While I talked about the importance of regular physical exercise as we age in my first blog I am going to take it a step further and talk about the importance of keeping mentally fit and how certain activities in particular have been proven to do both – keep mind and body stimulated.
Researchers have studied the effect of age on the brain and don’t necessarily correlate a connection with age-related changes such as memory loss. Apparently these changes are lifestyle related and may indeed be promoted by medications.
As we age some of the changes to our brains are linked to the accumulation of fat deposits within neurones (brain cells) which puts pressure on effective functioning, brain cells that die from age are not replaced and this makes for less brain power – add to this, transmission between brain cells becomes slower.
In a report on the Better Health Channel, a smaller, lighter brain, does not necessarily mean diminished intelligence. “An older brain can create new connections between brain cells if given the opportunity. There is evidence to suggest that mental abilities are ‘shared’ by various parts of the brain so, as some neurones die, their roles are taken up by others.” That is indeed great news.
Some events that affect the brain’s ability to function normally are stroke which is often associated with obesity resulting from a combination of a sedentary lifestyle and unbalanced diet. This is the best reason you will ever get to start moving while making better food choices. Remember that glucose is the brain’s food source so avoid low carbohydrate diets but in the same vein, narrowing of the arteries can reduce blood flow so low cholesterol and low fat is best. Nutritionists also suggest keeping an eye on your vitamin B intake for brain health.
And of course, often in life, as we well know, ill-health can be prevented, so remember to have regular checks – visit your GP every couple of months to keep an eye on blood pressure and cholesterol as well as heart health. This will also give you the confidence needed to embark on an exercise regime.
Interestingly, of all the sports and activities one can do, dancing and table tennis are deemed by experts as two of the most effective because they simultaneously work left and right side of the brain.
While it is less active, painting is another great activity – history tells us that Winston Churchill reached for the paint brush when he had time to relax.
If you embrace the saying, ‘never too old to learn’, you will reap the rewards while maintaining good mind and body health in later life.
The list of things to do is endless with popular suggestions being learning to play an instrument or learning a foreign language. Why not?
My other word of advice is to never, ever stop doing what you love! Just look at all those Masters Hockey players we have had in Cairns over the past couple of weeks – 1300 in all – from 35 to 83 – the age spread has been amazing and inspirational to watch these men in action – running up and down the turf and competing to win for a whole hour.
John McBryde, who captained Australia in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo is still playing hockey in his seventies and just last year, led the Australian 70s Masters team to gold at the 7th Annual Grand Masters World Cup in the Hague, The Netherlands. When asked about the secret to his longevity as a hockey player, Mr McBryde said it was that he had never stopped. Obviously there is a lot more strapping, ice, massage and the pace is slower, but the passion remains. The joy these men still get out of the game extends beyond the field to off – travelling Australia and the world with their partners, enjoying a beer with mates and not letting age get in the way.
Just because you are getting older doesn’t mean you cannot boost your memory with a little practise – effective recall is something that is learned and a skill that needs to be stretched like a muscle. Good tips are to practise mindfulness – linking a name that you would like to remember using visualisation to a mental picture. Concentrate and pay attention to what you are doing – for instance where you place your handbag or glasses. Memory games with cards and shopping lists are not just for kids car trips, but can be great for any age. Try and remember what you have eaten at each meal for the past week, birthdays and events.