When Arthur Pollakoff, 83, of Glenview, Illinois, retired as a salesman six years ago, he made a pledge. “I promised myself that I would not sit down, dry up, and blow away,” says Pollakoff, a grandfather of four who plays tennis regularly and presides over a local men’s club, among other activities.
Experts say Pollakoff has the right idea. Keeping your mind sharp may go a long way toward warding off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but maintaining your brain means more than challenging yourself intellectually. Exercise, healthy eating, and socializing are critical as well. The following brain-healthy activities can get you started.
# 1 Take a walk
Regular physical activity is closely linked to cognitive health. What is good for the heart is good for the brain, says Debra Katt-Lloyd, a presenter and trainer for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Maintain Your Brain program. Lowering your risk for heart disease and stroke also can reduce your chances of developing dementia. But the best news is that “exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous or a major time commitment,” Katt-Lloyd says. Regular thirty-minute sessions of biking, gardening, yoga, or walking can be effective as time at the gym.
# 2 Meet a friend for coffee
It’s simple enough—and could have long- lasting benefits. Staying socially connected is believed to play a major role in brain health, Katt-Lloyd says. There appear to be two reasons. First, it keeps the mind working, because conversation strengthens the connections between brain cells. Second, socializing may help stimulate mood-boosting brain chemicals and decrease depression, which is a key risk factor for dementia.
# 3 Learn something new
Keeping your mind active is important. But you don’t have to spend your day solving Sudoku puzzles to see results. Real brain fitness is about “learning something new that requires focused concentration,” says Mary Futrell, Director of Lifelong Learning for the North Shore Senior Center in Northfield, Ill. It could be mastering salsa, studying American history, or learning how to paint, as long as you haven’t done it before.
# 4 Cook with your kids