The human brain is by far the most complicated and intricate thing in the known universe. Our brains are so complicated, in fact that we have yet to unlock all of its inner workings. This incredible piece of equipment is vital in almost every bodily function and largely determines an individual’s quality of life.

Much like the rest of the body, the brain experiences changes throughout the course of a lifetime. Unfortunately, cognitive decline is one of these changes. While it is very important to note that the extent and rate of this decline varies drastically from person to person, there does appear to be some rate of age-related decline across the board.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.7% of adults aged 65 and older report some level of cognitive decline. However, there are a multitude of controllable variables that work to minimize this impairment. In this article, we will briefly discuss 5 strategies that have been shown to improve and maintain cognition over time.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Even though the brain is the body’s control center, it is still a part of the body itself. Therefore, taking care of the entire system yields significant benefits in terms of brain health and cognition. According to the National Institute on Aging, regular physical activity has been shown to help the brain maintain old neural pathways and even improve the ability to create new ones.

While exercise is important, maintaining a healthy diet is also a key component to brain and overall health in general. In fact, there is a significant body of research suggesting that a healthy diet decreases the chances of developing dementia and other age-related diseases.

Flex Your Thinking Muscle

Another effective strategy to improve and maintain cognitive function is to regularly challenge the brain. As with other forms of exercise, the more a body part is challenged and put to work, the stronger it becomes.

Harvard Health Publishing describes how “brainy” activities such as crossword puzzles, math problems and trying new forms of activity helps the brain to maintain its plasticity, which is the ability to change and adapt to new circumstances.

Limit Alcohol & Tobacco Use

Excess alcohol and tobacco use has long been known to cause a variety of diseases and detrimental effects to the body. It is no surprise that abusing these substances can wreak havoc on brain function and cognition.

How detrimental can excess use of alcohol and tobacco be to cognition? Well, the British Journal of Psychiatry found that individuals who were heavy smokers and drinkers experienced 36% faster cognitive decline compared to those who did not. 

Keep Your Headspace Clean

One of the more recent changes in healthcare is the acknowledgement of just how important mental health is regarding overall health and quality of life. Stress, anxiety and depression are all too prevalent in the population and can severely harm bodily function as a whole.

A study cited by the Boston University College of Medicine found that individuals with chronic depression were at significantly higher risk of developing cognitive decline and dementia.

Maintain Social Networks

Human beings are social creatures by nature. We were made to enjoy being in each other’s company, cooperate with other people to achieve more than we could individually and share ideas and stories.

Because of this social nature, maintaining social networks and staying actively involved with friends and peers plays a significant role in brain function. The National Institute on Aging states that engaging in productive and meaningful tasks with others is associated with not only a greater sense of purpose and longer lifespan, these activities are also beneficial in terms of preserving cognitive function.