By staying engaged with life, exploring new activities, and persisting with those new activities that inspire you, you significantly increase your chance of preserving your mind into old age.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

— Will Durant (not Aristotle)

Undoubtedly one of the worst aspects of getting old is cognitive decline. And I’m sure that you are keen to avoid cognitive decline and dementia.

Sadly, we are all going to take an intellectual hit as we age. However, some people maintain very high cognitive power throughout their life. In contrast, those less fortunate experience a significant loss of their intellect as they age.

Here, I explore three simple lifestyle tweaks to help protect your precious mind against old age.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate level of cognitive impairment that is a precursor to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. People who suffer from MCI are at a much greater risk of degenerating into dementia than people who maintain their normal cognitive function.

I’d always assumed that MCI was irreversible. Fortunately, it turned out that I was wrong (1). About 30% of people with MCI do return to normal cognitive functioning (Figure 1). Hooray!

By staying engaged with life, exploring new activities, and persisting with those new activities that inspire you, you significantly increase your chance of preserving your mind into old age.
Figure 1. Of all people who experience mild cognitive impairment, 33.3% revert back to normal cognition, 15.3% deteriorate into dementia, and 51.4% continue to experience mild cognitive impairment (1).

Three Lifestyle Tweaks to Preserve Your Mind

The critical question is, how do you preserve your cognitive function as you age?

Dr. Katayama and Colleagues followed over 700 community-dwelling adults with MCI for four years to answer this question (2). Within this cohort, 33.3% of people returned to normal cognitive function, 51.4% maintained MCI, and 15.3% deteriorated into dementia (2).

Strikingly, Dr. Katayama and Co identified three lifestyle characteristics that increase your chances of maintaining a high cognitive function as you age.

1. Maintain an Active Lifestyle

The first lifestyle tweak is for you to maintain an active lifestyle. By active, I mean staying engaged in the full spectrum of activities that life has to offer. These include physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual activities.

For example, participants who recovered their normal cognitive function (i) kept physically active; (ii) maintained strong community ties; (iii) stayed intellectually engaged; and (iv) maintained their spiritual practice (2). In contrast, participants who deteriorated into dementia reduced their daily activities (2).

Thus, it’s essential that you stay active and fully engaged with life if you hope to avoid cognitive decline as you age.

2. Engage in New Activities

However, it’s not enough to maintain your everyday routine as you age. If you want to preserve your mind, you must explore life and engage in new activities.

Dr. Katayama and Co found that those who started new life activities had a higher probability of recovering full cognitive function (2). In contrast, people who didn’t try new activities tended to deteriorate into dementia (2).

Thus, it appears that trying new things should become part of your anti-aging strategy.

3. Persist with New Activities

However, it’s not enough to start new activities; you have to stick with them if you want to preserve your mind.

The importance of persistence is evident when assessing the lifestyle of people who decline into dementia (2). Those participants who slipped from MCI into dementia were much more likely to stop and start activities, with a low rate of maintaining new activities (2). In contrast, those who recovered their cognitive powers tended to persist with their unique activities (2).

Persistence may be necessary because it takes time to build and consolidate the new neural networks that underpin skill and knowledge acquisition (3). But, regardless of the mechanism, it’s clear that you have to persist with new activities if you want to reap the cognitive rewards.

Take-Home Message

The good news is that a few simple lifestyle tweaks may have a significant impact on your quality of life.

By staying engaged with life, exploring new activities, and persisting with those new activities that inspire you, you significantly increase your chance of preserving your mind into old age.

Three Lifestyle Tweks To Build An Anti Frail Mind

References and Further Reading

1.            M. Ganguli et al., Mild Cognitive Impairment that Does Not Progress to Dementia: A Population-Based Study. J Am Geriatr Soc 67, 232-238 (2019).

2.            O. Katayama et al., Lifestyle changes and outcomes of older adults with mild cognitive impairment: A 4-year longitudinal study. Arch Gerontol Geriatr 94, 104376 (2021).

3.            W. Stee, P. Peigneux, Post-learning micro- and macro-structural neuroplasticity changes with time and sleep. Biochem Pharmacol 191, 114369 (2021).

Acknowledgments

Images created by Szepy and Sanja85

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Woman Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra for Better Sleep

Disrupted sleep increases anxiety and depression. Yoga Nidra is an effective method that has helped many people overcome insomnia.

Beautiful Woman Running On Treadmill

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Emerging research shows that low-intensity cardio is the best way to improve your metabolic and cardiovascular health.

Strong bones, strong brain.

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Regular exercise releases osteocalcin from your bones. Once in circulation, osteocalcin enters your brain to support learning and memory.