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By Belmont Village

Most of us know we need to exercise to keep the body fit, but what about mental fitness? How many people put equal emphasis on exercising their brain? “It’s more important than you think,” said Beverly Sanborn, LCSW, gerontologist for Belmont Village Senior Living. “Just as we build muscle strength to keep our bodies fit, we need to build cognitive reserve to help our brains starve off memory problems and keep our minds active as we age.”

Experts believe that changes in the brain begin as early as two decades before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin to show. However, research shows that the right lifestyle choices can help the brain build cognitive reserve that aging adults can draw on to maintain function. Belmont Village offers the following tips for maintaining brain and body:

1. Eat Right – Low salt and saturated fats, plenty of dark skinned fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

2. Exercise – Minimum 30 minutes a day, with a mix of cardio and strength training.

3. Challenge Your Brain – The best brain exercises teach you something new and are a mental stretch:

· Practice Critical Thinking – read a controversial article and tell someone about it, presenting both points of views.

· Use Mind & Body Together – Dancing is perfect, as are sports & activities with strategies or complex moves.

· Learn Something New – Pick an interest you’ve wanted to explore but never had the time.

· Recall Long Term Learning – Use skills and knowledge you stored away years ago.

· Practice Organizing Ideas – Interpret a proverb, verbally or in writing – the harder the verse, the better the work-out.

· Think Analytically – Solving math and analytic problems helps keep the mind sharp.

4. Stay Social – Isolation and inactivity can lead to depression, which contributes to certain dementias.

5. Reduce Stress – Chronic stress releases a cascade of hormones that eventually affect memory.

6. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep – Sleep deprivation disrupts the coordinated activity of an important brain network.

7. Be Present – Stop multi-tasking – Interruptions interfere with short and long-term memory formation and older brains have a harder time quickly switching back and forth between tasks.

8. Embrace Your Spirituality – Whether doing good works or taking time for prayer or meditation, attending to your spiritual side creates well-being and reduces stress.

9. Maintain Your Purpose – Feeling that your life has meaning and that you are in control of it fosters positive attitudes and emotions and a healthier brain.

10. Evaluate and Adjust – Just as with physical exercise, mental work-outs have to be adjusted periodically to remain effective and interesting.

The best tip, according to Sanborn? “Don’t wait to start, and don’t give up hope. There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but taking care of your brain is the best way to maintain function and slow decline. Even if you’re older, or already have some memory loss, it’s not too late. At Belmont Village, we’ve seen improvements in our residents with early-stage loss once they stated participating in our memory programs on a regular basis.”

Belmont Village Rancho Palos Verdes offers a range of enrichment programming to engage residents at every ability level. For more information, call 310-377-9977, www.belmontvillage.com/ranchopalosverdes

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