Crossword puzzle close-upDo you do your crosswords in pen or in pencil?

If your answer was “neither,” it might be time to take stock of your daily habits and add a thing or two. Contrary to popular belief, aging doesn’t have to mean the end of your mental gymnastics. Many interventions can help keep your thinking cap dusted off and improve your cognitive health. And one of them might even include the phrase ‘6 Across!’

Five Tips for Better Cognition

1. Take Care of Your Heart.

The brain bone’s connected to the heart bone, folks. As it turns out, brain health and heart health are linked. One study showed that better cardiovascular health was significantly associated with better cognition in five different measures of cognitive function: Visual-Spatial Memory, Working Memory, Scanning and Tracking, Executive Function, and the Global Composite score (the overall score across all eight measures identified in the study.) The short version? Be good to your heart, and your brain will work better.

The study also notes that “smoking, physical activity, and diet are important components of cardiovascular health that impact upon cognitive health.” So eat your vegetables and take a walk around the block after dinner—it’s good for your brain!

2. Eat fish.

Try adding fish to your diet. Or, if you don’t like fish, head to the drugstore and grab some fish oil supplements. More and more studies are showing that Omega-3 fatty acids, the compounds found in fish oil, have wide-ranging health benefits that even include extending your life. They’ll extend your smarts, while they’re at it; eating fish regularly (think once a week or so) can provide your brain with the nutrients it needs to keep functioning well in your later years.

 3. Call a friend.

Humans are social animals, and our brains don’t do as well in isolation. As we age, it’s especially important to cultivate social connections and find a reason to get out of the house. It turns out that sharing meaningful experiences is more than simply enjoyable—it can improve executive function and memory. So get your friends together and go for a walk, or, better yet, find a regular community activity to involve yourself in. For your cognitive health, even small connections, like a regular phone call, count.

4. Count sheep. Many sheep.

Sure, we all get up in the middle of the night to head to the bathroom. But how many of us can get back to sleep again? For seniors, learning to do so is important; a University of California Berkeley study has shown that as we age, the health of the brain (specifically, its ability to recall things at will) is directly related to how much sleep we get. So if you want to stop wandering into rooms and wondering why you’re there, learn to do whatever it takes to maintain your sleep hygiene. (Some tips from the National Sleep Foundation: no electronic screens after 10 at night, maintain a cool bedroom, and—here we go again—exercise!)

5. Stimulate your brain!

Here’s where that crossword comes in. Doing simple brain-boosting exercises like crossword puzzles or number games can significantly improve cognitive health in aging adults. Don’t get the paper? Don’t worry; there’s an app for that! Not a game person? Try learning a new language instead! (You guessed it—there’s an app for that, too!) Brain training in the 21st century is more accessible than ever.


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