Nurse and senior painting together.

Keeping Your Brain Fit as a Senior

While physical fitness is certainly important, keeping our brain fit — especially as we age — is key to leading our best life. Today, our goal isn't simply to reach our 80s or 90s, but to stay mentally sharp so we can be active and enjoy those extra years.

THE INCREDIBLE MATURING BRAIN

Experts now know that our brains don't shrink with age. In fact, throughout our lives, we actually generate hundreds of new neurons each day. There also are a number of ways in which the brain actually improves with age. 

For instance, as we mature, our life lessons help us anticipate problems and reason things out better than when we were younger. And while younger people may have better get-to-the-point-quickly memory, older folks have had a greater variety of experiences and our ability to "see the big picture" actually increases with age.

This is all good news but we are still responsible for keeping our wonderful brains active and fit. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of things we can do keep our gray matter “in the pink”—and have fun doing it!

START MOVING

There is strong evidence that you can actually turn back the clock of aging in your brain through regular exercise. Physical exercise for at least two hours a week can help older adults keep their minds sharp. An effective program may include walking, aerobics, resistance or strength training, yoga, tai chi or some combination. But make sure you challenge yourself a bit. Remember, it's the physical exercise you want not just physical activity.

GET YOUR GAME ON

Video games that involve physical activity can significantly boost our brain health as we get older, according to new research. Games that use physical activity such as Wii and Xbox Kinect can boost brain functioning. Studies suggest that physically active video games can have an even greater impact on brain functioning than regular physical activity alone. Challenging our brains to react and respond to “incoming” stimuli in a video game keeps us literally on our toes while activating our brain cells.

SHAKE THINGS UP

We all like our routines yet it's beneficial to change them up a bit to re-energize our brain. So take a step out of your comfort zone once in a while. Change your usual walking route. Travel. Join a book club or ceramics class. Learn a new language or a card game. Or check out online apps that offer games that make it fun and easy to boost your brain power.

UNLOCK YOUR CREATIVITY 

Want some examples of the creative power of the aging brain? Ben Franklin invented the bifocal lens at the age of 78; Grandma Moses began painting at age 76; Frank Lloyd Wright completed the design of the Guggenheim Museum at age 92. 

Not only is it never too late to explore your creativity, but researchers are also discovering that our creative side often flows more freely at this time of life. Write a silly poem that makes your grandkids giggle. Jot down or video your personal narrative that tells your unique story. Design a new corner of the garden. Add a new twist to a traditional recipe. 

Transforming your lifetime of experience into a novel and original ideas will not only keep your brain fit, but it will also make this chapter of life even more interesting!

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