Preventing Cognitive Decline: 5 Tips to Exercise the Brain, Keep the Mind Sharp

Preventing cognitive decline has made the news lately. A new study indicates that physical and mental activities as people age can preserve the brain’s processing speed and may help delay, or fight off, cognitive aging.

The study focused on the effects of activities on the “cognitive reserve” when it relates to thinking speed and memory. Cognitive reserve refers to the brains buffer or protection against the development of cognitive impairment and dementia. A slowdown in the brain’s processing speed is a key factor in cognitive aging.

Mental processing speed in both men and women benefited from cognitive activities such as playing cards or other games, reading, and going to classes, according to the study, which was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Sameea Husain Wilson, D.O., director of Movement Disorder Neurology for Marcus Neuroscience Institute, established at Boca Raton Regional Hospital.

Taking part in regular mental exercises is just one of five tips for keeping the mind sharp and fending off cognitive decline, according to Sameea Husain Wilson, D.O., director of Movement Disorder Neurology for Marcus Neuroscience Institute, established at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health. 

 Here are Dr. Husain Wilson’s five tips:

  1. Diet: “I recommend decreasing the amount of red meat in your diet and increasing the intake of seeds, vegetables, and fruits — as these are key to staying healthy and preventing cognitive decline. According to U.S. government estimates, approximately 75 percent of all Americans are not consuming adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables.” 

  2. Physical exercise: “Staying active is key to improve memory because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and it helps the growth of new brain cells. A study from Columbia University determined that individuals that exercised 30 minutes per day, even if it just involved getting on a treadmill, grew new cells in the part of the brain called dentate gyrus. This area is related to memory and functioning, reinforcing that physical exercise is key to prevent cognitive decline.”

  3. Mental exercises: “Some key activities that I usually recommend to patients who seek to prevent cognitive decline and exercise the mind include reading, as it forces thinking outside everyday tasks, multitasking and building connections. Other beneficial activities to keep the mind sharp include crossword puzzles, art, card games, and arts and crafts, as they all stimulate the brain, and give it a nice workout.”

  4. Feed Your Mind-Body Connection: “Activities like yoga and meditation are calming for the patient and create opportunities to engage with others. That’s something I find especially beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients who want to stimulate their brains. Social connections and interactive activities are especially important. Having a friend or someone to talk to also stimulates positive emotions and helps with memory, focus, and attention, because of speech and language itself.”

  5. Engage in new activities: “I encourage patients to explore new activities, such as playing an instrument or taking on a new hobby.”

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