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Exercise your brain.

If you’re like me, you find yourself searching for the car keys or your glasses more often than you’d care to admit. But, rest easy; these changes in our memories are a normal part of aging.  The more serious kinds of memory loss are another matter.

Our Brains Age

As we get older the volume of the brain naturally shrinks. As this happens, some of our nerve cells may also shrink or lose some of their connections with other nerve cells. In addition, blood flow within the brain slows somewhat. These are normal aging processes, but should not interfere with our cognitive abilities or normal activities and relationships.

But there are some changes in the brain that are very detrimental and can lead to severe impairment of mental functions. These are Alzheimer’s disease when numerous nerve cells are damaged or die, vascular dementia, most often caused by strokes, and other diseases such as Lewy body, frontotemporal dementia, HIV-related issues and Huntington’s disease. Head trauma can also be linked to serious dementia.

Proactively Protecting Brain Functions

Although no one can entirely protect themselves from the results of disease, there are many ways to increase our chances of living to a ripe old age in extremely good mental health.

Here are some of the ways we can manage our lives in positive ways and build strong, healthy minds and bodies.

Stay Active. Thirty minutes of exercise every other day is enough to make a difference in overall physical health. Walking, dancing, biking, water aerobics—there are numerous ways to keep our bodies moving. When we exercise we improve our circulation and help to keep cholesterol, blood sugars and blood pressure under control. Plus, we feel better mentally, more engaged and more able to enjoy each day. As we age, it really is true that if we don’t use it, we lose it.

Stimulate Your Brain. We all know that doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku, playing chess and reading keep our brains stimulated and in problem-solving mode. But how about these ideas? Turn pictures and words upside down to force your brain to do the work of “seeing” them. Or use the opposite hand to do tasks such as brushing your teeth or sweeping the floor. Try it.

Go Ahead and Talk to Yourself. Silly as it may sound, use of oral language is a good way to keep the nerve connections pinging. And normal conversation with friends and family are also good ways to force the brain to make logical connections.

Enjoy Nature. Memories made in beautiful natural surroundings are powerful. They tend to bring back healthy, positive connections to our minds. They’re also a great way to de-stress and relax which is good for the entire body.

Sleep. As we age, many of us experience sleep interruptions. In general we should aim for seven to eight hours of restful sleep. If you aren’t able to do that, see a medical professional for advice. Our minds don’t function at their best when our bodies are tired.

Manage Your Diet. A wholesome diet is key to overall health. We need to realize our brains are affected by everything that goes into our bodies. Thus, we need to quit smoking, drink in moderation and eat a healthy diet which limits sugars and unsaturated fats. Monitor cravings and stay aware of daily intakes.

De-stressing Activities. Grandma had it right when she spent evening hours quilting or knitting. Any activity that keeps the brain engaged, but the body at peace is good for us. Meditation, positive social interactions, crafting and other restful activities are good for the body and the brain.

Take Charge

Take a look around at your friends who are still mentally sharp and enjoying every day to the maximum. Chances are they’re doing most of the above items. They’re staying active and finding purpose in their daily activities. They’re connecting with friends and using self-discipline in eating and drinking. They’re getting enough rest and exercise.

You can be that person too. Take inventory of your daily life. Where can you add some healthy practices to ensure you stay sharp and vibrant mentally for many years to come?