Use it or Lose it: The Importance of Staying Mentally Fit

February 2, 2017

Did you know your brain is a muscle? Okay, not literally – but the same rules that apply to physical wellness and fitness do apply to your mind…if you don’t use it, you’ll most certainly lose it!

This is especially true as you get older. It’s important to keep active to prevent the negative effects of aging. Most of us understand that our body’s muscles must be maintained with exercise to stop them from deteriorating and keep us moving, but it’s often overlooked that you must challenge your mind in the same manor – by strengthening your focus, intellect, and concentration.

Engaging your mind with puzzles, brain-training, and challenging intellectual material has been shown to help increase overall mental health and abilities – especially when combined with a regimen of light physical activity. These activities keep you sharp and help to improve your overall memory.

Use it or lose it – this saying is as true for your mind as it is for your body. So read on, and find out why staying mentally fit is so important.

Staying Mentally Fit Decreases the Risk of Alzheimer’s And Dementia

The onset of Alzheimer’s or Dementia can be extremely frightening and often times completely out of our control.  However, staying mentally engaged can help to avoid or decrease the risk of developed of such diseases.

A report from Cochrane Library, a UK-based scientific review board, has determined that engaging in mentally stimulating activity – crosswords, puzzles, games, and other mentally challenging tasks – may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia in older persons who already are suffering from the early effects of the disease.

The report analyzed a total of 15 studies that had been done over a total of 718 aging persons who were suffering from Alzheimer’s. These studies were done across many different areas of intellectual stimulation – discussions of current events, music, baking, word games, and puzzles were just a few of the intellectually stimulating activities conducted within these studies.

In most of the studies, these activities were performed at a minimum of 45 minutes, twice a week. When analyzing the studies, the researchers found out that the mental stimulation helped improve scores on thinking, recollection, and memory tests among people suffering from dementia, and were equivalent to a 6-9 month delay in the onset of more severe symptoms.

In addition, many of the people who had engaged in these stimulating mental activities self-reported a higher quality of life, with a better feeling of general well-being and improved interactions and communication abilities with those around them.

Though the results were confined only to those with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s-induced dementia, this study certainly shows how helpful keeping a healthy mind can be to mitigating the effects of Alzheimer’s – or perhaps avoiding it entirely.

It’s Not All in Your Head – Physical Activity Helps Keep Your Mind Healthy

While intellectually challenging activities like reading, solving puzzles, learning languages, and interacting with others have been shown to help improve brain function, there’s another piece of the puzzle – your body.

Many studies have shown a positive link between increased physical activity and better cognitive function. One hypothesis for this effect is increased blood flow – quite a bit of cognitive decline is associated with hypoxia (inadequate oxygen delivered through blood), and physical activity boosts blood flow all around the body, leading to increased blood flow to the brain, and a healthier, more active mind.

That’s not all – recent research into Alzheimer’s and dementia suggests that physical activity is a key factor to help mitigate the risk of developing the disease.

The shrinking of the hippocampus – the “central nervous system” of the brain, if you will – is the main result of Alzheimer’s, and recent studies have shown that increased levels of physical activity can help slow or prevent the shrinking of the hippocampus, both in people who are genetically predisposed towards Alzheimer’s, and those who are not at high risk.

Use it, or Lose it – Seriously!

You can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body, and you can’t have a healthy body without having a healthy mind. Every part of the body is connected, and a truly holistic mental fitness program will take advantage of this.

So don’t stop at just doing brain-training exercises, puzzles, or playing games. Get out there, get moving, and bolster your defenses against age-related mental deterioration. Your preferred physical activity can be as simple as walking – but as you continue to become more physically fit, a whole host of other activities will be available to you that can stimulate both body and mind. It’s only a matter of time before you will start feeling and seeing the results.
So get out there. Get active. And get healthy. Your mind (and your body) will thank you for it.

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