When we think of aging we often worry about wrinkles, gray hair and crow's feet. But what we often forget is that our brain is aging, too, just like everything else.
You might notice it takes you a little longer to pick up on a new skill or it's just a bit harder to recall something from way back when. This is a normal part of aging, but only to an extent. There are plenty of effective ways to keep your mind and cognition intact. We asked two experts on aging what you can do to stay sharp as a tack.
1. Stay social.
"There is mounting evidence that people who stay socially active in mid to late life do better in terms of memory and thinking," Glen Finney, a board-certified neurologist and member of the American Academy of Neurology, told The Huffington Post. "Choose activities that get you out and about, socializing with other people."
Making friends after 50 can be challenging and if you live alone, isolation can be a problem. We've written before about the importance of making new friends after 50. And if you're painfully shy or can't get out for some reason, at least one study has found that simply joining Facebook can help you feel connected and give you a cognitive boost!
2. Keep your brain challenged.
There's a lot of truth to the whole "use it or lose it adage" when it comes to brain function, both experts say.
"Keep your mind active," geriatrician and American Geriatrics Society member Michael Wasserman told The Huffington Post. "Reading, playing games, solving crossword puzzles. The brain thrives on stimulus!"
Finney says it's important to learn something completely new once in a while, whether it's a new language or a musical instrument you've never picked up before.
"There are theoretical reasons and animal studies that suggest learning something completely new, completely outside your previous domain of knowledge, may increase the level of brain growth factors and increase the number of connections in the brain -- while not proven in humans yet, the worst that happens is you learn something new!" Finney said.
3. Keep your stress levels low.
Often dubbed a "silent killer," Wasserman says many of us are unaware of the "negative cascade" stress brings to our brains and bodies.
Research has shown that bouts of extreme stress can affect your brain long-term, changing functions that help with decision-making and even memory.
4. Don't forget about your body.
A strong body equals a strong mind.
"Exercising our bodies helps maintain our cardiovascular system and this helps our brains," Wasserman says.
Finney says a combination of moderate cardiovascular activity and strength training makes up the ideal fitness regimen.
As always, you should consult a professional before starting a new exercise routine.
5. Eat right.
Wasserman says both quality and quantity matter when it comes to what we're putting on our plates.
"Empty calories lead to empty brains," he said. "Good fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates are the way to go. Eat to live, don't live to eat!"
A Mediterranean Diet is an example of this. It includes good fats from nuts and olive oil, protein from fish and beans, and complex carbs from whole grains.
Studies have shown this kind of diet can stave off cognitive decline and improve brain function.