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May 22, 2023

Keeping Our Brains Healthy as We Age

by Stephanie Seitz, MSW, LCSW

Have you recently found yourself forgetting why you walked into a room or unable to find your keys or phone even though you just had it in your hands?

This happens to all of us now and then. The busier and more complex our lives become, the more difficult it is to stay focused and present during simple day-to-day tasks. But there is a growing body of evidence that strongly suggests there are many things we can do to help maintain brain health and function throughout our lives.

Keeping our bodies and our minds active appears to be the biggest factor in maintaining our overall brain function. Every organ in our body needs adequate oxygen and nutrients to function optimally, and our brain is not different.

Through numerous studies, regular physical activity has been shown to improve mood, a sense of well-being and is correlated to decreased chances of developing chronic illness such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. In addition to the negative impact of those diseases on our health, those same conditions can further harm the brain leading to a greater decline in cognitive abilities.

Another way of keeping our brain active is by continuing to use our skills in ways that are meaningful to us and maintain social connections. For some people, that may mean doing volunteer work, learning a new skill or hobby, gardening, playing cards or board games with friends or simply engaging in conversation with others. Staying connected with people is something that can easily drop off once we are no longer in school, working from home or retired. Some studies have suggested that those who have frequent social interactions have a 70 percent slower decline in cognitive function versus those who are more isolated.

The National Institutes of Health also reports that people who engage in personally meaningful activities where they feel productive and included tend to live longer and report better mood and a greater sense of purpose.

While there are still environment and genetic factors that can contribute to a decline and physical and cognitive health, research suggest that there are a great number of small but meaningful changes we can make in our lives to help keep our bodies and our brains healthy and active.

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