Healthy Aging: Don't Leave Your Mind Behind

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Use it or lose it.

No doubt you’ve heard this advice often enough about your body and it’s physical abilities. And if, like me, you didn’t pay much attention to it when you were younger, I can tell you that you’ll wish you had by the time the next birthday looming on your calendar is the big 6-0. Trying to get your fitness back is a lot harder than hanging on to as much of it as you can all along.

But what’s even scarier than this physical decline are the mental changes that come with aging–starting with those wacky little episodes we like to refer to jokingly as “senior moments.” Like yesterday, when the combination to my bike lock somehow managed to escape from my brain for a good 30 minutes, leaving me stuck in the middle of nowhere with my bike chained to a tree and wondering whether I should start walking the 9 miles back home, or wait to see if the combination found it’s way back into my brain.

It struck me that forgetting this combination that I had used almost every day for over a year was a little less amusing than the usual problems of not remembering where I put my glasses, or forgetting why I had gotten up to go into a particular room. So, when I got home, I did a little internet research on mental decline, and guess what advice I found...

That’s right: Use it or lose it.

It turns out that there’s been quite a bit of research lately indicating that brain cells and mental functions respond to mental exercise the same way that muscle cells respond to physical exercise: they get stronger and more capable.

And the good news is that the kind of exercise your brain needs can actually be quite a bit of fun. According to the authors of the article linked above, virtually any kind of new learning can stimulate your brain to build its capabilities (even reading articles in SparkPeople’s Healthy Lifestyle Resource Centers). So can doing word or math puzzles, playing chess or checkers, taking up new hobbies and crafts that involve manual dexterity, learning to play a musical instrument (or a new song), practicing a new dance step–literally, almost anything you haven’t already done a million times before.

So, no more TV reruns for me. I’ve decided to do some learning about all the flora and fauna that inhabit my favorite exercise destinations (the coastal redwood forest and sand dunes), and see if I can identify them when I come across them on my daily excursions.

What sort of new interests or hobbies appeal to you?

See more: senior health health