Experts share proven ways to promote better brain health at every age. AJ_Watt / GETTY IMAGES As we age, our brain experiences both structural and functional changes. Over time, this can cause a decline in cognitive abilities, our memory, and even emotional regulation. Certain lifestyle factors can speed up an aging brain, and our genetics also play a role. The good news? Engaging in activities that stimulate your brain can help curb these issues.
“Much like muscle and that old saying ‘if you don’t use it you lose it,’ using your brain can help protect it, to an extent, from some typical memory decline and slowing,” says Carrie Ditzel , PhD, director of geropsychology and neuropsychology at Baker Street Behavioral Health.
The benefits of brain stimulation include improved mental sharpness, increased protection from decline, and an overall sense of wellness, says Ditzel. Taking intentional action to address brain health puts control back in your hands, she says, which is very reassuring and can even help motivate you to continue prioritizing your health.
Start with these effective brain-stimulating strategies and activities. Meet Our Expert
Carrie Ditzel , PhD , holds a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, specializing in geropsychology and treating the impact of medical conditions on mental health.
Nadia Kumentas , NMD , is a doctor of naturopathic medicine with Muse.
Poonam Desai , MD , is an emergency room doctor and longevity expert based in New York City.
Move Your Body in Healthy Ways
You know that exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, but did you know it can benefit your brain as well? Ditzel says to pick an activity you enjoy that specifically targets your heart and cardiovascular system. This might be brisk walks, yoga or pilates, weight lifting, or swimming.
“Reframe your thinking around working out from just weight loss or muscle toning to brain health, as well,” says Ditzel. “Often, we lose motivation to work out if we aren’t seeing results with pounds shedding from the scale, but if you can remind yourself that every time you exercise you are giving your brain a booster shot and potentially protecting it from cognitive decline, then you may find some more motivation and feel positively about the activity.”
Related: 10 Best Low-Impact Activities to Try at Any Age Listen to Different Types of Music
madelyn mulvaney / GETTY IMAGES Listening to music instantly impacts your mood, and it’s also been tied to brain health. “Engaging with various styles of music has been shown to have multifaceted effects on both emotional and cognitive functions of the brain,” says Nadia Kumentas , NMD, a doctor of naturopathic medicine with Muse. It can impact the learning and memory processes, foster the development of auditory skills, and improve attention and memory, making it a valuable practice for overall brain health.
Try creating playlists with diverse genres that cater to different moods and activities, and utilizing music throughout your day to uplift and energize. “Have uplifting tunes for exercise, calming music for relaxation, and inspiring tracks for creative work,” says Dr. Kumentas. Call a Friend
Humans are social creatures—even the most introverted among us. Nourishing and maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family is an excellent way to stimulate your brain and feel better all around.
“Healthy relationships are important, especially as we age, for numerous reasons,” says Poonam Desai , MD, an emergency room doctor and longevity expert based in New York City. “They can provide support, which is crucial with transitions and health changes that occur with aging, and reduce isolation. Loneliness can lead to depression, which can lead to reduced physical activity and reduced nutrient intake.”
Spending time with others also provides a sense of purpose and belonging, and even everyday conversations and discussions can prove highly stimulating.
Related: 18 Creative Scrapbook Ideas to Preserve Your Family Memories Grab a Book
Farknot_Architect / GETTY IMAGES Put the phone down and grab a book. Whether you prefer a steamy romance novel, a fascinating piece of nonfiction, or a moody mystery, reading boasts tons of benefits for your brain. It inspires critical thinking, expands vocabulary and language, improves concentration, and aids memory as you follow plot lines and retain and recall new information. Manage Your Stress
Poorly managed chronic stress can take a serious toll on your nervous system, as well as your emotional and mental health. Research shows it can also negatively impact your physical well-being.
“When stress is high, we are at risk for higher feelings of anxiousness and sadness, both of which can lead to things like poor appetite, poor sleep, and changes in our concentration and attention,” says Ditzel. “If aging is already impacting your cognition, stress can just exacerbate those difficulties.”
Her suggestion is to keep a mental note of your stress levels. Figure out what triggers your stress and what activities help reduce those feelings. Also think back to what activities brought you joy and minimized anxiety in the past. Find Hobbies That Create a Sense of Purpose
Getty Images Feeling a strong sense of purpose is a crucial part of the human experience, and arguably even more so as we age.
“As we say goodbye to some of the roles and responsibilities we held earlier in life—like caring for children or our occupations—we are susceptible to withdrawal and being underwhelmed, and potentially understimulated with life,” says Dr. Ditzel. “This can be a risk factor for poor cognitive health.”
Her advice is to find something you enjoy and carve out dedicated time to the hobby. It doesn’t have to be something new or grand in scope, but rather something that gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Maybe it’s taking a class, dabbling in a new craft, volunteering, or starting a garden.
Related: 10 Hobbies for Older Adults That Improve Brain and Body Health Allow for Some Downtime
While boredom is often viewed as a negative state of mind, Dr. Kumentas says that research has found that this downtime may actually trigger enhanced creativity, self-reflection, and problem-solving skills.”For instance, studies […]