Brain Health: 3 Ways to Exercise Your Brain After 60

Physical changes both in body and in mind are some of the biggest challenges seniors face when aging. Mental deterioration is a problem that affects millions of seniors worldwide and is often manifested in the form of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Thankfully, recent research shows that seniors can engage in certain activities to greatly reduce their chances of cognitive deterioration and improve their mental health overall. Our team here at St. Paul’s Senior Services has put together a guide on three key ways to exercise your brain after 60. Read below to start sharpening your mind.

#1: Actively Learn New Things

First on our list of ways to exercise your brain after 60 is a general and intuitive suggestion that will be explored in-depth below. To keep your mind sharp and your brain healthy well into your golden years, it’s important to continue learning well past the age of 60. The jury is still out on just how learning contributes to brain health, but several studies have shown a correlation between cognitive stimulation and continued cognitive health in seniors.

A 2004 study originally published in Neuron focused on the cognitive speed of seniors by having them perform identification tasks without priming and with priming. (Priming refers to the activation particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task—exposing a user group to the color or the word “yellow” just before exposing them to a banana, for instance.) The study found that seniors were able to more quickly respond to stimulus with priming than without it. As the study’s authors wrote:

“These results suggest that despite difficulties with deliberate memory, both older adults without dementia and those with early-stage DAT can modify behavior mediated by prefrontal contributions [priming], making these preserved abilities an attractive target for cognitive training and rehabilitation.”

If exercises such as priming can serve as a rudimentary form of cognitive enhancement for seniors, it would stand to reason that other cognitive exercises can also improve brain health in those over 60—and that’s exactly what much of today’s research has shown. In the next section, we explore brain games and other learning tasks you can perform to stay sharp as you age.

A Bit About Brain Games

While today’s research is pointing towards learning as a healthy activity for the brain, no studies have conclusively found which types of learning lead to real results in seniors 60 and over. The inconclusiveness here is due in large to the fact we learn in many different ways, so it can be difficult to find a one-size-fits-all brain exercise that truly does work for everyone. Further, many “brain games” may simply be ineffective. As Dr. Alan Gow of Heriot-Watt University reports on behalf of Age UK’s Staying Sharp series:

“We can’t say for certain which activities might definitely help keep your thinking skills sharp, but doing hobbies and activities that we enjoy is important for quality of life and wellbeing anyway.”

Behind Dr. Gow’s statement is sobering data gathered on many brain games and applications advertised as performance enhancers for the brain. These products claim to not only improve task-specific thinking, but also cognition more broadly. In January 2016, one of the biggest companies behind brain training products was fined by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for making claims that weren’t supported by evidence. In the Commission’s words, the company and its products “preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline.”

While brain training games may be on trial for their brain-enhancing claims, there is certainly no evidence to suggest that these games are bad for your cognitive health. The same goes for age-old brain teasers and activities, such as crossword puzzles. As Dr. Gow suggests, “If you do games and puzzles because you enjoy them, then certainly continue.” Why? Apart from the obvious, recent research suggests that simply doing activities you enjoy can have incredible effects on your physical health and well-being.

#2: Stay Social

For seniors and people of all ages, learning isn’t the only way to improve cognitive health. In the same way that simply performing tasks that induce happiness can improve overall physical well-being, so too can a number of other activities improve cognitive health. One of these activities is simply staying social. A study conducted by several leading cognitive scientists and published in The International Journal of Epidemiology reported findings suggesting that participation in social activities outside the family may have a bigger impact on cognitive function than social contacts with family. What does this mean for seniors? It means social activity outside of interactions with relatives can improve cognitive health. Volunteering, joining a gym or club, taking classes, and participating in community activities offered at local senior care centers are all excellent ways to stay social for adults over 60.

#3: Exercise Your Body

Last on our list of ways to exercise your brain after 60 is a recommendation backed by copious research and supported by the undeniable connection between the brain and the body. This recommendation is simple: exercise your body, and your brain will benefit. After all, your brain is a part of your body — and when your body is healthy, your brain likely will be too. Both high-intensity and low-intensity exercises of anaerobic and aerobic types can be beneficial for brain health, though low-intensity exercise is recommended as a starting point for seniors, many of whom may be new to exercising and are at a higher risk for injury than younger adults. Working with a personal trainer or senior care center in your area will help you build a plan that best fits your fitness. Sticking to this plan and slowly progressing will pay dividends for your body and your brain.

Learn More and Visit Our San Diego Senior Care Community

Want to learn more about how to exercise your brain after 60? Interested in exploring the many senior care services and senior living options we offer here at St. Paul’s Senior Services? Take the time to look through our website, and contact our San Diego senior care communities today!


Sources

Ageing and the brain. Peters, R. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (PMC). 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2596698/

Preserved neural correlates of priming in old age and dementia. Lustig, C and Bucker, RL. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (PubMed.gov). 2004. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15182724

Exercise for the brain? Alan Gow. Age UK. 2018. https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/mind-body/staying-sharp/looking-after-your-thinking-skills/exercise-for-the-brain/

Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Ed Diener. Micaela Y. Chan. Applied Psychology: Health and well-Being. 2011. http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~ediener/Documents/Diener-Chan_2011.pdf

Participating in social activities helps preserve cognitive function: an analysis of a longitudinal, population-based study of the elderly. Dana A. Glei, David A Landau, Noreen Goldman, Yi-Li Chuang, Germán Rodríguez, Maxine Weinstein. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2005. https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/34/4/864/692857

Physical activity, motor function, and white matter hyperintensity burden in healthy older adults. Debra A. Fleischman, Jingyun Yang, Konstantinos Arfanakis, Zoe Arvanitakis, Sue E. Leurgans, Arlener D. Turner, Lisa L. Barnes, David A. Bennett, Aron S. Buchman. Neurology. 2015. http://n.neurology.org/content/early/2015/03/11/WNL.0000000000001417.short