Six Ways to Reduce the Natural Decline in Cognitive Functions from Aging
As I referenced in the previous post on What Leaders Can Do To Reduce Brain Aging, there are many things we all can do to protect the long-term health of our brains and minimize the impact of the natural brain-aging process.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that people who experience the least decline in cognitive functions and memory all share certain characteristics:
- They partake in physical activity.
- They pursue intellectually stimulating activities.
- They stay socially active.
- They manage stress levels.
- They eat healthily.
- They sleep well.
This list of common characteristics in those with healthy brains really contains no surprises. Happily, they are all lifestyle choices that can be made and implemented with little cost. Hence the secret to long-term brain health has less to do with solving Sudoku and crossword puzzles and more with trying new experiences, engaging with others, and maintaining (or improving) overall physical health.
Scientific research continues to provide proof that we can change our brains and our ability to cope with diseases and age-related decline with simple lifestyle choices. However, if the lifestyle changes are not implemented as early as possible, and by that I mean well before the retirement years approach, the more likely we are to develop neurodegenerative problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. After all, it is the trifecta of mid-life curses — high blood pressure, obesity, and physical inactivity — that increases the risk of dementia in later life.
The extent to which scientists can pinpoint the contribution of any specific lifestyle factor (physical activity, diet, sleep, social interactions, general activity levels, etc.) to brain health remains limited. So there is no number one factor to pursue. You have to make a proactive commitment to a lifestyle that incorporates many of these factors.
And there are many highly modifiable lifestyle factors to choose from that can have far-reaching effects on brain health. These include obesity, physical inactivity, excessive television watching or Internet browsing, chronic stress, high blood pressure, poor nutritional intake, and inadequate sleep.
Additionally, when it comes to the brain the old saying of “use it or lose it” is quite applicable. The best preventative medicine for age-related cognitive decline is to interact frequently with other people, stay active, eat a healthy diet, refrain from smoking, and drink alcohol in moderation.
The key is to start now. Do not wait until your retirement years to start thinking about the health of your brain. By then it will be too late. Take the necessary steps today to protect the long-term health of your brain.
This article is partially excerpted from my award-winning book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The book is the recipient of a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association for bringing “a comprehensive plan of action for improving life through recognizing decision-making patterns that don’t serve us well, don’t enrich our lives, and don’t bring us to our goals and dreams.” It also received a Distinguished Favorite Award in the 2019 Independent Press Awards leadership category.