The link between successful aging and lifestyle is clear. Most geriatric experts believe that a person’s physical health and mental health significantly impact how they age. However, you may be surprised about some of the easy, affordable, and enjoyable activities that are linked to successful aging.
Neuroscientist Dr. Richard Restak spoke with journalist Hope Reese in an article about aging in the New York Times (published July 6, 2022). In the article, “A Neurologist’s Tips to Protect Your Memory,” he shared some fairly simple ideas for how to age well.
In addition to the regular practices that we expect such as daily exercise, nutritious eating habits, and adequate sleep, he said that mental decline is hindered by good habits we form in many areas of life, including developing hobbies and attending social gatherings.
Here are five surprising activities linked to successful aging.
- At a social event, work hard to remember the names of every person you meet. One way to do this is to picture each person’s name as a cartoon. For example, if you meet someone named Philip Smith, you might picture a cartoon blacksmith filling a bucket.
Another way to remember a person’s name is by using it in a sentence. Working memory, which involves recalling information, falls between remembering something immediately and remembering it long-term. Working memory, said Dr. Restak, is critical because it’s tied to intelligence, concentration, and achievement.
- Activate your working memory as part of everyday, common tasks. You can intentionally “work” your memory and contribute to successful aging by incorporating brain tasks into practical to-do list items.
For example, if you are headed to the store, make a grocery list and then leave it in your pocket or purse once there. Try to move through the store picking up all the items from your list that you remember. Not only does this help you practice what you memorized, but it also keeps you focused. Dr. Restak said that inattention can be linked to memory decline.
Another idea is to add up the cost of each errand you run as you do them. If you spend $184.33 at the grocery store, fill your car with gas for $74.29 and spend $14.23 at the post office, keep a running log of the amounts in your mind. For an added bonus, see if you can compute an accurate total upon arriving home.
In addition, when you’re out and about, try driving without using a GPS more often. Using your memory to navigate, rather than relying on GPS, could help slow cognitive decline. Dr. Restak referred to a recent study that indicated that participants who relied less heavily on GPS demonstrated less decline in spatial memory over time than those who used it more frequently.
- Play games with friends. Many of us stop playing games when we age, but according to Dr. Restak, we don’t need to play cards or board games with complicated rules to prepare our brains for the aging process. He suggests simply playing 20 questions with a friend.
The task of remembering a person’s answers throughout all 20 yes or no questions helps with recall over an extended period of time.
Other games that can improve memory are bridge and chess. But what if you are traveling for work or on vacation? Test your memory against your spouse’s or a friend’s memory by trying to recite something commonly learned in school. It could be the list of presidents in order, all 50 states and their capitals, or the mascot for every NFL football team.
Making these memory quizzes fun and tying them to something you’re already interested in is key.
- Read a novel. One of the secrets to successful aging may simply be the act of reading. According to Dr. Restak, reading fiction is better for the brain than nonfiction because it requires a person to engage with what he or she is reading.
For example, reading a novel about a World War II spy can captivate a person’s creative mind. Imagining the setting, remembering the characteristics of the main character, and even envisioning the descriptions in the book are crucial to boosting memory, since creative thinking is tied to memory.
Novels generate creative thought better than movies. Reading a story forces you to imagine the appearance or demeanor of a character, so it your brain to be creative.
- Cook dinner (or breakfast or lunch). Cooking regularly helps a person’s memory set patterns in motion, particularly if using the same recipes over and over. When you make the same dish and have to remember the ingredient list, amounts, or steps, it’s almost like a memory game because it engages the working memory.
When cooking a routine recipe without all the ingredients, substituting ingredients you do have is another means of creative thinking.
These hobbies and daily tasks are simple, easy to incorporate into everyday life, and beneficial in slowing memory decline. It’s easy to think of successful aging as being physically fit, but mental fitness is just as important.
Paying attention to daily activities is one of the keys to successful aging and avoiding memory loss. In fact, paying attention, in general, is a terrific way to boost your working memory because focusing on the here and now is necessary for our brains to encode memories. In today’s culture, distraction is one of the greatest obstacles to forming memories.
Unfortunately, we don’t have to look further than our phones, iPads, or televisions to find distractions. Experts like Dr. Restak suggest that being distracted by electronic devices, relying too heavily on them to help “remember” things, and completing daily tasks while on screens have all been linked to greater memory decline.
Limiting screen time and monitoring electronics use – our own and our loved ones’ – is crucial to attentiveness. The more attentive we are, the greater our working memory will be.
In addition to boosting memory, successful aging is dependent on physical and mental wellness, both of which are maintained by healthy daily habits. Taking care of one’s body, having a healthy sleep routine, eating a balanced diet, and surrounding oneself with friends and loved ones all contribute to physical and mental wellbeing.
Dr. Restak noted in his article that one of the greatest causes of memory issues is depression. A loss of friendship, social connections, appetite, lack of enjoyment of usual activities, and/or difficulty sleeping may signify depression, which is important to monitor as you get older.
If you or a loved one struggles with depression or other mental health issues that are impacting your or their ability to age well, please contact me or one of the other trained counselors in our online counselor directory. We are here to help.
“Gift”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Storekeep”, Courtesy of Kampus Production, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Reading”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pie”, Courtesy of Finn-b, Pixabay.com, CC0 License
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