability to rest.
3. Cook More
Eating at home instead of eating out or getting delivery can save you money—and it might also help you stave off cognitive decline. You don’t necessarily need to worry about following a fancy regimen like the Mediterranean diet, either.
Dr. Nima Fahimian, a practicing psychologist and the medical director for
TMS & Brain Health clinics, points out that cooking is an activity that requires you to be creative, move your body and stimulate your senses.
“Cooking is a fantastic activity, especially as you age, because it can be approached from a very fundamental perspective,” he says. “You can then expand upon it to learn why things are delicious in your mouth and experiment with new recipes. These new things contribute to better brain health.”
If you aren’t sure what foods to try or which are healthy, Blanca Garcia, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who consults with
MIDSS.org, suggests meeting with a dietitian.
“Many community centers, libraries, and senior centers offer access to helpful information and professionals,” she says. “If you have specific medical conditions, a nutrition specialist can help you tailor your own diet in a budget-friendly way.”
4. Play More Games
If you want to keep your brain young, many experts agree that certain games can keep your mind sharp. Schiff touts the specific benefits of different cognitive games when it comes to brain health:
Crossword puzzles improve verbal skills and problem-solving abilities.
Jigsaw puzzles keep your visuospatial working.
Card games, specifically memory games, improve your thinking and memory skills and contribute to greater brain volume.
Chess can contribute to your executive function, problem-solving, and focus skills.
Sudoku trains your brain in problem-solving.
All of these games require your mind to buzz with activity. On top of that, anytime you can work on vocabulary, whether it’s a word search, the daily Wordle, or some other game, it’s a good way to build your brain’s staying power.
“More brain regions are involved in vocabulary tasks, especially areas important for visual and auditory processing,” Schiff says. “When you see or hear an unfamiliar word, look up the definition and then try to use it going forward.”
5. Stay Social
Hoaglin points out that social interaction is an important part of brain health while aging. Brain health tends to decline rapidly without use, and social interactions help us stay alert.
Plus, the good feelings and brain chemicals (like oxytocin) that accompany spending time with family and friends can also bolster brain health, says Fahimian.
“You don’t have to always go out for food or participate in expensive activities to be socially active,” Hoaglin says. “Invite people to your home or visit them in theirs. This type of social interaction can be a comfortable and cheap way to stay engaged with your loved ones.”
Going for walks with people you like being around or meeting someplace else can also help your brain function. You get social interaction with the bonus of physical movement and time spent outdoors.
Garcia also suggests enrolling at a senior center for interaction and brain-enhancing activities.
“I get invited to senior centers two or three times a week to teach cooking classes or talk about healthy eating,” she says. “Most are free or ask for small donations.”
6. Maintain Your Flexibility
As your body ages, Fahimian suggests focusing on flexibility. While many people focus on muscle strength and fat loss as they age, he feels that many people overlook flexibility as part of a good physical and mental fitness program.
“Aiming for flexibility and balance is a great way to keep your body in tune with its environment,” Fahimian says. “As we age, this also becomes an intellectual endeavor. A body that is flexible and well-coordinated is more likely to be attached to a more flexible and well-coordinated brain.”
This article is intended for general informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial or tax advice. For more information about whether a reverse mortgage may be right for you, you should consult an independent financial advisor. For tax advice, please consult a tax professional.