Top Tips for Keeping a Sharp Mind

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS), Health in Aging Foundation

Part of Staying Sharp For Dummies Cheat Sheet

To keep yourself on top of the game as you get older, there’s no way around it: You have to embrace some lifestyle changes. They can be gradual, and you can focus on one at a time. But to get any benefit, you do need to invest some effort. The more effort you make, the more benefit you get as you seek to stay sharp.

Keep your mind active

Read, travel, play games, solve crosswords, take up a hobby or two, and interact with different types of people as much as possible. Cut back on vegging out in front of the tube. The brain thrives on stimulus, and it’s up to you to keep yours stimulated. The bottom line when it comes to your brain power: Use it or lose it.

Exercise your memory

The more you are proactive about focusing on remembering people, places, and things, the better. You should always be trying out mnemonic strategies and challenging yourself to practice and maintain a good memory.

Your brain will respond and actually improve with even a little training. Try giving yourself a little test each day — say, naming as many state capitals as you can or recalling the names of people from your graduating class.

Recognize and reduce stress

Stress is like a great weight pressing down on you and making everything in your life more difficult than it needs to be. Free up your brain to work on problems that matter instead of letting a million little worries overwhelm you day after day. Relaxation techniques and meditation are powerful tools in your battle against stress.

Take nutrition seriously and eat better

The average American’s diet is in many ways appalling: It involves consuming foods full of bad fats, added sugars, and too much cholesterol; overdoing it with red meat proteins; and ignoring appropriate portion sizes. Eat to live; don’t live to eat. Cleaning up your diet can add years to your life and put your body (and therefore your brain) on firmer footing to rise to the challenges in your life.

Exercise

Exercise — even walking a half hour a day — improves your cardiovascular system and boosts your brain power. Long-term inactivity can worsen just about everything about your health. Bone and muscle loss due to a sedentary lifestyle become more and more serious as you age. Exercise is vital to staying sharp.

Prevent common health concerns

Cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and stroke are dangerous and widespread problems. The good news is that you can take steps now to greatly reduce your chances of facing these threats.

Examine your own health history and your family’s and come up with a plan that aims specifically at your potential vulnerabilities. Remember the old adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s true.

Keep a positive attitude

Studies have shown that having an optimistic attitude actually correlates with healthier outcomes and longer life. Finding a way to see the glass as half full really does matter. And you’re lucky: people generally become happier and more positive as they get older.