Keeping Active is One Key to Mental Fitness and Vitality

Published: November 7, 2020


We all know how essential it is to maintain a healthy body, but maintaining a healthy mind is equally important as we age. Staying mentally fit can benefit your brain as you grow older. Like other parts of our body, our brains may lose some dexterity as we age.

There is no fail-safe way to prevent memory loss – no magic medicines or vitamins – but there is good evidence that a healthy, active lifestyle and diet could reduce your risk of memory loss in the years ahead. So, flex your mind, body and spirit.

Here are some ways:

Keep it Social.

Maintain an active, busy life by volunteering, connecting with friends, or joining a club. Attend lectures and plays with others. 

As life and circumstances bring inevitable changes, the number of people we count as friends and loved ones can change over the years. It takes effort, but it’s important to try to maintain our relationships and be open to creating new ones, because they can have a profound effect on brain health.  “Relationships tend to buffer us from the stress of daily life, which is good because over time, excess stress can cause inflammation,” says Dr. Mike Dow, a psychotherapist and best-selling author, “at the same time, good, healthy relationships give our lives meaning.”  To meet new people, try simple things like inviting a neighbor over for dessert, joining a book club or volunteering for a nonprofit or cause that’s important to you.

Of course, while it is harder to socialize during a pandemic, there are plenty of opportunities to remain socially active while maintaining physical distance and taking necessary health precautions to stay safe during these uncertain times.

Remain Active.

Stay physically active through exercise…walking, bicycling, gardening, yoga…whatever you enjoy…it doesn’t take much time, just about 30 minutes daily to get the body moving and heart pumping.  

As an older adult, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can prevent many of the health problems that seem to come with age. It also helps your muscles grow stronger so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others.

Helping our residents maintain a healthy lifestyle and ongoing personal fitness is very important to Ohio Living. Most of our communities feature wellness centers, work-out areas and planned fitness activities. 

Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).  Exercise classes are a popular choice because they are offered at various skill levels. For those who do not enjoy classes, there are plenty of simple workouts that can be done at home. Borrow a DVD from your local library, check your TV guide for fitness programs, or browse YouTube for guided instruction.

Fight Boredom in Your Routine

People fail at their physical wellness goals for many reasons, including boredom. Approaching your goals with a creative and fun attitude can help keep them fresh and exciting - and keep you on track! 

Try learning something new or vary your routine. For example, try a new recipe or modify your usual food choices. Learn to use a new piece of equipment at the gym, or take an exercise class to learn something you've always wanted to do.

Dance around the house, take a healthy cooking class, read a book, travel, check an item off your bucket list or create a list if you don't have one. However you define "fun," if you enjoy what you're doing, you're more likely to want to keep doing it.

Challenge Your Mind.

Keep your brain active every day by learning a new skill or engaging in a complex mental activity like chess. Enroll in courses at your community college or recreation center. Play games, read, solve word and number puzzles, or try memory exercises.

If you catch yourself in a rut or locked in your routine, it may be time to find ways to stretch your mind muscles with a new and challenging activity. Researchers have discovered that healthy brains need certain levels of reserves, and challenging them is one way to build those reserves.

“Think of your brain like a bank account,” Dow says,  “every time you learn something new, or play a challenging game or read a book, it’s like depositing a dollar into that account. The more cash deposits you make, the more you have to spare.”

It’s important to stay mentally active. Playing board games, knitting, crocheting, doing puzzles, socializing, reading and learning new skills are great ways to stay sharp. Calming activities like these can lower the breathing rate, slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure.

Stay Mentally Healthy

"Mental health and taking time for yourself can greatly improve your chances of achieving your health and wellness goals," says the Mayo Clinic. "It's important to realize that changing any behavior is often a complex process that requires you to address the mental as well as physical aspects of the change you want to achieve."

Take a Good Look at Your Lifestyle.

Keep your emotional stress in check, watch what you eat, keep track of your blood pressure, and minimize use of alcohol and tobacco. Over time, these things can harm the brain.  Additionally, be aware of how much sleep you are actually getting each night.  

We often short ourselves on sleep when life gets busy, but it’s important to make it a priority, Dow says.

“Think of nighttime sleep as a wash-and-rinse cycle that clears away the ‘bad stuff’ that builds up during the day,” Dow says. “Brain fog and dementia-causing plaques are washed away by cerebrospinal fluid, and this process is more effective when you’re sleeping.”

Dow recommends practicing healthy sleep habits, such as striving for eight hours each night, being consistent with your bedtime routine and using melatonin instead of prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids to help you drift off.

Working these tips into your daily routine is a great start – they are key to preserving and enhancing our overall health, well-being and vitality in the years ahead.