There are simpler ways to sharpen your brain health than sitting through a lecture on integrated quantum photonics (although the bragging rights alone may be worth it!). UR School of Nursing researcher Vankee Lin says a few simple lifestyle choices may help keep your brain fit and flexible as you age.
- Get moving: Physical exercise is as important for your brain as it is for other parts of your body. Even simple exercises, such as a brisk walk, a bike ride, or basic yoga may aid cognition. Aerobic exercises such as these have been found to improve short- and long-term memory, as well as processing speed—like the time it takes you to press the brakes when you see a stop sign.
- Train your brain: The brain can be trained in the same way you can train other specific muscles—with exercises. We’re still learning about brain training but recent studies have shown beneficial effects from programs available online as well as from games like Sodoku and crossword puzzles. The key is to find exercises that push beyond your limits. Just as muscles grow with the challenge of increasingly heavier weights, your brain needs to be adequately challenged to be properly exercised.
- Feed your mind: Eating healthy is as important for your brain as it is for the rest of your body. Whole-food approaches, such as the Mediterranean diet, appear to be beneficial in slowing cognitive decline. Your health care provider may also suggest including certain nutrients beneficial to brain function in your diet, such as choline and B vitamins.
- Keep in touch: Staying social is important in every stage of life, but recent research shows a link between isolation and an increased risk of dementia in older adults. Having strong connections with others is beneficial to many areas of cognition, including memory and language. Find friends who shares similar interests, volunteer or call someone on the phone. Even online social networking sites can be beneficial in increasing and improving social ties.
Feng (Vankee) Lin is an assistant professor at the University of Rochester School of Nursing and director of the CogT lab promoting successful cognitive aging. Alanna Jacobs, health project coordinator for the CogT lab in the UR School of Nursing, also contributed to this article. To learn more about their research in cognitive health, especially in older adults, visit www.cogtlab.com.