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Sharp at Any Age: Tips for Keeping Your Brain Young

As we get older, we tend to get wiser in many ways. Thanks to our experiences, we can make better decisions, have bigger vocabularies and be more expert in certain areas than in our youth.

However, as our brains get older, it may be a bit harder for us to learn or remember things such as your neighbor's phone number, or your grandson's birthday.

The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to keep your brain sharp and working well throughout your life. Researchers call this "cognitive vitality."

"Some research suggests that doing such things as exercising regularly, eating right, and staying intellectually active can contribute to cognitive vitality," according to Stephanie Studenski, M.D., a member of the American Geriatrics Society. Dr. Studenski was also one of the organizers of a recent AGS conference on cognitive vitality.

Based on the latest cognitive vitality research, here's what the experts from the AGS Foundation for Health in Aging recommend:

  • See your health care provider regularly. Many health problems – such as high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, or not eating right – can make it hard to keep your mind sharp. It's important to get regular check-ups to make sure you're in good health and that any health problems you may have are under control. Follow your doctor's or nurse's advice.

  • Exercise. Regular exercise – at least 30 minutes, three times a week – can help you stay sharp. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which helps keep the brain healthy and working well. Exercise may even help new brain cells grow. Walking is probably the easiest thing to do. Wear comfortable shoes and try walking around your block with a friend. If the weather is bad, you can also walk indoors at a mall or shopping center. Other great exercise choices include dancing, cycling, swimming and gardening.

  • Get enough sleep. Older adults don't need less sleep than younger adults. Getting less than 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night can make it harder to concentrate and remember.

  • Eliminate stress. Over time, stress can make it hard to get a good night's rest. Stress can also make it harder to concentrate, learn and remember. Exercise, prayer and meditation are good stress relievers.

  • Think, think, think. The more you use your brain, the better it'll work. Read a book. Do that crossword puzzle. Play bridge. Join a discussion group at a senior center or church. Take a class at your local community college. Learn to play the piano or to speak Spanish.

  • Socialize. Spending time with other people also seems to give your brain a boost. Find ways to meet and get to know others. Join a club. Volunteer. Get a part-time job.

  • Eat right. A diet that is low in saturated fat but rich in fruits and vegetables and B vitamins is good for your brain. Your diet should also include a couple of servings of fish, especially salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel, each week. These fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good fats that your brain needs. Ask your doctor or nurse if you should also take multiple vitamin daily.

Source: AGS Foundation for Health in Aging,

© 2007 Health Resources Publishing