Quad Cities, IL/IA

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

How Fit Is Your Brain?


Submitted by LivWell CARES

As we age, many of us have days when we feel we’re just not as sharp as we used to be. In fact, a 2017 study by the Alzheimer’s Association found that more people fear being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia than fear death itself.  While many people believe there’s nothing they can do to ward off cognitive decline, the fact is, barring degenerative nerve diseases, there are steps you can take to enhance your cognitive health and slow down or even prevent cognitive decline. The following are some easy scientifically proven ways to help keep your mind fit and ready for action.

Number 1: Keep Learning
In the same way that lifting weights will help build muscles in our body, continuing to learn new things exercises and strengthens the brain. Our brains need challenges to function at their peak. There are many ways to challenge/exercise our brains, including taking up and learning about a new hobby, a new language, or reading about an unfamiliar subject. Doing puzzles is another way to exercise your brain, whether it’s a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw puzzle. Did you play an instrument when you were younger? Why not take it up again? Even doing volunteer work can stimulate your brain. In doing so you will be strengthening the connections in the brain that make is easier to retrieve memories. On top of that, you might enjoy yourself!

Number 2: Preserve and Expand Your Social Network
Your level of social engagement, and the size and quality of your social network can have a direct impact on your brain. Even social media can provide an important benefit. According to Oxford University Press, a study showed that a group of older adults who learned and used Facebook for an 8-week period showed a big uptick in complex working memory. Also, try to stay away from negative or toxic people to preserve the quality of your social network.

Number 3: Get Regular Exercise
You may not want to hear it, but research has shown that regular exercise has a profound impact on the brain. It builds and preserves thinking skills and boosts memory. It does this in two ways: first, the physical impact of increased blood flow helps to cut inflammation, restore blood sugar balance, and boost the growth of new blood vessels to the brain, helping to preserve existing brain cells and build new ones. But exercise also has the secondary impact of tiring you out so that you get a good night’s sleep, while also improving your mood and cutting down on the stress that can lead to damaging chemicals and hormones being released.

Additionally, a University of California at Los Angeles study revealed that adults over the age of 75 who engage in regular physical activity develop larger brains and reduce their risk of dementia. The expansion specifically takes place in the hippocampus, which controls short-term memory.

Number 4: Get Seven Hours of Sleep
The older we get, the less likely we are to get an uninterrupted night of sleep. Unfortunately, in addition to leaving us tired the next day, lack of needed rest can have a profound impact on memory, and on decline in aging in general. To improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, pay attention to sleep hygiene issues such as too much TV or laptop time too close to bed time, going to bed at irregular hours, too much light or noise in your bedroom, and the quality of your mattress. If you suspect that medications you are taking may be negatively impacting the quality of your sleep, talk to your physician to see if there are other drugs that would accomplish the same thing without interfering with your sleep. Improving the amount of sleep that you get can—and specifically deep sleep—can go a long way towards slowing down the process of cognitive decline and keeping your brain sharp.

LivWell CARES is a Davenport-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that serves local economically disadvantaged seniors aged 55 and up. Their services are free, and they can help you navigate through the maze of senior living options or get you connected with senior resources that meet your needs. Contact LivWell CARES: info@qclivwellcares.com, or call 563-334-3700.

Sources available upon request