By Dr Gary Small, Member of Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board
Older adults often discuss the physical and mental changes they experience with aging, but the reality is – none of us are exempt from the effects of aging, especially people living in the Asia Pacific – the fastest aging region in the world.
All across the region, societal aging will have widespread implications on the workforce, including an impending decline in the working population between 15 to 64 years of age, and a shift in the workforce age composition towards older employees. With the imminent impact of aging on our infrastructure, workforce and quality of life, it is now more important than ever for people to embrace healthy aging in order to live long, fulfilling lives and help allay the mounting pressures that aging poses on our society.
So what does healthy aging actually mean? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), healthy aging is the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age. To the 5,500 consumers aged 40 and above surveyed by Herbalife Nutrition in the 2018 Asia Pacific Healthy Aging Survey, the majority (66 percent) of respondents said that healthy aging meant being “physically and mentally active as they age.”
If you are concerned about the possibility of cognitive decline or ending up with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia as you age, you will be glad to know that you do have some control over your brain health and risk for dementia as you age.
In fact, two-thirds of dementia risk comes from non-genetic factors, which means that the lifestyle choices that you make every day can have a major impact on how well your brain ages. Research has also shown that regular physical exercise is associated with a lower risk for dementia, as well as better memory in middle-aged and older age groups, while reports of healthy eating were associated with better memory self-reports regardless of age.
So make it a point to bid goodbye to age-related cognitive decline with these three healthy aging tips that will get your brain health back on track.
Tip #1: Make Better Nutrition Choices
Good nutrition not only affects your overall health, it also improves the health of your brain. It should come as no surprise that the same foods that are high in fat and salt content that aren’t good for your body, aren’t your brain’s best friend either.
Recent studies have outlined complex carbohydrates and whole grains as healthy brain nutrition choices that may lower the risk for dementia. Additionally, having fish in your meals twice a week will help you get sufficient omega-3 fats to protect brain health and stabilize your mood. In fact, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish or fish oil supplements can help form the myelin sheaths that line your brain’s wiring, whose breakdown is often associated with the onset of dementia.
It is also important to get lots of antioxidant fruits and vegetables into your diet to protect your brain from the oxidative stress of aging, while keeping it strong and healthy in the long run. For a 40 year-old guy, an adequate amount to aim for will be at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables a day.
Tip #2: Siphon Off the Stress
Chronic stress can have a negative impact on your health, with effects ranging from insomnia to weight gain to an increased risk of heart disease; as well as impairment of the immune, digestive and the central nervous systems. While eliminating stress from our lives is almost impossible, we can learn to manage it in way that protects our hearts and our brains.
Developing healthy living habits is critical to aging well. Make sure that you get sufficient rest at night, as sleep deprivation can accelerate aging. A good night’s sleep helps to reduce chronic inflammation, improves memory and mood, and puts you in better control of dealing with stressful situations.
Secondly, with technology taking over our time and our lives, it is important to disconnect from gadgets from time to time to improve mental focus and beat stress. Make it a point to incorporate breathing exercises and light meditation into your busy schedule. Mindfulness is exceptional in its capacity to control stress, with its effectiveness being seen across all age groups.
Thirdly, one of the best ways to relieve stress is to get regular physical exercise. This can come in a variety of forms including walking, jogging, yoga, tai chi, or having a quick game of tennis with friends. Exercise not only lowers risk for depression, but increases cognitive abilities and the size of the brain region that controls memory formation.
Lastly, keep in mind that a lot of stress we bring on ourselves by taking on too many commitments. It is important to be mindful of how much activity you can take on, and plan ahead to eliminate sources of stress that can come with trying to do too much on our own. Developing a strong and supportive social network will lower your stress level and make your life more fulfilling.
Tip #3: Make Time for Some Brain Fun
While the best kind of mental exercise depends on the individual, a general rule of thumb is that the activity should be enjoyable and challenging.
Over the years I’ve come across many studies that have shown the connection between stimulating mental activities and a lower risk for developing dementia. If you enjoy a challenge, try doing something that you can’t do – like learning an instrument, or playing a game of chess, or something as simple as a quick game of Sudoku at the back of your local newspaper.
The process of learning and acquiring new information and experiences, such as learning new skills, can also stimulate the brain. Try varying your learning exercises to keep them interesting – work on solving puzzles for a few days and learn a new board game for the next few days before moving on to pick up a new musical instrument. In addition, memory-training techniques are easy to learn and have been shown to improve cognitive performance, with its effects lasting years as long as you keep using the memory methods you’ve learned.
While these healthy aging tips seem modest, many underestimate their importance in putting them on track towards leading healthier and happier lives. Remember, a lifestyle of good nutrition, when combined with healthy living habits and brain-friendly activities, can go a long way towards a long lifetime of brain health.
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