With so much research on the prevalence of cognitive decline, memory loss, and dementia in older adults, it’s natural to worry about any of them affecting you in your golden years. But instead of dwelling on the what-ifs, let’s focus on ways to stay mentally sharp, like concentrating on these three things.
Mindfulness practices, sleep quality, and physical activity have significant individual impacts on brain health and cognitive function. But they’re even more powerful when all three are nurtured and prioritized equally.
Continue reading for more on the interplay between good sleep, mindfulness techniques, and exercise and how it elevates overall brain health and cognitive vitality.
After that, we’ll leave you with practical tips for improving your sleep quality, exercise routine, and ensuring mindfulness is a part of your every day.
One internet search will bring up thousands of articles on how to maintain brain health and cognitive function as we age. However, if you sift through these articles, you’ll quickly see how often good sleep, exercise, and mindfulness practices are mentioned.
All three positively impact brain health and cognitive function and should be prioritized in your daily routine because of this.
Mindfulness practices are any exercises that help you focus intensely on the present moment, recognizing what you feel and sense without judgment or interpretation. Not only are these techniques effective at decreasing stress, boosting mood, and improving well-being, but they can also boost cognitive ability.
The participants (who were aged 60 or older) in a scientific report from Nature.com, who engaged in the eight-week mindfulness intervention, showed a significant improvement in attention and positive changes to their brain physiology.
In addition, mindfulness exercises can improve how well you process information that comes from all five of your senses and direct proper attention to what needs it.
According to a study of over 5,000 Kaiser Permanente members aged 65-79, 30% of participants got less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep per day. Frequent daytime fatigue affected 9% while 13% experienced frequent insomnia, and 8% showed symptoms of obstructed sleep apnea.
Many of these individuals are probably navigating physical signs of lack of quality sleep as well, like dry mouth, pain in the jaw from clenching the jaw all night, acne breakouts, and junk food cravings.
More importantly, your brain struggles to function well when you don’t get quality sleep. The neurons in your brain become overworked when they don’t get time to recover during sleep, negatively impacting your brain’s performance.
Processing information, remembering tasks, thinking clearly — all of it becomes difficult when you don’t get the sleep you need consistently.
On the other hand, getting quality sleep each night gives your brain’s neurons ample time to recuperate. This leads to better brain performance, a clear mind, and improved concentration.
It’s harder to maintain physical fitness as we age for many reasons. For example, we’re less flexible and not as strong as we were in our early years. And our muscle function, heart rate, and oxygen uptake decline.
That said, you must persist past how challenging maintaining regular exercise can be because it’s fundamental to not just physical health, but also brain health and cognitive function.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that physical activity can do the following for your brain health:
● Improve memory
● Help you think, learn, and problem-solve
● Help you achieve emotional balance
● Reduce your risk for cognitive decline, including dementia
● Help you sleep better, which facilitates the recovery of brain neurons
When regular physical activity is a priority, your brain health benefits tremendously.
You could probably focus on one and not the others and see some positive changes in your brain health and cognitive abilities. But the experience wouldn’t be as transformative as the one you’d have nurturing all three equally.
The good news is that when you commit to working on one, the others are likely to follow. For example, as you engage in more physical activity, you’re likely to try yoga or another mindfulness practice that can double as exercise. And as mentioned above, better sleep results from physical activity.
Here are a few other tips to help you get better quality sleep and incorporate more exercise and mindfulness into your routine to maintain your vibrance and brain health.
Let’s start with sleep. A dive into the most recent wellness trends reveals that sleep-tracking apps and smart home technologies, like smart thermostats, are at the top of the list of tools to help people get better sleep.
Sleep-tracking apps, in particular, can track sleep habits and provide suggestions for improving your sleep moving forward. While some apps require a smart device, like a watch or ring, to properly track your sleep habits, many others don’t.
Consuming functional mushrooms can also enhance sleep. So can syncing your sleep with natural rhythms, like those of the sun or the moon.
As far as incorporating more physical activity into your routine, keep it simple. Try something low-impact to start, like a daily walk around the neighborhood or getting in some gardening a few times a week.
You can increase how much exercise you do and move on to more challenging types as you become more comfortable with your physical fitness. But be sure to consult your doctor before you engage in anything strenuous.
Finally, try a short morning meditation to mix more mindfulness into your days. Substitute a beginner's yoga class for one of your walks each week. You can also engage in purposeful activities, like new hobbies or traveling to keep you fully present.
Focus on the connection between mindfulness practices, sleep quality, and physical activity, and it’ll translate to a healthier brain and better cognitive function.