Did you know that neuroscientists are now convinced that the brain is capable of superior performance even into the 10th decade and beyond? If the brain remains healthy and free from disease, it can continue to function normally for as long as we live. Sustained brain health and enhanced lifelong learning are vital parts of aging and improve quality of life.
Terry Eckmann, PhD, an associate professor at Minot State University in North Dakota and an advisory board member of the International Council on Active Aging, shares what you can do for your mental and physical health to promote a healthy brain.
Neuroscientists recommend swimming, dancing, gardening, knitting, more frequent use of the nondominant hand and leg, and walking 10,000 steps on a daily basis (Nussbaum 2006). Small (2006) encourages regular physical activity that includes an adequate cardiovascular workout. Medina (2008) suggests that aerobic exercise is the key to lowering the odds of getting Alzheimer’s by 60%. A daily 20-minute walk can cut the risk of having a stroke, one of the leading causes of mental disability in the elderly, by 57%. Ratey (2008) calls aerobic exercise Miracle-Gro® food for the brain, “fertilizing” cells to keep them functioning and growing.
It’s important to use the brain to keep it healthy. Nussbaum recommends activities like playing board games, doing crossword puzzles, learning a second language, taking a class, increasing exposure to classical music and acquiring new skills. Small (2006) reports that participating in such leisure activities as playing board games, reading books or doing crossword puzzles cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by nearly a third.
A Healthy Diet
Balanced nutrition is essential for body and brain health. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture 2010) provides science-based advice on food choices for good health. The guidelines recommend a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts; and is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugar. Water is also essential for the electrical transmissions within the nervous system that make us sensing, learning, thinking and acting organisms.
Nussbaum, P. 2006. Brain Health Across the Lifespan: From Research to Practice and Policy. Boston: Learning and the Brain Symposium.
Ratey, J. 2008. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York: Little Brown.
Small, G. 2006. The Longevity Bible. New York: Hyperion.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2010. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 (7th ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.