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Keeping an active and healthy mind

senior man and woman embracing and smiling

Mental abilities don't necessarily go downhill as we age.

Dementia is not a part of normal aging, and many changes such as memory loss may be related to what we eat, our physical activity, stress and how we use our brain.

Healthy choices can prevent or delay stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Some researchers believe that healthy lifestyle choices can delay or prevent the onset of dementia / Alzheimer's disease as well.

The bottom line?

Your mind can stay healthy - and eating good food is a great first step:

  • Follow Eating Well With Canada's Food Guide. Include vegetables and fruit, grain products, lean meats, fish, nuts, beans and low fat dairy products or alternatives.  Make sure you eat foods rich in B vitamins. Include whole grain cereals, breads, pastas, rice, dairy, beans, meats, vegetables and fruits to get lots of the Bs you need.  Avoid extreme low carbohydrate diets. Eat a variety of foods. The carbohydrates found in whole grains, dairy, vegetables and fruit provide necessary energy for the brain.
  • Try to eat fish once a week. Beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish and other foods, help keep our brain cells healthy. Blood flow to the brain provides the essential energy, nutrients and oxygen it needs to function. Narrowing of the arteries can restrict blood flow, and reduce our brain's ability to function normally.
  • Choose lower fat foods, vegetables and fruit to reduce the risk of heart disease or other conditions that may affect brain activity.
  • If you drink alcohol, use in moderation.
  • An active body is important for an active mind! Include at minimum 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week. It keeps you fit and delivers an oxygen boost to the brain. Regular exercise can improve your memory, your ability to think and reason, and your reaction times.

Learn more about Healthy Eating for Seniors

Make physical activity easier by doing 10-minute blocks of activity, 2-3 times a day.

  • This is a great start to achieving significant health benefits. Regular physical activity helps you maintain a healthy body weight, keeps bones and muscles strong and helps reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease - all of which can affect brain function. Men and women over 65 can reduce their risk of mental decline, dementia, and Alzheimer's with regular physical activity. The more active you are, the greater the health benefits.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol to excess.

Give your brain a regular workout!

  • Memory loss can be improved by 30 - 50% simply by doing mental exercises.  Stay social and engage in plenty of stimulating conversations with friends, family, or neighbours.  Play mind stimulating games like scrabble, cards, Trivial Pursuit, chess, crossword puzzles and word games.  Watch question and answer game shows and play along with the contestants.
  • Read newspapers, magazines and books.  Take a course on a subject that interests you.  Learn a new language or take up a musical instrument.  Cultivate a new hobby. Hobbies such as woodwork and sewing can improve the brain's spatial awareness.
  • Develop your recall skills. Make sure you're paying attention to whatever it is you want to remember. For instance, if you're busy thinking about something else you won't notice where you're putting the house keys.  Use memory triggers, like association or visualization techniques. For example, link a name you want to remember to a mental picture. Practice using your memory.

Keep stress under control with meditation and regular relaxation.

  • Excess stress hormones such as cortisol can be harmful to the brain.
  • Some illnesses and drugs can affect mental abilities. Check with your doctor or health practitioner to make sure any cognitive changes you may experience are not related to illness or drugs.

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Last Updated: January 9, 2013