Dear Dr. Levister: I am a retired teacher. How can I relax into earned retirement and still keep my brain sharp? L.E.
Dear L.E.: It makes sense: staying active mentally and physically as we age keeps our minds sharper.
Now research backs it up. A new study finds a combination of mental and physical activity may help improve brain function in older adults.
No matter what activity you do, staying active physically and stimulated mentally keeps your brain working better.
Researchers studied 126 inactive older adults with memory problems for 12 weeks. They were split into four groups and assigned four different combinations of mental and physical activities.
The mental activities included computer work and training DVDs. The physical activities included classes in aerobics and toning. Regardless of which group people were part of, mental abilities improved over time, across the board. The takeaway from the study is simple — keep your body active to keep your mind sharp.
If you don’t use it, you lose it, that’s the bottom line. I always tell my patients whatever saves your heart, saves your brain. Physical exercise doesn’t just help our well-being and make us feel better emotionally. We now know it helps us cognitively.”
Like everyone, older adults have a wide range of mental activities to choose from. A few ways to stay mentally engaged and your mind working:
• Keep in contact with friends and family connections• Learn new skills like painting, woodworking or collecting• Do crossword puzzles and play board games• Read a range of books, magazines and online articles on different subjects• Learn a new language
Physical activities can include low-impact exercises like walking, swimming and dancing. Do some strengthening exercises (after clearing with your doctor), like working out on weight machines or with elastic bands. Work on balance with tai chi or yoga. Remember when starting on an exercise program:
• Choose activities that you like; you’ll be more likely to stick with it• Make physical activity a part of everyday• Don’t overdo it, start slow and go slow • Exercise with a friend or a group — chatting as you work out makes it go faster and easier• Have fun!