You’ve heard the phrase ‘use it or lose it,’ and for those of us over 55 we can sometimes feel we’re losing it more often than not. “Where are the keys again?” “Why did I come in here?” But joking aside, there is truth to the statement particularly when it comes to your mind. In fact, another phrase you’re hearing more of lately is ‘brain health’ which is about making the most of your mind and helping to reduce risks to it as you age. We can help you do just that with 5 fun ways to keep your mind sharp as you age.
Why is Brain Health Important?
Before we get to the how in keeping your mind sharp, let’s talk about why it’s important. One of the key reasons is to help ward off health issues such as Alzheimer’s disease which, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the United States develops every 65 seconds. While a cure hasn’t been found yet, research has shown that the brain does benefit from staying both socially and cognitively active.
Doing something unfamiliar and mentally challenging can give you the most benefit, or as University of Texas scientist Denise Park says, “When you are inside your comfort zone, you may be outside of the enhancement zone.”
5 Fun Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp When You’re Over 55
Learn something new – While you may not be in school anymore, that doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Keep your brain stimulated by learning a new skill, new language, new hobby; learn to play an instrument, to paint or even approach a familiar task in a different way.
Win with brain games – Playing chess or bridge, doing crossword or jigsaw puzzles may seem like it’s all in fun but these types of games are also a great way to enhance memory and the processing speed in your brain.
Read, read, read – If you’re not one to be found with your nose stuck in a book, it may be time to reconsider. Regular reading helps to strengthen the muscles in your brain; it improves concentration and even helps to reduce stress which can have its own harmful health effects.
Take a walk – The mind-body connection is powerful as research suggests that parts of the brain that control thinking and memory have greater volume in those who exercise versus those who don’t. And it doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise; the key is that its regular exercise.
Stay social – We said above that the brain benefits from social and cognitive activity so two birds, one stone? Joining a book club, bridge club, a walking group or taking part in local volunteer opportunities are fun ways to do both at the same time.
Keeping Your Mind Sharp Made Easy
It’s true, achieving all the tips above on your own may be a challenge and it’s one of the big reasons people over 55 are moving to active senior living earlier than ever. Senior living communities today have shifted from a purely clinical focus to one of engagement for the whole person and that includes brain health. That’s why you’ll find monthly calendars filled with clubs, classes, events, fitness and enrichment opportunities for virtually any interest you may have. And it’s all right outside your doorstep, making it easier than ever to ‘use it.’
If the fountain of youth exists, it may very well be found within your social circles. Turns out, socially active seniors have a lower risk for Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease as well as some forms of cancer and even a lower death rate that those who don’t maintain social connections according to the National Institute on Aging. So, how should the over 55 set stay connected at a time in their life when it may be getting harder to do just that? We’re so glad you asked!
Four Ways to Create Better Social Connections When You’re Over 55
Take advantage of technology – Nurturing existing relationships with friends and family is a great way to stay connected and technology is ideal in helping you to overcome barriers such as distance, mobility and/or lack of transportation. Plus, smartphones and tablets are more convenient than ever to use with large screens, voice capabilities and the ability to navigate by touch.
Ways to connect through technology:
Video chat apps such as FaceTime or Skype
Social media such as Facebook
If you need to learn:
Ask your kids, grandkids and friends.
See if your local senior center, public library, local university or local computer stores offer learning resources.
Find tutorials and classes online through aarptek.org and techboomers.com.
Watch for “How-To” events at local senior living communities.
Try something new – Being over 55 is no excuse for letting yourself fall into a rut. Remember how invigorating it is to try something new? Yes, it’s another way to expand your social circles, but it also helps to increase your confidence and can give you a new perspective. If that’s not enough, research shows that brain health specifically benefits from staying both socially and cognitively active.
Adopt a new hobby.
Join a club.
Take a cooking class.
Join a walking group.
Learn a new skill and/or new language.
Challenge yourself to games with strategy.
Learn how to play an instrument.
Approach a familiar task in a different way.
Find your cause – Volunteering not only introduces you to others with similar interests, it can also help you to find renewed purpose and offers the opportunity to give back in your local community.
Ways to get involved:
See what causes your friends and family take part in.
Check with senior living communities, who often partner with local organizations, to see what opportunities may be available.
Connect with online volunteer matching services like VolunteerMatch which works with over 121,000 non-profits across the country and SeniorCorps which has programs such as Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions as well as opportunities that include tutoring, renovating homes, teaching English and assisting natural disaster victims.
Connect spiritually – The ways we’ve discussed to connect so far benefit your mind and body, but what your spirit? Connecting in this way can be even more profound because while the body ages, the spirit can always grow and renew. If mobility and/or transportation, small print scripture or difficulty hearing the sermon have stood in the way of attending church, you do have options.
Making it happen:
If you’re in senior living, check to see if your community can provide transportation to your church and/or if religious services are available onsite (many communities have these options).
Participate in a bible study in your senior living community or with your neighbors at home.
Go online; YouVersion offers an app and website where you can read and hear Bible scripture; it even offers reading plans.