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Boosting mental and physical health as you age

Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 12:52 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Staying fit and active is about more than just physical health. Keeping mentally nimble is equally important – especially as we age. In fact, the two go hand in hand. Studies have shown that moderate exercise can help improve brain function, especially in the areas responsible for learning and memory.

Dr. Michelle Graham is the regional chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement. She said there are simple steps people can take to keep their mind sharp, combat memory loss and improve brain function. Some tips include:

Keep that brain in tip-top shape

We all have heard the adage “use it or lose it.” This is particularly prudent advice when it comes to keeping your memory and brain function in the best shape possible. The more the brain is mentally stimulated, the younger it may stay by fostering connections between nerve cells and even producing new brain cells.

Maintain a healthy diet

It is undeniable that a healthy diet can have wide-reaching benefits on a person’s physical health. It also can be a boon to cognitive health. Research suggests that a healthy diet can positively impact the brain’s ability to remember and potentially stave off dementia.

To reap the benefits of brain-boosting foods, reach for items that are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, nuts, avocados and olive oil. Try to stay away from foods high in trans and saturated fats, like cake, doughnuts and fatty cuts of beef.

Don’t shortchange your zzz’s

The brain is constantly busy during waking hours – even when relaxing on the couch, the brain can be firing on all cylinders. But while we sleep, the brain has a chance to relax and “detoxify” from the day. Scientists are learning that this process is critical to maintaining brain function and in turn helps keep the brain healthy and memory sharp.

Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Of course, everyone is different and medications can impact sleep. Consult your doctor if you are having trouble getting adequate sleep.

Get moving

Exercise may slow brain aging by 10 years. Set realistic fitness-related goals — maybe there is a hike you have always wanted to do, or you feel motivated to finish your first 5k or hit a nice bike trail.

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