It’s always made me wonder why things we’ve been doing our entire lives seem to take on a new meaning after a certain age.

In some ways, it’s a very positive phenomenon. For example, the perspective of age can help people become more grateful for even the small things in life. Also, it can make them more aware of the value of connection to family, friends and community.

In other ways, however, it’s not such a great experience. A good example is how we tend to think about memory lapses as a phenomenon associated with advanced age.

Yet we’ve been forgetting things our whole lives. I used to remind my kids three times in 10 minutes to take their backpack, homework and gym clothes to school, and they’d usually forget at least one of those items.

So why do we start attaching all kinds of new meanings to things we’ve always done? “I hope it’s not Alzheimer’s,” “What is wrong with my brain?” etc.

In previous articles I’ve discussed the reasons why we tend to blame age for all kinds of things. Today, I want to hone in on simple ways to support brain health.

Rather than worrying about cognitive health, embrace the research showing that certain lifestyle behaviors can significantly improve cognitive function and reduce dementia risk. Then get on with your life! Here are 4 things that provide a lot of bang for your buck to power up brain health!

The Brain Loves Novelty

Almost anything out of your ordinary routine can help your brain build new neuro-pathways. Learn new things, figure out how to use that new intriguing technology, learn a language, open yourself to new experiences, and challenge your brain in all kinds of ways – big and small.

A colleague of mine who specializes in cognitive health advises people to shake up their daily routines. Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand or taking a different route to work.

Look for things you currently do ‘automatically’ – without having to think about them – and inject a little novelty into the habit.

It sounds so simple, but to see how even a small thing can activate the brain, try writing a paragraph with your non-dominant hand. Do the same thing every day for 30 days in a row and watch how it gets easier and easier. That’s the brain in action – building new pathways to accomplish this novel task!

The Brain Loves Oxygenated Blood

We all know that physical activity improves physical function, but research now shows that what’s good for the body is also good for the brain.

When you’re physically active – especially aerobic activities that challenge the heart and lungs and circulate blood throughout the body – the brain is flooded with oxygenated blood. This provides significant cognitive benefits. So, get out and walk briskly, ride a bike – just move your body every day!

People often ask, “What’s the best physical activity?” I always reply that it’s the one you’ll do! But if you like to dance, it has been proven that dancing is excellent for cognitive health. It bathes the brain in oxygenated blood.

Dancing also requires you to follow novel movement patterns – even if you have two left feet – while at the same time staying in rhythm with the music and keeping from stepping on other people!

And the kicker is that dancing with others is a great social activity and social activity is a wonderful brain booster as well!

The Brain Needs Social Connection

Social connection is good for the heart and spirit, and it’s also been shown to support better memory and cognition. Health isn’t just physical; it involves the ‘whole person,’ and the brain is especially keyed into social interactions that bring emotional connection and feelings of belonging.

Social interaction, whether in a large or small group setting, supports better cognitive performance, so break out of your shell and go out of your way to enlarge your social group.

Lend a helping hand, invite friends over for that Netflix binge you’ve been planning, reach out to a friend you’ve let fade into the background. You’ll be glad you did, and your brain will thank you for it.

The Brain Loves Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors

The lifestyle habits that support heart health also support brain health. It’s like the best ever double coupon!

A study of older adults who scored well on an American Heart Association survey of heart healthy measures had a 35-37% lower risk of cognitive impairment. How does that sound to your brain?

What are you currently doing to make sure your brain is getting plenty of oxygenated blood? When was the last time you really had to strain your brain to learn something new?

Kay Van NormanKay Van Norman is an internationally known healthy aging expert who directed the Keiser Institute on Aging, has extensive publications – including a Chinese translation of her book “Exercise and Wellness for Older Adults” – and created the Vitality Portfolio®, an action plan to build lifelong vitality – regardless of challenges.

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