Keeping your brain healthy
Many of the lifestyle factors that we have control over – such as what we eat, how active we are and the mental activities we carry out – can have a significant impact on our brain health.
There’s no single magic remedy, but research shows that it’s best to take a range of the following steps to keeping your brain functioning well.
When we exercise it improves blood flow and stimulates chemical changes in the brain – these help to improve memory and thinking, enhance learning and even boost our mood. And, exercise is proven to help you sleep better and reduce anxiety, which both contribute to a healthier brain.
Aim to fit some activity into each day, such as swimming or yoga, or something more spontaneous like walking or gardening. Try to get a mix of exercise, from aerobic activity to get your heart rate up to stretching and balancing. For inspiration, read our article exercises that can boost the brain.
Eating well is one of the best ways to put your body in good shape to fight off obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which can all strike harder in older age. But did you realise that a healthy diet will also keep your brain in shape.
Eat food rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and flavonoids to maintain your thinking skills. On the flip side, high levels of saturated fat found in butter, palm oil, dairy and meat are linked to thinking skills decreasing in older age.
As a general rule, follow a balanced diet, high in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fats. For more ideas, read our article on brain food to boost brain health.
Social interaction and engagement
Studies show that people who spend time with others and stay connected to their community experience the slowest rate of memory decline. An engaged social network helps to improve memory, reduce stress, ward off depression, keep you mentally stimulated and give you a support network to rely upon.
This is easier for some people than others, depending on your situation. If you don’t have a rich network of friends and family nearby, consider getting involved in local groups, trying volunteering or starting a new hobby to help you meet people.
Sleep and relaxation
Sleep helps your mind to rest and revive – we need enough sleep to allow our mind to de-stress and maintain good cognitive function. It can also reduce build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain, an abnormal protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Aim for seven to eight hours – research shows that this is optimum amount for better brain health (and better physical health) in older people. Try not to worry if your sleep changes as you get older, though. It’s normal for sleep to become lighter and to wake in the night or early in the morning.
If your sleep is badly disturbed and it’s affecting your day-to-day life, you may be experiencing insomnia. Our insomnia guide takes you through the symptoms and gives advice on improving your quality of sleep.