Aging Well – Keeping Your Brain Sharp

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
By Mr. Noah Kaminer, Administrator

When most people think about the aging process, they usually think about the physical changes that happen during the aging process – the graying hair, the wrinkles, the weight gain, the deteriorating health issues. What is often overlooked is one area that really deserves attention – the brain. Keeping the brain healthy and active can not only help ward off certain diseases, it can also lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling life.
As one ages, the brain’s volume gradually shrinks. When this occurs, some of the nerve cells in the brain can shrink or lose connections with other nerve cells. In addition, blood flow within the brain also slows somewhat in old age. These age-related transitions are thought to be behind the changes in cognitive function many people notice as they get older – the difficulty remembering names, or where the car was parked. Everyone has lapses in memory from time to time, but there are things that the senior can do to proactively help keep their brains healthy and their minds sharp.

Research has long indicated the benefits of maintaining continued activity and stimulation for an aging mind. New learning can lead to neurophysiological growth, similar to the way aerobics leads to stronger cardiovascular health. With the right stimulation, the brain can form new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways. There are many things that a senior can do to strengthen and sharpen the mind, keep their brain and memory in top form.

1. Mental Exercises: Engage the brain on a daily basis in some kind of new mental learning. Play board games such as Monopoly, Chess or Trivial Pursuit. Working with numbers is also a good option, as are word jumbles, word finds, Sudoku, or crossword puzzles.

2. Read Anything and Everything: Whether its books, newspapers or magazines, reading is a great way to keep the brain active and the mind sharp.

3. Take an Exercise Class: Exercise classes are one of the best means of improving wellness since it incorporates physical exercise and mental engagement as the senior needs to think about the next exercise steps. Classes also provide an opportunity for socialization and conversation before and after. Whether its aerobics, zoomba, jazzercise, or ballroom dancing, exercise classes provide an optimal way to coordinate the body and the mind at the same time.

4. Engage in Quality Conversation: Most people have someone they have been meaning to call to catch up. Join a community group or a new shiur and discuss what was said. Or, start volunteering for a good cause which will allow interaction with people of different ages.

5. Learn Something New: Take a community education class or a class at a local college. Learn to play an instrument, speak a new language, plant a garden or even start a new hobby. Take advantage of the opportunity to do something different and fun. Discussing the new found information with someone else is a great way of testing how much information is retained and recalled.

6. Switch Routines: Make one day a little different than the next, however possible.

7. Exercise the Body: Staying physically active in and of itself can help with cognitive health. Physical movement increases blood flow to the brain. The act of walking, swimming or biking helps work the brain as it communicates with the body.

8. Laugh: They say laughter is the best medicine, and that holds true for the brain as well as the body. Listening to jokes and working out punch lines activates areas of the brain vital to learning and creativity.

Any kind of mental stimulation that requires seniors to consciously think constitutes an exercise for promoting intellectual wellness. From working on a crossword puzzle, to attending a Daf Yomi shiur, to doubling a recipe, to reading the newspaper, there are many easy ways to build one’s mental capacity, keep the mind sharp, and have fun all at the same time.