Brain health is a common concern and challenge for most seniors. Whether the problem at hand is memory, depression, or dementia, there are ways seniors can improve brain health without pills.
There are hundreds of products marketed to seniors to boost your brain function or help with memory, and though some may help, not everyone wants to pop a pill. Plus, many seniors are on other medications for various health concerns, and not all supplements work well together with these.
For those who are on supplements, these exercises are not to replace what is already working for you. Instead, these techniques will enhance and improve what you are already doing. Using a combination of methods to improve brain health can have significant positive effects.
Sometimes, just medication isn’t enough, and your doctor will encourage you to add alternative treatments to improve your brain health. For example, those on prescription medication for depression may be encouraged to add exercise to their daily routine to aid in battling depression.
There are many different ways to improve brain health without the use of pills, and most are easy to add to your daily routine. The options listed below can help improve:
- Motor Function
- Problem Solving
Plus, as an added benefit, most of the ways to improve brain health also helps to improve overall health and reduce risks of various diseases and severe medical conditions like high cholesterol, blood sugar, and high blood pressure.
Ways To Improve Brain Health Without Pills
- Physical Exercise
- Challenge Your Brain
- Train Your Brain
- Connect With Others
- Stay On Top Of Your Numbers
- Practice Meditation
Physical exercise is the number one way to improve health. Exercising thirty minutes a day can have unbelievable positive impacts on your mind, body, and mood.
According to a Harvard study, using muscles improves brain health, since doing so brings oxygen-rich blood to the area of the brain responsible for thought. Exercise promotes the development of nerve cells, resulting in a more efficient and flexible mind. Plus, it has been proven that exercise reduces stress, and we know that stress adversely impacts the brain.
For some seniors, exercise may seem like a daunting prospect, however, it can be as simple as a thirty-minute walk, yoga session, or swim at the local pool. Exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous to be beneficial. If you are looking for group exercise options, check with your local senior center as most host classes.
Plus, exercise is directly connected to reducing cognitive impairment, including with diseases like Alzheimer’s. And in some cases, maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise has proven more effective than some medications at reducing the risk of dementia.
Some of the best exercises for seniors include:
- Strength training
- Yoga and pilates
If you are worried about starting an exercise routine, consult your physician for the best plan to get started. Also, if you are not used to exercising, be sure to start slow, maybe only five minutes a day, and build from there.
Most seniors understand that eating a healthy diet promotes good physical health and reduces various diseases and medical conditions. However, did you know that your diet strongly impacts your brain health?
Knowing the right foods to eat will aid at not only reducing the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, but it can also reverse the normal aging process in the brain, and increase blood flow to the brain to promote brain cell development and function.
The Mediterranean diet is highly promoted by most physicians, regardless of their specialty. And Dr. Argye Hillis, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, is one such doctor that believes the Mediterranean diet can aid in improving memory.
Also, other studies have shown that those following the Mediterranean diet are 20% less likely to suffer from deteriorating brain health. The Mediterranean diet promotes brain healthy foods such as:
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy fats
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains and healthy carbs
Foods left whole and not processed are vital to ensure you get the proper vitamins and nutrients from these foods.
But brain health isn’t just about adding certain foods. There are also some foods that seniors should avoid eating or only eat in moderation like:
- Foods with added sugar: Soda, ice cream, candy
- Refined grains like white bread, pasta from refined wheat, white rice
- Trans fats: Found in margarine and other processed foods
- Refined oils like canola, soybean, and cottonseed
- Processed Meat like lunch meat, hot dogs, and sausages
- Highly processed foods: Factory made foods
- High Sodium Foods: Fast food, processed foods, and pizza
Challenge Your Brain
Challenge your brain by learning something new. Research shows that learning a new skill can improve memory and strengthen the connections in the brain of seniors.
