In an earlier post, I listed ten tips to live younger longer. Since many of those items focus on physical aspects, I wanted to take some time to share ways you can keep your mind and spirit youthful, too. Once thought to be hard-wired after early childhood, the brain actually has a remarkable ability to change and heal itself. Known as neuroplasticity, this remodeling due to our environment, behavior, and feelings happens throughout our lives (you can read more on the fascinating science around brain plasticity here). Given the flexibility of your brain, how will you rewire it to help you live younger longer? Try these suggestions for maintaining mental vitality.
I know, I know. I’m always going on about meditation. But when something so simple is also so incredibly powerful—and proven to work—how can I not keep talking about it? When it comes to keeping you young, meditation has been shown to actually change the brain. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted studies involving brain scans of meditators. She found that people who had been meditating for a long time had increased grey matter in the auditory and sensory cortex, which she attributes to the mindful attention paid to breathing, sounds, and other stimuli during meditation. She also discovered more grey matter in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with memory and decision making.
According to Lazar, meditators in their fifties had the same amount of gray matter in one part of the prefrontal cortex as people in their twenties in spite of the fact that the cortex is known to shrink as we age. Why not incorporate this brain-boosting practice into your life? You can even learn how to meditate using a smartphone app—check out some of my favorites here.
Have you seen ads for brain-training games and wondered if they were legit? According to recent research, the answer is yes. A new study found cognitive training increased the energy efficiency of participants’ brains. In the randomized clinical trial, adults aged 56 to 71 were either given twelve weeks of cognitive training or assigned to one of two control groups. Measuring brain activity, researchers found those in the cognitive training group showed significant increase in the association between reaction time and frontal lobe activity compared to the control groups, meaning their brains didn’t have to work as hard to perform tasks. The study’s authors hope their findings pave the way for further research that attempts to harness the potential of the aging brain.
As Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director, told ScienceDaily, “To counteract the pattern of age-related losses and even enhance the brain’s inner workings by ‘thinking’ in smarter ways is an achievable and highly desirable goal.” And alzheimers.net says games that challenge your memory and mental agility may help strengthen the neural connections in your brain. Instead of spending your lunch break mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds, why not spend a few minutes training your brain, and potentially warding off age-related decline in the process?
It’s probably a given that loneliness takes a toll on your mental health, but did you know it can actually affect your genes—and maybe even shorten your life? Research suggests being lonely can have a negative impact on telomeres, the segments of DNA at the end of our chromosomes that shorten each time a cell divides and may indicate how long we’ll live. Longer telomeres are associated with slower aging, fewer age-related diseases, and generally greater life spans. In a study of African grey parrots in captivity, those who were housed alone had shorter telomeres compared to those who lived with a companion bird. This finding supports a growing body of evidence showing that social isolation and other stressors can be detrimental to our telomeres.
Loneliness can also increase your risk of depression, cognitive decline, heart disease, and other serious conditions in ways similar to obesity and smoking. Schedule a dinner with a buddy you haven’t seen in a while or take your spouse out for a night on the town. You could also consider volunteering in your community, which gives you a chance to help others while you interact with them.
10 Tips to Live Younger Longer (Posted in 2017)
“You’re only as old as you feel.” While something of a cliché, this expression’s general idea—that you have control over the ways your body is affected by the aging process—is absolutely true. By making healthy lifestyle choices, you can keep yourself feeling strong and vital well into old age. Here are 10 tips to live younger longer.
A balanced diet high in whole foods provides your body with the nutrients it needs to stay in top form. Avoid refined sugar, which causes inflammation linked to diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Unsure what to eat? Check out livestrong.com’s list of anti-aging foods here.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s common for sleep patterns to shift as we age. Taking steps like cutting caffeine intake and putting your devices down well before bed can help you get the rest you need. And while it might be tempting to exercise in an attempt to wear yourself out, don’t work out too close to bedtime or you’ll have a hard time winding down.
If left unchecked, chronic stress can lead to depression, heart disease, and other serious conditions, potentially shaving years off your life. Try a relaxation technique like yoga or meditation, both scientifically proven to lower stress levels. Or consider tai chi, a practice that may improve balance and stability in older people while reducing anxiety.
Even if you eat well you’re probably lacking nutrients important for healthy aging. And many supplements have been shown to protect the body from disease—fish oil, for example, is associated with prevention of heart disease and stroke.
Stretch it Out
Flexibility decreases as we age, but the National Academy of Sports Medicine says following a systematic and progressive flexibility program can help keep you limber. Even a few minutes of light stretching every morning can make a difference. The National Institute on Aging provides some good information and exercises here.
According to Dr. Oz, having loving sex a couple times a week increases testosterone in men and can reduce your “real age” by nearly three years. Even if you’re not romantically involved, spending time with friends and family keeps you from isolating yourself as you get older. Volunteering, too, can be a nice way to ward off loneliness while helping your community. The website volunteermatch.org can help you figure out where your skills can best be put to use.
Have a Drink
Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to bump up HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and red wine in particular may have additional heart-healthy powers. As far as nonalcoholic beverages go, both green tea and coffee contain antioxidants that may help you fight off age-related illnesses. A 2013 study found green tea drinkers who consumed four cups a day had an almost 20% lower stroke risk compared to people who rarely drank green tea, probably due to compounds called catechins that help regulate blood pressure and improve blood flow.
Use Your Head
According to research in the burgeoning field of epigenetics, your brain never loses its capacity to change and heal itself. Known as neuroplasticity, this malleability needs to be maintained so you can stay sharp into your golden years. According to alzheimers.net, games that challenge your memory and mental agility may help strengthen the neural connections in your brain. Instead of spending your lunch break scrolling through Facebook, why not spend a few minutes doing some brain training?
Care for Your Skin
Science shows the condition of your skin has a big impact on how old people think you are. To keep wrinkles and sun spots at bay, wear sunscreen, use a basic moisturizer, and drink plenty of water. If you still smoke, quit! Among other negative effects, it makes you look A LOT older. For more anti-aging ideas, see my 5 Steps to Looking 10 Years Younger.
You can download my infographic as a quick reference:
Wondering what others areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.