June is Seniors’ Month: a time to recognize and thank the older members of our communities who have shaped the past and continue to influence the future. It is also a time to reflect on the challenges and opportunities we face in our senior years, including maintaining brain health. Based on numerous scientific studies, we have learned that there is a clear connection between a healthy mind and being active. This information is important for older adults to know and put into practice as the senior population is projected to double over the next three decades to 88 million by 2050, according to the National Institute of Health.
Lifestyle changes can have a dramatic and positive effect on brain health and overall health. The loss of concentration, clear thinking, and recall of facts is an all too common problem for older Americans. This is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is a slight but noticeable decline in cognitive abilities.
While a significant percentage of older Americans will experience some level of MCI, exercise and activity can help to lessen its effects. A study published in the journal Neurology shows that a group of older adults with MCI saw substantial improvements in recall and thinking skills after six months of aerobic exercise and modified diet.
Every day we learn of new studies on how exercise and activity affect brain functions and how every person and every exercise regimen is different. But the evidence that exercise is a good thing for our minds and bodies is clear, so let’s look at some ways to pursue a healthy mind through diet, exercise, and activities.
Exercise and Proper Diet for a Healthier Older Mind: You may have had an aging parent whose only exercise was the trip to the mailbox each day. This sedentary life as we get older takes its toll on the mind and body, but it doesn't have to be that way. You can plot a different course for yourself by making daily exercise a part of your lifestyle to keep your mind active and your spirits up for a healthier outlook on life.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 40% of adults 65 and older engage in at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week; further, 20% do not even engage in any type of formal exercise. Federal guidelines recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.
Walking is a wonderful start, so aim to move about for thirty minutes on most days. You can also engage in safe activities designed to improve balance and reduce falls. It’s also a good idea to diversify by engaging in aerobic exercises designed for older Americans with clearance from your physician. Besides supporting improved cognitive and brain function, exercise improves:
- Motor function (your level of control over your movements)
- Sensory function (your level of response to touch sensation)
A healthy diet goes hand-in-hand with a healthy mind and body by reducing the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, while also supporting brain health. While proper exercise and diet set the stage for a healthier older mind, incorporating them into activities can be the best way to get the most benefit while you increase your enjoyment of life.
Engaging in Activities That Strengthen the Mind: Many people have expressed the same fears about growing older: loneliness, boredom, and mental decline. But aging can be a positive and fulfilling stage of life filled with fun activities that keep you mentally sharp and in a great mood.
People who engage in meaningful activities, like volunteering or hobbies, say they feel happier and healthier. Learning new skills, engaging in activities like book club participation, and taking classes in something that interest you all involve physical activity and can keep your mind active.
It is the desire of everyone to have a sound and healthy mind as they age. Applying the practices discussed here can set you on the right track to a healthier older mind and happier outlook in what can be a great stage of life.