Flex Your Memory Muscle

Many individuals throughout various stages of life recognize the importance of regular physical exercise to maintain health and physical function. Wellness services, fitness centers, parks and senior centers offer physical activities and fitness experiences on a routine basis.

Cognitive fitness or exercising one′s thinking abilities is another important aspect of healthy routines that one should consider. Cognitive decline may be described as one of the biggest fears of our aging population. In fact, many individuals would identify that they fear cognitive decline over physical decline. Decades of research relate to the favorable impact of cognitive stimulation on reducing the risk of dementia. Prevention of cognitive decline can be achieved through modifying lifestyle habits, as well as a concerted, focused plan of cognitive stimulation. Modifiable lifestyle habits to support cognitive health include:

  • Establishing regular sleep habits.
  • Eating a brain boosting diet.
  • Engaging in physical exercise.
  • Maintaining active social relationships.
  • Managing stress.
  • Participating in leisure activities.

Creating a regular sleep habit is important for brain health and one′s overall cognitive well-being. During one′s sleep the brain shrinks in size allowing cerebrospinal fluid to "wash" the brain of plaques and tangles that are associated with the development of Alzheimer′s dementia.

Developing a cognitive fitness plan

Selecting foods that are known for their brain-boosting benefits is an easily modifiable approach toward maintaining cognitive health. Foods rich in Omega 3 (cold water fish like salmon, tuna, halibut and trout) as well as walnuts, ground flaxseed, winter squash and spinach can easily be incorporated into a brain-boosting diet plan. Other brain-boosting foods are fruits such as berries, bananas, apricots, mangos and melons. Good sleeping and eating habits are two ways to support a brain-healthy lifestyle.

Healthy lifestyle choices such as regular exercise and social relationships also foster good brain health. Physical exercise is known for maintaining or restoring one′s physical status. Additional benefit is that aerobic exercise increases healthy cognitive function. Aerobic exercise supports the health of the brain by improving oxygen levels and nutrient delivery. Examples of continuous aerobic exercise include running, cycling and swimming.

Active social relationships provide leisure opportunities that inherently create thinking challenges ? card clubs, game nights, book clubs and bible study sessions. Also, social relationships can foster a support network, reduce stress and facilitate opportunities for engagement in altruistic activities and enjoyment!

An additional type of exercise is known as "neurobic" exercise. It is based on the premise that brain stimulation can occur when engaged in activities that stimulate more than one sense at a time or are unique because the "routine" activity is performed a little differently. Routines, habits and familiar ways of doing our day-to-day activities are comforting and require less mental energy. When one intentionally performs activities in a modified way or in a different environment, stimulation of the brain occurs. Examples of neurobic activities or exercise include brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, shopping at a different grocery store and listening to music while adding an aromatic scent of a candle or essential oil or lotion. Neurobic exercise can be a fun way to stimulate your brain ? even thinking about neurobic opportunities can facilitate creative thinking.

Keep in mind that if cognitive decline is impacting your ability to engage in day-to-day activities, be active in purposeful roles or communicate a discussion with your health care professional, which may lead to a referral to a rehabilitation professional (occupational or speech therapy) that is trained in cognitive assessment and treatment. Maintaining or improving one′s cognitive health is easy and important for individuals to do across the lifespan. It is never too late to intentionally engage in a cognitive fitness plan.

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