Learning something new to improve brain health can include absolutely any new skill, for example:
- A new language
- Horseback riding
- A new game
- Computer skills
The options are endless, and so are the benefits. Imagine if you had always dreamed of playing the guitar or learning to paint, by choosing a physical activity, you would improve not just your brain health but also your motor skills. Plus, if you decide to sign up for a class, you will also be engaging socially, which is another way to improve cognitive function.
Another idea to learn something new is to return to school. Some colleges and universities throughout the country offer free classes for seniors 65+. Many local senior centers provide various classes through community programs too.
Train Your Brain
Training your brain is different than challenging your mind, but has similar benefits of improving cognitive skills and memory. Training your brain is not about learning something new; instead, it is exercising your brain keeping it sharp by engaging in various tasks such as:
- Writing a list, such as a grocery list, spend time memorizing it then wait an hour and try to recall what was on the list
- Playing brain games on the computer or phone app
- Draw a map to somewhere familiar
- Do a crossword puzzle or sudoku, many of which come in large print
- Put together a jigsaw puzzle – this will also help with motor skills
- Create your own mind games such as:
- List different animals in alphabetical order: Ape, Bear, Cheetah
- Name ten green things you can eat
- Look around your area, especially if you happen to be waiting in line, and try to find five blue things, five red things, and five yellow things.
Training your brain keeps your brain from atrophying like an unused muscle. Doing so will help to reduce memory loss and promote good mental health.
Connect with Others
Several studies prove that connecting with friends and family helps improve mental health. Staying social, making new friends, can help stimulate your brain and reduce depression. Maintaining and making new connections will also keep your mind engaged and can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Some great ways to connect with others if you don’t have friends and family in the area:
- Take a class such as a computer, exercise, or woodworking
- Reach out to your local senior center for events and activities such as tours, weekend outings, or bus trips to the casino
- Join a club like a book club, knitting group, cards, or golfing
- Connect with friends and family from out of town using the computer, this could involve face-to-face communication via Facetime or a similar app, or playing an interative computer game together, like chess or cards.
Socializing with others helps seniors stay connected, can often elicit feelings of happiness, gives us a sense of belonging, and promotes a sense of purpose. As an added benefit, positive social interaction has proven to promote good health, lower blood pressure, and help people live longer.
Stay on Top of Your Numbers
Cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure all impact brain function. So, when your doctor talks to you about managing any or all of these medical conditions, doing so isn’t just to avoid stroke, heart disease, or diabetes, but can also impact your mental health too.
- Cholesterol: Studies have shown that cholesterol impacts the shape of the protein that promotes memory and thought process. Unfortunately, if your cholesterol needs medication to be appropriately managed, that medicine can have adverse impacts on your brain. So it is essential to keep your cholesterol be kept under control to avoid the need for medications.
- Blood Pressure: High blood pressure not only increases the chance of heart disease and stroke, but it can also contribute to brain function disorders. Blocked or narrow arteries in the brain reduce the proper blood flow, which can result in dementia. Additionally, some studies show high blood pressure can cause mild cognitive disfunction.
- High Blood Sugar: High blood sugar can cause significant changes in the brain including shrinkage and atrophy. Plus, because blood sugar affects vascular health, high blood sugar can also lead to vascular dementia. And, according to an article in Harvard Health Publishing, thinking and memory function worsen in direct relation to blood sugar elevation.
Meditation has been used for centuries as a way to promote mind and body health. Meditation is performed either sitting or lying down in a quiet area. Those new to meditation often prefer guided meditation sessions until they are comfortable doing in on their own. Guided meditation can be lead in person, through the use of an app, or listened to from an audiobook.
Meditation is the practice of focusing on quieting one’s mind, concentrating on breathing, and on bringing about feelings of well-being and relaxation to the meditator. Meditation is proven to aid in improving several health issues, such as blood pressure, digestive health, mental function, inflammation, and insomnia.
Additionally, studies have shown that meditations helps seniors to reduce stress and anxiety, improve memory, decrease chronic pain, decrease cognitive decline, and improve heart health.
Meditation has even aided seniors in reducing their need for specific medications.