Getting Better With Time: Engage Your Brain for Mental Fitness Later in Life

What can you do to keep mentally fit as you age? Here are a few tips.

Play: Play is not just for children. It is also a great workout for the brain. A recent study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience asked elderly Japanese adults to play a game geared towards increasing their cognitive function, once a day for fifteen minutes over a period of four weeks. The researchers found that participants not only enjoyed the exercise, but they also saw a decrease in depressive moods after playing the interactive game.

Use Technology: There’s a stereotype that getting older means being less interested in new technology. The results from the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience study show the opposite, specifically that even adults well into their seventies and eighties stand to benefit from embracing the kinds of learning games and entertainment that captivate younger people. Sharing tips on how to play a favorite game is also a great way to bridge the generation gap and give elders one more way to interact with the younger generations.

Stay Active: Experiencing new places and physical environments can help keep aging brains sharp. Scientists at the Leloir Institute in Buenos Aires found that when mice were introduced to new environments, their brains responded by promoting new cell growth and deepening pre-existing connections between existing cells. Researchers hypothesized that the new and improved neural connections could make it easier for mice to learn new information relevant to their surroundings.

Travel: Retirement is the perfect opportunity to get out and explore your world in ways you couldn’t before, either because of your time-consuming job or the children waiting on you at home. If your schedule and budget allow for it, plan on taking one trip every year as part of your ongoing mental health care as you age. Whether your dreams lead you to Paris, Taiwan, or one of the gorgeous national parks in the United States, you’re guaranteed to come home a little wiser than you were before.

Meditate: Of course, you don’t have to go anywhere to increase your brain power or benefit your mental health. A study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles showed that a daily meditation practice among people between the ages of 55 and 85 lowered participants’ self-reported loneliness. A common experience as children move away and friends, partners, or other family members pass, loneliness can increase the risk of developing mental health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease as well as heart disease and even premature death.

When aging comes up in conversation, people tend to focus on the negative aspects of getting older. But the truth is that there’s no other time in your life when you are more free to develop yourself. Use your golden years to play games with loved ones, travel the world, and dive into your inner-self. Your brain will thank you for your efforts and you’ll improve the quality of your life.