It’s a question we all ask as we age. We know that good health is a crucial factor in our ability to remain physically and mentally active, engaged in our lives, and as independent as possible.
Poor health creates pain and other unpleasant symptoms, as well as disabilities that can limit how much we can participate in our lives. Limitations such as difficulty with mobility, memory, and independence are all linked to health issues.
Since healthy aging can keep your mind and body working well for as long as possible, it’s important to know what you can do to maintain your health. Healthy aging is not only taking the best self-care to remain strong and prevent disability, it’s also a way to understand how to function best with a chronic disease or chronic mind or body disability.
The goal of healthy aging is to help your body and brain work at their best - both now and in the future. Whether you are a ‘healthy’ older person without health problems or you have a chronic illness, there are some key things you can do to help boost your health as you age.
Get moving! Exercise improves your stamina, heart rate, and respiration. It also improves blood flow and memory. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, because exercise stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood, and thinking. Get moving, get healthy, and get smart for your health, your heart, and your brain!
You are what you eat! As we age, our brains are exposed to many stress factors caused by our diet, lifestyle, and environment. This causes oxidation, a chemical process that damages brain cells. If you’ve ever seen a piece of fruit turn brown, you have some idea of how oxidation works and the damage it can do to your brain cells. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help protect your brain against the harmful effects of oxidation.
To increase the amount of antioxidants in your daily diet, model your meals on a ‘Mediterranean diet.’ Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables - dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli are full of brain-healthy nutrients; and berries, red and green bell peppers, and carrots are packed with antioxidants that can help slow the aging process. Limit the amount of meat you eat and increase your fish intake for a healthy serving of Omega-3 antioxidants. Instead of processed baked goods, choose healthy whole grains for even more powerhouse nutrients. Your body and your brain will thank you.
Be Medically Vigilant
Advocate for your own best health. Are you a smoker? Is there a history of diabetes or hypertension in your family? These factors; along with obesity, depression, high cholesterol, and head trauma; all increase the risk of dementia. By understanding your medical history, you can control and reduce these risks. Be vigilant about protecting your health. Get your annual check-up, follow your doctor's recommendations, and take your medications as prescribed. These habits will help you maintain a healthy brain and body.
Get Regular Sleep
Good health requires good rest! Sleep is a restorative process that improves our mood and energy level, maintains the efficiency of our immune systems, and reduces abnormal protein build-up (called ‘plaque’) in the brain. This plaque build-up is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. By getting good sleep and being mindful of managing stress, you can help combat age-related brain function decline.
Mental Exercises for Better Brain Health
Give your brain a workout! Your brain, like your muscles, requires regular exercise in order to stay strong. Mental exercises - like crossword puzzles, word games, or memory sequences - can decrease your risk of developing dementia by improving your brain function while triggering new brain cell growth. Regular mental workouts will help keep your brain strong and healthy.
Be Socially Active
Make new friends, get healthier. By nature, humans are social creatures, and our brains don’t thrive in isolation. Regular social interaction with a network of friends will help you feel engaged and valued and may protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s. Social contact increases our ‘feel good’ hormone levels, has been shown to improve blood pressure, and helps ward off depression caused by isolation. There are many ways to develop a regular routine of social engagement. Community centers, volunteer groups, senior centers, and group classes at the Y, gym, or community college are all excellent ways to develop a new network of friends. Closer to home, you can garden with neighbors, organize a weekly potluck, or join a walking club at the local park. As we get older, maintaining our circle of friends is just as essential as maintaining our health.