In a previous article I said I would provide a list of actions that are recommended in order to guard against dementia and improve longevity. Here is an abbreviated list of strategies from my new book on growing older without growing old. An electronic version of the book will soon be available at our website.
Stimulate the brain.
Good old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic stimulate the brain and grow more connections. Keep mentally active, whether it’s by doing crossword puzzles, discussing the weather, writing poetry, reading or working on your income tax.
Maintain lifelong learning.
Wisdom usually comes with age; but sometimes just age comes with age. So keep on learning. Lifelong learning could delay the onset of cognitive impairment by 3 to 8 years.
Build and maintain relationships.
Staying socially engaged affects your cognitive functioning and keeps your cells from aging too fast. Research indicates that the more social connections you have, the greater your ability to fight infection and keep your cells from aging too quickly.
Do everything you can to reduce excessive stress in your life since stress serves to exacerbate dementia. Stress can induce the release of cortisol and excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex. The overproduction of cortisol was found in seniors who were experiencing memory loss.
Physical exercise not only increases circulation of nutrient-carrying blood to the brain and stimulates the creation of new neurons. It also reduces the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, diabetes – and improves mood, muscles, bones and lung capacity.
Get enough sleep.
Although many people sleep less as they get older, your need for sleep does not decrease. Sleep is one of the most important predictors of how long you will live — as important as whether you smoke, exercise or have high blood pressure.
Researchers are now finding that even getting up from your chair is a lot better than sitting down most of the day. One study indicated that sitters had a 50% greater likelihood of dying from any cause during the eight and a half year study.
Watch what you eat.
Any food that reduces high blood pressure or helps the cardiovascular system in any way is good for the brain, since the brain’s blood supply is critical. This includes such foods as oatmeal, brown rice and grain breads. EPA omega-3 fish oil is also recommended since it keeps the cell membranes in the brain flexible, slows cognitive decline, and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Spend more time outdoors.
It is a fact that trees, grass, plants and vegetation affects us both physically and mentally. And sunlight causes the body to release serotonin – one of the reasons you feel in a good mood on sunny days. Hospitals and seniors homes are introducing more greenery into their facilities because of the impact of vegetation on healing, mood and pain control.
Maintain a view of nature.
If you are unable to spend much time outdoors have a view of nature if at all possible. Patients in hospital rooms with a window view require less pain medication and spend less time in the hospital. Recent studies found that urban green spaces, such as plants and gardens, also improve cognitive development.
Grow indoor plants.
Plants not only give off oxygen, they are able to absorb environmental chemicals and transport them to the soil. They act as vacuum cleaners removing pollution from the air. Studies have shown that the presence of potted plants, for example, improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability.
Scientists have tracked 2025 people aged 55 and older for five years and found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 63% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer. That was reduced to 26% when the only volunteered for one organization. By helping others you are helping yourself.
Listen to music.
Music can enhance learning and higher brain function and even improve memory performance. It increases creativity and learning skills. Background music has also been known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve concentration – and helps keep dementia at bay.
Spiritual people tend to live longer, happier, healthier lives. Research from the University of Toronto showed that thinking about God or other spiritual beliefs keep you calm under fire. People with depression who believe in a caring, higher being are 75% more likely to get relief from medication. 99% of the physicians in 1999 meeting of the American Academy of family physicians said they believed that religious beliefs aid healing.
Maintain purpose and pursue goals.
Have a purpose in life – a reason to get up every morning, and the motivation to face the day’s trials as well as its joys. Having goals and focusing on long-term challenges, keep you mentally alert, and give you that extra push that keeps life interesting and fulfilling. Challenge the brain results in more brain cells and more connections.
Laughter has healing power and it has been known to reduce blood pressure decrease, heart rate and increase respiration. When you laugh, the body releases endorphins, and depression declines. When you relax again afterwards, that good feeling lasts for a day or two.
An article in Rodale’s January/February, 2018 issue of Prevention Guide states that “People who consider themselves self-disciplined, organized achievers live longer and have up to an 89% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than the less conscientious, according to two studies.”
Watch your attitude.
Your outlook on life is linked to your health and well-being. A survey of more than 500 people 70 and over thought it was important to keep a youthful mindset, and researchers at the University of Michigan also linked it to a longer life.