Let’s say you want to keep vibrant and stay vigorous. You really can prevent or slow the changes of aging on your brain. Think about where there is room to improve regarding your health and behaviors. Don’t set it off until later – that time will never come. Start now and use this checklist to give you ideas.
1.Keep the body moving
A. Start a walking program – aim for consistency. Try to keep a moderate pace (one that requires you to take breaths and not talk as easily!). Attempt to do this daily. Time yourself or keep track of your steps for additional motivation and goal-setting.
B. Find comfortable shoes that will protect you from ankle sprains and provide some protection from any back strain.
C. Consider lower body strengthening of the buttocks, hips and leg muscles. This will protect you from fall, protect your back, and keep the brain active.
D. Consider hiring a personal trainer to help you with your form, in order to protect you from injury.
2. Ensure that all senses are functioning at their best (use devices if needed)
A. Get your hearing tested and consider a hearing aide if recommended to maximize your brains ability to process what is said. We depend on visual and verbal cues to process what is said. We cannot store in our memory what we don’t hear correctly.
B. Get your vision tested, address the cataracts and use glasses to protect you from falls, to allow you vision to cue the other senses (lip-reading while listening, positioning legs while walking), and to help you enjoy the beauty around you.
C. Consider a physical therapy and occupational therapy referral, if you are developing challenges with your independent activities of daily living (e.g from osteoporosis, arthritis, memory impairment). These therapists can provide “hacks” to accommodate for some of those challenge.
3. Keep calm and carry on.
A. Join a meditation group or spend some time – approximately 10-20 minutes – meditating in the comforts of your own. If you prefer, there are apps that can be purchased on smartphones that coach you through the process of meditation.
B. Set up a morning routine of walking or exercise. This will protect you during the day from heightening stress from external demands.
C. Communication between one another relies on interpretation. Attempt to put a gap between hearing a statement and immediately jumping to conclusions. A statement is just that and does not require emotion to tangle up the message. Often it just requires asking an open question to seek to understand.
D. Consider seeking a therapist or life coach. You deserve the pleasure of having someone listen to you.
4. Eat like it matters
A. If you enjoy sweets, set one or two days weekly where you can enjoy a small plate of your favorite desert. If you are inclined to ice cream, if you get a smaller container, you won’t feel forced not to waste it.
B. Try to eat mostly whole foods (from plants) to reduce the amount of carbohydrates that are consumed in each meal (this is bread, rice, pasta, pizza, pretzels, chips and noodles).
C. Avoid drinking sugary drinks – this includes juice, milk and soda. Try the flavored carbonated waters and add a little bit of juice squeezed from fruit to “doctor” it up.
5. Maintain social connections and healthy relationships
A. Join one or more meetup clubs. This is a wonderful way of getting to meet people of all ages that share a common interest – whether it is pugs, a foreign language, horror films (but see #3), meditation, or friendship and coupling.
B. Get in touch with old friends – they, like you, have just been so tied up in the ups and downs of life to stop and maintain their friendships. Call them and put it on the calendar.
C. If you enjoy work as a form of socializing, you don’t have to retire — consider working only 2 days a week or even volunteer to do something you were always curious about. Getting out of your comfort zone leads to new learning and new learning is only possible because of new neural connections!
6. Get some sleep!
A. Exercise in the morning to improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest.
B. Avoid caffeine in all of its forms after noon.
C. Avoid any contact with smartphones for at least an hour before sleeping
D. Set up a ritual of 1 hour of preparation before going to sleep, e.g. washing face, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, dimming the lights – these are all signals that prepare your brain for sleep.
E. If you are waking up more than once nightly, have tense swelling in your legs, have dry mouth at night or have vivid dreams while being older than 50, overweight and with higher blood pressure, you may have an undiagnosed condition, such as sleep apnea. Consider talking to your doctor to get tested.
7. Spend time outdoors in nature
A. Check out a meetup group for “Forest bathing”, nature walks or hikes. There are groups that look for birds, others for plants and still others for mushrooms. It is not only a relaxing and wonderful local experience, but also a great way to meet like-minded naturalists.
B. Try to get outdoors in the park at least 4 days a week, if not every day.
8. Stay at a healthy weight
A. Try to be consistent with your diet. Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks. If your pants are starting to get tight, consider tightening up your regular intake of sugar or complex carbohydrates.
B. Sometimes, a brief fast is a “reminder” to the mind is enough to get back into the usual healthy habits.
9. Pick up an instrument or just sing along.
A. Consider picking up an instrument of your choice and learning online for tips.
B. Add a group exposure – such as a song circle or ukulele or guitar group or open mic. This can accelerate learning far more than playing to yourself as the audience.
10. Refrain from recreational drug use
A. If you haven’t smoked or consumed alcohol regularly, you aren’t missing much – don’t start. If you do smoke or consume try to reduce the amount to as low as possible or quit.
B. Remember: the dose is the poison.
It is never too late to start on a pathway to protecting your brain from any further changes. Even with early cognitive deficits, someone can optimize their health to reduce the progression and compensate for the losses.