The Trouble with Aging
Although the saying that “everything gets better with age” is true of a good cheese and wine combo, it’s not the case with people’s cognitive abilities. Some subtle changes in your ability to think are considered a normal part of the aging process, but that doesn’t mean you must passively accept the idea that a decline in your mental acuity is inevitable.
In fact, there are a number of things you can do to help decrease your chances of experiencing mental decline as you age. We’ll be discussing some of those solutions in depth within this post.
Fighting the Decline
From the time we’re born, through 5th grade, and on, our cognition continues to improve; however, many of the thinking abilities we develop peak, on average, around the age of 30 and begin to slowly decline from there. The most common abilities that see changes can include but are not limited to, your thinking speed, multitasking, paying attention, and keeping information in mind.
To prevent cognitive decline, scientists suggest adopting a lifestyle that focuses on regular exercise, a Mediterranean diet, consistent, good-quality sleep, moderate alcohol consumption, and avoidance of drugs. Scientists also say engaging in mentally stimulating activities like reading, writing, crossword puzzles, playing music, group discussions, and playing board and card games can have a significant impact on your sharpness as the years go on.
None of these practices are guaranteed to protect you from dementia and cognitive decline later in life, as studies estimate about 60% of your mental acuity can be attributed to genetics. However, recent studies suggest that implementing the following lifestyle changes and maintaining them over time can slow and, in many cases, even prevent cognitive decline due to aging.
Adopt Healthy Habits
This may seem intuitive, but healthy habits can have a huge impact on your mental acuity. Regular exercise offers a wide array of health benefits that spill over into every facet of everyday life, including your ability to think clearly and experience regular, refreshing sleep.
In fact, a lack of physical exercise, high blood pressure, and obesity have been linked to a higher risk of cognitive decline. Depression has also been shown to have an impact on people’s long-term mental abilities, and depression can be alleviated with serotonin from exercise.
As Elle Woods said in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. And happy people don’t kill their husbands.” Or in this case, happy people don’t experience a decrease in mental acuity as they age.
Build a Solid Social Support Network
In the same vein, a poor social support network can also have devastating effects on your mental health over time. Studies have shown that persistent loneliness causes accelerated aging and can eventually lead to death. These same studies show that loneliness often leads to depression and can have the same long-term effects on your physical and mental health as obesity, excess alcohol, and cigarettes.
So what can you do to prevent loneliness and its effects?
Scientists say the only thing you can do is take action. Reach out to family members or friends you haven’t spoken to in a while, join a new activity you’ve never done before, or utilize Skype and other online social platforms. No matter what you do to alleviate the loneliness, make sure you are satisfying your innate human need for social interaction.
Engage in Mental Stimulation
Aside from a healthy diet, frequent and close social interactions, and physical exercise, you need to start training your brain as well. Whether this means taking Chinese lessons or taking a quiz to find out if you’re smarter than a 5th grader, it’s up to you.
Activities that require you to think critically and recall information are irreplaceable in the fight against cognitive decline. These activities can include reading, writing, dancing, gardening, and trying new pastimes that involve your brain but don’t add stress.
Although we’ve broken these strategies into groups, they function much like a spider web. Without a focus on each one of these interwoven parts, your effectiveness at preventing mental decline is reduced. Social interaction, regular exercise, and mental stimulation can all be done together in activities like hiking with friends, hosting game nights, and trying something new with the person you love.
You Can’t Avoid Time, But You CAN Avoid Cognitive Decline
Getting older doesn’t have to correlate with slowing down. If you start now with the strategies we outlined above, you’ll be much less likely to begin seeing decline once you reach 30. And even if you’ve already passed the big 3-0, there’s still time to delay or prevent diminishing cognition. Now is always the best time for a fresh start.