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Aging Well: Smart ways to boost your brain health

Factors we can control — such as making a habit out of a brisk walk every day — can improve our brain health, boost memory and mental agility, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

Just as you can improve your general physical health with good habits, so too can you improve the health of your brain — boosting your memory and mental agility, as well as reducing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Although research has found links between genes and one’s risk of Alzheimer’s, the exact cause is more likely a combination of genetics and other factors. Practicing good brain health at any age can help stave off the disease, as well as build up your cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is a term describing the brain’s resilience toward damage.

The good news is that our brains are able to continue forming new neural connections throughout our life cycle, called neuroplasticity. In other words, no matter what your age, your brain health can improve as the internal structure of its neurons changes and as the number of synapses between neurons increases.

Brain health is an ongoing focus of Mather Institute, an award-winning resource for research and information about wellness, aging, trends in senior living, and successful aging service innovations. The Institute is the research arm of Mather, the parent organization to The Mather, a Life Plan Community coming to Tysons.

According to research gathered by Mather Institute, you can boost your brain health in a number of easy ways:

  1. Get a Move on. Regular physical activity can prevent or delay signs of dementia. People who have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s Disease may be helped the most by physical activity.
  2. Oooohhmmmm… Meditation increases gray matter in areas of the brain associated with short- and long-term memory and complex cognitive processes.
  3. Go for the “Good Fats”! Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are good for your brain, because of their essential nutrients. Unlike saturated fats, they don’t clog your arteries!
  4. Seek the Spiritual. In people with Alzheimer’s Disease, those who practiced religion or spirituality are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline.
  5. Walking the Walk. Cardio exercise such as brisk walking has been linked to growth in the area of the brain associated with creating new memories.
  6. 1, 2, 3, Relax! Stress is bad for the brain and the body. Learn to counter it by activating your relaxation state. For example, you can sit quietly and focus on slowing your breathing.
  7. Time to Go Back to School! Researchers believe that the most efficient way to build more connections between brain cells is to learn something new.
  8. Eat Your Fruits & Veggies. Antioxidants reduce chronic inflammation, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s. They also relieve oxidative stress, which has been linked to a number of conditions and diseases including Alzheimer’s.
  9. To Err Is Human… Forgiveness is good for the brain. Letting go of grudges and anger can reduce stress and depression, and increase feelings of well-being — all benefits to the brain!
  10. Be a Social Butterfly. Social engagement has been associated with preserving memory and thinking abilities. In one study of more than 1,000 older adults, the 10% with the highest level of social activity had 70% less cognitive decline than those in the lowest 10%.

The good news about brain health is that it’s never too late to start the healthy habits that can improve your cognitive abilities and protect you against dementia.

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in 2024.

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