Keep your brain fit as you age by prioritizing these 6 things

For many of us, keeping our bodies healthy is a priority. From eating for heart health to deciding which exercises to focus on or improving your vision, most people know that maintaining many aspects of physical health is crucial to longevity. What you might not think about regularly is your brain fitness as you age.

Cognition declines over time due to a variety of factors, including age-related structural changes, brain injury, or excess stress hormones. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in nine American adults over the age of 65 report cognitive impairment.

“The parts of our brain that help us learn information and remember can get smaller and the brain can weigh less as we age,” said Colleen Marshall, clinical director of Two Chairs.

Although we will all experience health changes as we age, cognitive decline does not occur at the same rate for everyone. By prioritizing brain fitness now, you can help slow change and keep your mind sharp as you age.

Start doing these 6 things to nourish your brain for healthy aging

Solve puzzles

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We’ll start with the easiest strategy to integrate into your daily life: puzzles. Solving puzzles can benefit the brain in a number of ways, from improving memory to increasing problem-solving skills.

“They can slow the rate of cognitive decline and how quickly the brain shrinks in size as we age,” Marshall said.

A study published in the journal Neurology reported that playing games like checkers or completing puzzles can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by about five years. Different research supports the idea that solving crossword puzzles or journaling can reduce the risk of dementia.

Experts suggest that puzzles help slow cognitive decline because they expand the brain’s cognitive reserve, or the ability to solve and deal with problems. Activities to try include putting together puzzles or solving other types of puzzles, such as sudoku, crosswords, memory games and math problems.

Learn a new skill

Just like stimulating your brain by playing games or solving puzzles, learning a new skill has both short- and long-term benefits. When learning a new skill, you are strategically activating multiple parts of your brain simultaneously. You are also promoting neuroplasticity by creating new pathways and strengthening those connections as you continue to refine the skill.

It could be learning a new language, painting or trying a new sport. Just make sure it’s challenging or complex and keep practicing for the best brain results.

Old man painting a still life

Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images

Prioritize sleep

Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your body. While I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way to sleep, research suggests that the amount of sleep you get and the quality of your sleep influence your risk of dementia. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, a single night of sleep deprivation can age the brain.

A lot happens in the brain while we sleep, including the elimination of toxins and the creation of new neural pathways. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain doesn’t have time to perform these functions and your cognition suffers.

Establishing a bedtime routine can have a big impact on the quality of your sleep. From reading a book to practicing yoga before bed, incorporating relaxation at night can help boost sleep.

Focus on your nutrition

What you eat will also influence the rate of cognitive decline you experience as you age. Studies have found that people who follow the Mediterranean and MIND (Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diets tend to have less cognitive impairment and dementia compared to those who follow other diets. More research is needed to conclude why this is true. However, it might have something to do with how these diets prioritize brain-protecting foods with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Read more: Master the Mediterranean diet with the help of these tips and recipes

Whether you choose to follow a strict diet or simply improve your current meal rotation, you’ll want to focus on improving your blood sugar and reducing high LDL cholesterol levels to reduce your risk of dementia.

Foods to incorporate into your diet better brain health:

  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and lettuce
  • salmon
  • dark berries
  • dried fruit
  • greek yogurt
  • dark chocolate
  • green tea
  • Vegetables like broccoli and carrots


Studies have found that leading an active lifestyle is associated with less cognitive decline over time. Your heart rate increases when you exercise, which increases blood flow to the brain. This can help trigger new nerve cell development, a process called neurogenesis. Exercise also promotes an increase in connections between cells, making the brain more adaptive.

In general, any exercise that is good for the body will also help the mind. It doesn’t have to be lifting weights; walking, swimming and dancing also achieve the same results.

Read more: How exercise helps boost memory and brain health as you age

Three happy old women in colorful clothes.

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Establish connections with others

Marshall noted that prioritizing high-quality relationships with others can benefit the brain. According to a meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies, limited or poor relationships were associated with cognitive decline.

Prioritizing social contact is an essential part of aging well. Whether you’re spending time with your family or hitting up your local community center, staying connected is an integral part of aging gracefully.

Too long; didn’t you read

Our brains change as we age; there is no way around it. However, integrating any of these easy habits into your routine can help nurture and protect your brain for the future.

There are also some things you should avoid to keep your brain in shape. Heavy cigarette consumption has been associated with cognitive impairment in middle age. Marshall added that excessive alcohol consumption, a poor diet and uncontrolled high blood pressure can also negatively affect the brain as we age.

Do not you worry; there is still time to turn it around. Even if you smoke now, quitting has the potential to return your risk of cognitive impairment to a level comparable to that of never smokers.

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